Saturday, May 28, 2011

It's not really about music!

This week at THE CHANT CAFE' Jeffrey A. Tucker posted two contrasting pieces. One was a news item he picked up from "Catholic Culture" and I quote:

"The music director of the Chicago Symphony has thrown his support behind the drive by Pope Benedict XVI to revive the tradition of sacred music.
''The Pope is right when he says it is necessary to bring our great musical heritage back into churches,'' said Ricardo Muti. The Italian conductor said that the revival in church music “cannot happen outside the great traditional path of the past, of Gregorian chants and sacred polyphonic choral music.”Muti said that he has no objection to the composition of new sacred music, but resents the use of pop tunes. “When I go to church and I hear four strums of a guitar or choruses of senseless, insipid words, I think it's an insult,” he said. Offering mediocre music, when the Church boasts a priceless treasury of compositions, shows “a lack of respect for people’s intelligence,” he said."

While on the one hand nobody is going to take on the maestro, I can't help but think of my Dad's summary description of all classical music (we are back in the 1950's before music appreciation classes in school and before "Saturday Evening with the Boston Pops"). Dad called it "long hair music". Ricardo wouldn't carry much weight with the "teaming masses" I am afraid.

The other post from Jeffrey was a 40:35 minute video and a link to the Life Teen homepage with a transcript of the same video:

"Fr. Robert Schreiner, priest for the Diocese of Crookston, shares the role of music within the Liturgy."

Father Robert makes the case for anything short of a kazoo in liturgical music if it gets the kids to Mass on a Sunday night. He has impressive credentials and can sing Latin too.

Muti has my vote, however, because he understands the sublimity which should characterize Divine Worship, music or no music. Father Robert loses out as far as I am concerned because he misses the point on the role of liturgy in the life of the Church. He like many today aspire to the ecclesiological position in terms of the role of Sunday church-going in the life of a christian also held by my dear departed Methodist grandmother. Church-going is the priority and no matter whom you can afford or find as preacher at the little white country church two miles east and a half mile south of the farm, that is where you are meant to be. For a while it was Methodist and then, without skipping a beat, it was Congregationalist.

Granted, besides kazoos, grandma would have excluded everything, even Father's choices, outside of the beloved old hymnal, but that is not the point. The point is that the Sunday evening Life Teen experience like most of what happens on Saturday evening or Sunday morning in our parishes misses the point of how we are Catholic. If I can only hold them for an hour a week, plus liturgy committee preparation time and rehearsals, I've lost. Catholicism is a way of life, a culture. My hour of power has to be entertaining if that is all there is, if there is no life of prayer appropriate to the person's age and station in life. A little aside which I think reinforces my argument would be that guitars and drums don't serve much to get people to confession regularly. When do you graduate from Sunday evening just for them and into what?

I can remember riding in the car with my driver here in Trinidad and stopping at a light and being blasted by the popular music from the car in the next lane. The music was loud and straight out of Bollywood. I asked my driver what he thought of such music and his response was: "It's their music". Muti would be nonplussed by such an observation and rightly so; it says nothing of the value, aesthetic or otherwise, of the piece.

Can bouncy also be sacred? That's not really the point unless we're talking about that little white country church two miles east and a half mile south of the farm. Father Schreiner is missing the point if he thinks the issue is musicological. Young people balk at going to church not for aesthetic reasons, not because the social pressure of the farming community has fallen away, but because what they are exposed to anytime in most parishes whether it be Saturday or Sunday is an imposition perpetrated by Father and his liturgy committee. We need to restore the culture and make of the Mass a sacred and safe place to encounter the same loving Lord to Whom I address my mealtime prayers, my morning offering and bedtime prayers. I manage those without a beat and probably if I am any kind of a thinking youth would also like to manage my Sundays that way with the Lord I know from my prayers.

Last summer I met a young man who recounted his vocational story to me and how through an encounter with perpetual adoration as part of a parish retreat he also discovered the Lord of his life. It's not really about music!

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