Saturday, June 03, 2006

One more idea why Catholics don’t sing

Schoenberg’s preferred term for what we call atonality was “pantonality” (or whatever the German equivalent of the term is). He wanted people to see his music as “covering all tonalities”; instead, we perceive it as eschewing all sense of tonality altogether.

Pantheism may be considered a form of atheism: if all things are divine, then the term “divine” ceases to refer to anything in particular, which effectively makes it cease to exist.

I do not accept the premise that the only reason someone would decide not to sing at Mass is that they are unwilling to make the sacrifice to God of their discomfort with singing. For a lot of people, I do think that’s the case, but not all.

Many lament that congregations do not understand the idea that their singing fulfills a liturgical role. I propose that one reason for this is that we ask them to sing everything, which reduces the “specialness” of their role as singers in the same way that pantheism “reduces” to atheism, and pantonality to atonality.

I wish we could try this: make the Ordinary and the acclamations the only congregational music, and give the processional songs/chants to music ministers alone. Just to see what happens when the people see that there are times when they sing, and there are times when they don’t sing.

In my own experience, some of the heartiest singing is with responsorial Psalms. Could it be because there is a clear distinction here between what is congregational music (the response) and what is ministerial music (the verses)?


At Sunday, June 04, 2006 3:45:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love to sing at Mass. I am not saying I carry a tune but my first parish priest always said that anytime we are singing praise to God it is like a prayer. I notice many adults and children alike not singing at Mass and it is sad. Too many people do not understand Mass. I was one of these until things like Blogs, Caholic Raido, and EWTN helped me to delve more deeply into the faith.
Blass you

At Sunday, June 04, 2006 7:21:00 PM, Blogger Jeffrey Tucker said...

You are on to something here. One reason people don't sing is because they do not believe that they are contributing anything. A major reason for this is the volume of the instruments--organ is a major offender--and the volume of the mics on the cantor and choir. Why bother when the music is already loud and when you can't really hear yourself anyway?

But try unplugging it all. When people sing, they actually hear themselves. They hear their neighbors. They feel a sense of responsibility, from which they might at first withdraw but later come to accept and appreciate.

I've never observe a congregation singing less than when the instruments are loud, the choir is heavily amphlified, and when the music has a beat designed to whip up people who are just there to pray. On the other hand, try a well-known classic hymn without instruments and see what happens by the 2nd or 3rd verse. It is truly inspiring.

At Sunday, June 04, 2006 10:40:00 PM, Blogger Bernard Brandt said...

I will entirely agree with you that when instruments are loud, or when the choir or cantors are heavily amplified, the people feel discouraged from singing.

On the other hand, in my little parish, St. Andrew Russian Catholic Church, we have neither amplification nor instruments. We do totally a capella music in the Russian and Greek Byzantine style (although mostly in English), and the priest, deacon, lectors and cantor/choir use only the voices which God gave them. The congregation sing everything along with the choir. For Pentecost today, we had a baptism and a lot of new people in. Within 30 minutes, a number of those people started singing along. It was wonderful.

My advice: Ax the amplication, nix instruments, stop singing pop and pap, and get a small choral group to sing things often enough so that they get into people's memories. You'll be amazed at the participation of the congregation.

By the bye, great blog. May I link to you?

At Monday, June 05, 2006 10:35:00 AM, Blogger Cantor said...


Thanks - you absolutely may link us!

As to completely getting rid of instrumentation, I have mixed thoughts. Instrumentation is a great way to teach people a tune, and without competent people in music ministry to sing unaccompanied, it is hard. (Believe me, I rehearse my people unaccompanied quite a bit, so they are used to it.)

I don't think I would get rid of the organ. I think it can overpower, but it can also sustain people's singing and encourage it. Lamentably, I don't think this is the case in my parish, where we are in front of the assembly and the amplification as well as the organ comes at the people from the front.

If I could get rid of the pop and pap, I surely would. But, my folks are not ready for such a dramatic change, and some would probably see that as the last straw and leave this parish (which can't really afford to lose more people).

At Monday, June 05, 2006 9:29:00 PM, Blogger Jeffrey Tucker said...

You are wise in many ways. Every parish is different, and these judgements can be very tricky to make. We need to think in terms of years, not weeks or months.


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