Josquin: What is he trying to hide?

From Wikipedia:

Josquin des Prez (or Josquin Lebloitte dit Desprez; French: [ʒɔskɛ̃ depʁe]; c. 1450/1455 – 27 August 1521), often referred to simply as Josquin, was a Franco-Flemish composer of the Renaissance. He is also known as Josquin Desprez and Latinized as Josquinus Pratensis, alternatively Jodocus Pratensis.

his biography is shadowy, and we know next to nothing about his personality.

The lives of dozens of minor composers of the Renaissance are better documented than the life of Josquin.

Numerous pseudonyms, a “shadowy” biography. And which is it, Mr. Josquin, Frankish or Flemish?

William Byrd, on the other hand, lived a life completely without duplicity of any kind, remaining openly committed both to his faith and his national identity.

Josquin: Not as good as Byrd

Jeffrey Tucker continues his pro-Josquin propaganda, using the supposedly-neutral Chant Cafe website as a platform for his controversial position that Josquin can or should be any sane person’s “number one favorite composer of all time.”

I feel a responsibility to point out, though it pains me to say it, that he is quite wrong, and that Byrd is a far superior composer. This objective fact, which has nothing to do whatsoever with taste or opinion, would be clear to Mr. Tucker if he were not constantly polluting his ears with “pop, jazz, classical, dance, techno, you name it.” (Indeed, I shan’t be naming the rude and vulgar genres left out of this enumeration, as I consider that act of discretion to be the only praise-worthy aspect of Mr. Tucker’s ill advised post.)

Stop arguing, and get to work

There is a useful purpose to all this blogging and foruming and commenting and document-reading, but convincing chant-skeptics is not it.

As Seth Godin points out…

Here’s the thing about proving skeptics wrong: They don’t care. They won’t learn. They will stay skeptics. The ones who said the airplane would never fly ignored the success of the Wright Bros. and went on to become skeptical of something else. And when they got onto an airplane, they didn’t apologize to the engineers on their way in.

There’s wisdom here, yo.

Newsflash: Contemporary P&W songs don’t really say much

NPR carries the story of the abysmal quality of many contemporary praise songs, and about one pair of musicians who are trying to do something about it (by writing new contemporary praise songs that are better).

“I think it’s to the church’s poverty that the average worship song now has so few words, so little truth,” he says. “[It] is so focused on several commercial aspects of God, like the fact that he loves our praises.”

Kristyn Getty says that some of the most popular music doesn’t show God the proper reverence.

“There is an unhelpful, casual sense that comes with some of the more contemporary music,” she says. “It’s not how I would talk to God.”

There are important lessons here for us in both the nature of their complaints and the commercial success they are achieving in attempting to address them.

I like chant for all the wrong reasons

People say we should sing chant because it is more solemn and dignified.
I disagree.
I think chant melodies are wild and ecstatic.

People say that we shouldn’t sing chant because it makes it hard for the congregation to sing.
And too many chant-supporters agree with that, but say, “Well- that’s okay, they don’t need to sing.”
I disagree.
While some chants are soloistic in nature (just like some contemporary songs), the chants which are intended for group-singing (hymns, psalm tones, short antiphons, acclamations from the Ordinary) are much easier to sing than any pop or folk song.

People say we should sing chant because it is Traditional.
I disagree.
I think we should sing it because doing so is revolutionary.

People say that we shouldn’t sing chant because people need familiar music at Mass.
And too many chant-supporters agree that chant is unfamiliar, but say this is a good thing, that people don’t need Mass to be “comfortable.”
I disagree.
I think that the constant changing of musical styles to fit the trends is a constant source of unfamiliarity and discomfort, and that a stable repertoire of chants would provide the comfort and familiarity that all people long for.

People say we should sing chant because the texts are orthodox.
I disagree.
I think the scriptural message and the medieval poetry is more radical and liberating than any modernist manifesto.

People say that we shouldn’t sing chant because the texts are not understandable (being in Latin) and therefore the people cannot understand the liturgy.
And too many chant-supporters agree that the Latin makes the liturgy impenetrable, but say that this is a good thing, that it acts “like a veil,” that the liturgy really is impenetrable, and that lay understanding of the Mass is neither possible nor particularly desirable.
I disagree.
I think that all the faithful should be encouraged to understand the liturgy as fully as possible and that the veil of mystery that separates the elite clerics and the general population should be torn down, as on the first Good Friday, and that only by providing the faithful with the real, actual texts and traditions of the Mass can this be accomplished.

People say we should sing chant because the correct ars celebrandi reinforces the appropriate ecclesiology.
I disagree.
I think that the monastic tradition in which the chant flourished and matured has always stood both in partnership with and also in opposition to the authority of the hierarchy.

People say that we shouldn’t sing chant because it is too elitist, too hierarchical, too academic. They say that it does not harmonize with the teachings of Jesus, or with the “Poor Church” of Pope Francis.
And too many chant-supporters essentially agree with this view, but say that this is a good thing, that there is nothing wrong with being elitist, hierarchical, or academic.
I disagree.
I think that chant’s simplicity and plainness is one of its essential qualities, and that it stands in contrast to the elitism of music that requires special training, special instruments, and specialist musicians with the time to plan and rehearse it.

People say we should sing chant because it is “Apollonian,” appealing to the mind and reason, rather than the baser, “Dionysian” emotionalism.
I disagree.
I am deeply moved by chant generally, and by specific pieces in the repertoire in particular, to excesses of emotionalism that many people would consider completely inappropriate for a solemn liturgical celebration, and in ways that defy all reason or rationality.

People say they can’t do chant, because its too hard.
And too many chant-supporters agree that it is hard, but say that it’s okay for to be hard or that its difficulty is one of its virtues.
I disagree.
I think that it is hard to pick out four or five meaningful and appropriate pieces of congregational music which also illuminate the texts of the lectionary every week, hard to keep track of trends, hard to please people with divergent tastes in music.

People say we should sing chant because it will help return us to a more pure or more devout faith from our glorious past.
I disagree.
I believe that there really has been no glorious past, only a constant glorious ideal.