Tuesday, September 25, 2007

More Bad Liturgical Music

My wife recently attended a Mass on a Holy Day of Obligation at a parish that we do not usually go to. The music selected for the Liturgy was guitar music heavily influenced by the charismatic movement and implementing drums and keyboards. One of the unfortunate things about all the new liturgical music coming out since the 1960's (besides the obvious fact that it is not Gregorian Chant!) is that the words are altered to fit the music. For example, if the music is for the "Sanctus" and the syllables do not fit the beat of the music, then the composer often rearranges the words to fit the music, thus altering the traditional prayer and making it difficult to sing along to if you do not know that particular arrangement.

Furthermore, contrary to what many hip music directors may think, most people who are not musicians have a hard time staying with anything beyond the most ordinary rhythms. Nobody has a difficult time singing along to "Lift High the Cross" or "O Sacrament Most Holy." These rhythms are (1) straightforward, (2) repetitive, (3) familiar through years of usage. Many new hymns utilize a "verse, chorus, verse" arrangement of secular songs in which the chorus has a different rhythm or beat than the rest of the song; some of the most aggregious offenders even have a "bridge" in the hymn, thus adding a third component.

At this particular Mass my wife was at, though she knew the "Gloria" and the "Agnus Dei" like the back of her hand, she nevertheless could not sing along with the music being played because the rhythms were a bit too complicated, the words were therefore changed around to fit the music, and it was uncertain how the next verse was going to fit in because the composition had too many movements. This rendered it difficult to lift her mind and heart to God because she was aware of a profound discomfort and not being able to pray the age old prayers of the Church because of modern innovations in lyrics, rhythm and music. An old woman feebly attempting to make sense of it all turned to my wife and said, "What are they singing? I don't know what's going on anymore!"

This woman's statement was perhaps the saddest but most concise commentary on the whole affair. Now, if the Mass had been utilizing the Missa de Angelis that Catholics had been using for 400 years, if there never had been any interruption in the 1960's, then the "Kyrie" and "Gloria" of the Missa de Angelis would have been known from birth, interiorized, cherished, and recited with ease by the old woman who would have been doing something profoundly familiar instead of entering foreign territory whenever she went to Mass. I recently met a gentleman who told me that he was composing his own music for the Mass; I asked him if he was doing it just as a musical exercise or if he really intended to have it used. He mentioned that he was indeed trying to get it "performed" (this is the word he used). So another wrench is thrown in; people have just settled down to M. Haugen's crappy "Mass of Creation" and now some parish somewhere is going to have to endure another novelty.

By the way, in case you are wondering, I referred the man in question to the encyclical Tra le Sollecitudine of Pius X, though I did not tell him beforehand what it was about. I just said it dealt with sacred music and that he might find it helpful. Let's hope he read it and took it to heart!


Andrew said...

Hi, I comment over at Athanasius Contra Mundum, and i stumbled over here and really enjoyed your blog.

I recently moved to a new diocese for college, and i completely understand this disconnect you describe. Not that my old diocese was perfect, but this diocese is just so much worse.

It is usually just guitars (sometimes electric ones!) and a piano. The last time i flipped through the missal, i even saw We Shall Overcome in there. How's that for horrible music. Once they even sung hymns in the style of the Blues. I could almost hear Christ crying for his Church, except the music was too distracting.

Boniface said...

Glad to hear you enjoy the blog; which diocese are you in now?

Andrew said...

The Stockton diocese; I sometimes attend the Cathedral, where masses are'nt too bad (except they seem to hate kneeling). But the masses here on campus (University of the Pacific) are pretty un-catholic, to say the least.

I used to go to a Franciscan parish in the Arlington Diocese, which I absolutely loved.

Anonymous said...

Tra Le Sollecitudine is a Motu Proprio, by the way, rather than an encyclical.

Love the blog!

Boniface said...

Oops, you're right; it is a Motu Proprio. How fitting.

Thanks for the good word!