Monday, September 18, 2006


Let me begin this post by describing my place in the theological and liturgical sphere of the Catholic Church: I consider myself an adherent to conservative orthodoxy who believes in sound liturgical practice according to the guidelines handed down to us by the powers-that-be. I do my best in my current job (which I will describe in more detail in the next week or two) to champion the cause of quality liturgical music with a particular penchant for Gregorian chant and renaissance polyphony, though not limited to either. I believe much music has been written in the last 400 years of much worth in and out of the Catholic tradition, including composers through the years from Brahms to Proulx.

So that being said, let me express some frustrations over the practice currently in vogue in the Catholic blogosphere of completely ripping on any composer who would dare to associate themselves with the "other side" (more specifically, musicians aligned with the NPM camp). A classic example is this post by Gerald at the Cafeteria is Closed.

To give a bit of background, Gerald's blog was added to our blogroll when Cantor and I decided to start this site. I didn't really read it much but Cantor did. About a month later, he e-mailed me and asked if I would mind if we removed it from the blogroll; Gerald had run a series of posts in which he did some sort of superimposition of faces of liberal commentators upon each other to make some sort of "love child" or something. Seemed pretty childish to me, but a lot of Catholic blogs got a kick out of it. Needless to say, we took his blog off our site.

For some reason, a lot of folks enjoy and support this sort of silliness that seems to me to be a waste of time and counter-productive. I remember being a reader of Mark Shea's blog for about a week until I figured out he spent most of his posts just maligning folks who dared to disagree with his position on various issues. Now don't get me wrong, most of the time, I agreed with his position; it was his denigration of his opponents that I disapproved of.

Now to relate all this to the world of liturgical music, I must present my dismay at the continual disparaging of composers such as David Haas, Marty Haugen, Michael Joncas, et al. Now again, I won't try to give an apologia for the genre of music with which these people work; I dislike a great deal of it and believe that most of it pales in comparison to our treasury of sacred music and contemporary composers such as Richard Proulx (who I like very much). But I believe the absolute worst way to try to change the liturgical music scene in America is to try to shame people who find this music prayerful and liturgically acceptable. If I could give the gist of most conservative bloggers response to the liberal liturgical music scene, it would boil down to something like this:

"If you like Marty Haugen's music more than you like chant, then you're stupid."

And we wonder why we're not converting more of the NPM crowd with our insightful rhetoric . . .

The arrogance we have out in the Catholic blogosphere is profound at times. Since we have the fullness of Truth in the Catholic Church, we think we have the right to rip into anyone who would dare be a Protestant (gasp!) or a liberal Catholic (double gasp!). We present all these irrefutable arguments for the necessity of being steeped in orthodoxy in a manner that they feel stupid to believe anything else, and then we're shocked that they don't go running for the nearest confessional. And what I find the most ironic, is the fact that most of the most abrasive commentators are converts themselves! It just makes me want to say, "Hey, that was you five years ago!" Shouldn't these folks be the ones empathizing with the other side?

So here's my list of things that need to happen to help us regain some of our credibility with the NPM crowd that we've lost with our invective:

1) Be positive. Introduce chant in your parish in a non-confrontational way. Let people see the beauty inherent in this music and the possibilities for deepening their prayer life.

2) Don't publicly disparage music that you dislike and/or find objectionable for liturgical use. Don't use silly names like "On Beagle's Wings" or "Massive Cremation" to try to win over people; you'll just foster that polarization in the Church that we're trying to eliminate.

3) Empathize with the other side. Try to find out what it is in this type of music that helps people to pray. Ask yourself how you can use that as a starting point to help bring them to that next level and beyond.

4) Pray and take your Humility pills.

Enough with St. Blog's arrogance; let's start fostering intelligent discussion devoid of the pervasive vitriol that dominates our posts.


At Tuesday, September 19, 2006 9:44:00 AM, Blogger Todd said...

Well said.

"Enough with St. Blog's arrogance ..."

It goes beyond that. No authentic professional would bad-mouth one's colleagues in the way that many blogging music directors would do.

I introduced an organ-and-chant professional with a diocesan position to a few bloggers via links and my colleague found the moratorium society in particular to exceedingly unprofessional, not to mention unchristian.

Blogging critics lack the one virtue that will most assist them in their parishes: patience. Successful impatient music directors will convince people chant and polyphony are the personal prelature of the new person in charge.

And when asked to provide a positive example, many musicians suspect they would get skewered by their colleagues.

Overall: bad situation.

At Tuesday, September 19, 2006 9:57:00 AM, Blogger Cantor said...

I would venture that most who comment on liturgical music in the blogosphere are not full-time liturgical musicians.

This being said, I think musicians/liturgists can be overly sensitive about some criticism. Computer folks toss it around pretty freely - read the comments on sometime.

At Tuesday, September 19, 2006 11:37:00 AM, Anonymous Tony said...

I am not a full time musician, just a simple volunteer music minister (choir and cantor) in my church.

I have had a steady diet of Haugen and Haas for about 16 years (indispersed with a nice mix of Franck, Mozart, and others of the Latin variety.

I have been disappointed by the treatment of these guys (Haugen, Haas, et. al.) on the blogs and I've come to their defense when there was particular nastiness involved such as the curt Jester's "Haugen/Haas Ice Cream" parody in "five heretical flavors". I think it's totally uncharitable to call these guys heretics because you don't like their music.

I have to agree that there is a lot of syrupy dreck coming from Haugen and Haas, but there are a number of really good liturgical pieces.

I would love to start an interest in chant in my parish. How does one go about doing it?

At Tuesday, September 19, 2006 11:43:00 AM, Anonymous Pes said...


Check out -- they have many, many helpful articles and resources. And consider joining the Church Music Association of America. Lots of excellent resources there, too.

I'm on the traditional side of things, but I don't have any problem with doctrinally orthodox pieces written by Haugen and Haas when they're used in a suitable setting. Retreats, for example.

I, too, find the Moratorium unseemly.

At Tuesday, September 19, 2006 1:59:00 PM, Anonymous RP Burke said...

On the other hand, it is just as irresponsible to sit with our arms crossed when presented with incompetently designed music. Especially, as is the case in many parishes, when the incompetently designed music is the ONLY music.

I have written (Pastoral Music Notebook, September and November 2000) and still believe that we need a moratorium on ALL new music, so that our musical worship can be completely evaluated without at least the rush of "Here's the next new thing!!"

The ad hominem attacks on some of the contemporary stars are inappropriate. We sing lots of things with music, texts, or both by Protestants and Jews (like the psalms!!). But when we Catholics are asked to sing, during the core of our worship, texts that are just this side of Unitarian humanism, or completely devoid of the scriptural basis demanded in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, or in the gray area bordering on Pharisaism (I hope I spelled that right) and narcissism, then we cannot remain silent.

I am no reactionary. Nor was Ralph Vaughan Williams, editor of the 1906 English Hymnal that was very controversial at its publication. But thanks to RVW's tunes, folk adaptations, and considered musical judgment (not mere opinion of what someone "likes") of the best music of the past, it remains THE model for musical reform.

If Marty Haugen is today's Vaughan Williams, we have fallen a long way indeed.

At Tuesday, September 19, 2006 2:18:00 PM, Blogger Cantor said...

RP, I agree with most of what you have written above.

It is very important, as you do, to separate texts from music. People rant about the state of “music in Catholic churches”, when much of what they end up critiquing is the texts being sung.

Haugen has written some tripe, like his Ps. 47. “Shepherd Me, O God” isn’t one of my faves; certainly a lot of the others are better.

IMO, a worse offender insofar as texts is David Haas. Actually, musically, too, I find his music generally not as lyrical or pleasing; it’s a lot more “showy”, like “We Are Called” and “No Longer Strangers”.

I am all for more stringent norms on texts to be sung at Mass. Music, though, I think needs to be left to individuals, just as has traditionally been the case.

At Tuesday, September 19, 2006 4:00:00 PM, Anonymous Pes said...


Speaking of texts, I have an electronic version of the 2002 Missale in front of me, along with Solesmes' Gregorian Missal (1990), and find that the two things don't appear to agree when it comes to the communio texts.

Have you or anyone else encountered this? What accounts for the discrepancy: changes in the Lectionary between 1990 and 2002?

It's a little dispiriting.

At Tuesday, September 19, 2006 4:05:00 PM, Blogger Dad29 said...

B-16 finds time to repeat the watchwords of Pius X--"sacred music should glorify God and sancitfy and edify the people."

That's all it takes to make this traditionally-educated church musician happy.

By the way, "edification" is a component of "education;" a church musician whose music selection does not "edify" the congregation is simply not doing his job.

At Tuesday, September 19, 2006 4:09:00 PM, Blogger Cantor said...


The Entrance and Communion texts in the Missal aren’t always the same as the Gregorian texts.

Reasons could be several: one, the Missal dates from 1969, while the “Ordo cantus missæ” dates from 1972. I suspect, though, that the group of people in charge of the Missal Propers simply made a decision to use a different text.

One thing to bear in mind is that Solesmes limited the OCM Propers to “authentic” Gregorian melodies - which includes their texts. This effectively stifles any attempt to have new texts for the Propers, since, well, we can’t really doctor with the Gregorian corpus.

The US Lectionary translation was updated in 1998. Read about it:

What is *really* heinous in the 1998 Lectionary is the sequence translations, replacing “thou” even at the cost of sacrificing rhyme and meter.

At Tuesday, September 19, 2006 4:11:00 PM, Blogger Cantor said...

Dad29 - OR that church musician faces incredible pressure to keep planning bad music.

Last year was the first time in several years the parish hasn’t done “Mary, Did You Know”; my predecessor, a sweet old lady, apparently liked all that stuff. I am trying to ween folks off that stuff and to put the music program on a more “liturgically astute” footing, but it takes time, time, time, and more than once I’ve been bitten by moving too quickly.

At Tuesday, September 19, 2006 4:15:00 PM, Blogger Cantor said...

...and, of course, one problem is that, with so many parishes in my area, people who felt excluded by being unable to escape “Mary, Did You Know” and many, many pop choral arrangements (yes, even at the “traditional organ Mass”!) have fled to other parishes. So what’s left is basically people who either don’t mind the pop stuff or who like it.

In effect, this phenomenon turns parishes not into communities of faithful, but clubs of like-minded individuals.

At Tuesday, September 19, 2006 5:37:00 PM, Blogger Ephrem said...

I've been very critical of the extremes of the blogosphere, especially the "morphing" of faces done with photoshop. It's distortion of creation. I think it's immoral.

On the other hand, there seems to be something within the sensus fidelium--within the sensibility itself--that is perennially negative in orientation. On one level it is almost like a repugnance--"That's bad for me." I've heard on good authority that this is exactly what a bishop's judgment is like: "That's bad for my flock." There's no reason a convert couldn't have that sensibility.

What long-term Catholics know better than converts (often) is: what do I do when I've identified something wrong? Long-term, educated Catholics often have a greater security in the unity of fides et ratio: If I think about this problem, that will make my argument stronger, not weaker, as I will have gleaned the reason for my distaste. Rather than just banishing whatever offends me with a jeer.

If my instinct is true, then it will withstand reason. If it's not, I'm better off being proved wrong and refining my instinct.

But the instinct to demean and exclude comes from someplace outside Catholicism altogether. In fact I would say that it's nearly heretical.

At Tuesday, September 19, 2006 5:43:00 PM, Anonymous Pes said...

I wonder if by "like it" people mean "I would buy it if it were a consumer choice."

Isn't that a bit different than "it's not what I would buy, but that music is really very good."

Maybe it's just me, but I find it unlikely a person at Mass would hear Palestrina's "Sicut cervus" and say, "that's bad music, and inappropriate for a Church."

Do people actually say such things? I've never met one, but then, I do exactly as you say: shy away from "contemporary" Masses.

At Tuesday, September 19, 2006 5:53:00 PM, Blogger Ephrem said...

Pes, I think some people might say "That's boring." Decoded, that might mean
-That's in Latin and I have no idea what it means
-That song's slow
-How come I didn't get to sing?
-I'm really unfamiliar with that kind of music and I don't like if when unfamiliar things are just pushed on me. I'm used to liturgical music I understand, that makes sense to me.

At Tuesday, September 19, 2006 5:58:00 PM, Anonymous Pes said...


"Sicut" doesn't have to be slow. I've heard it die that death (and wind the poor singers!), but it comes alive at a little more than andante.

You're probably right that those objections are out there. God help us if any of them are those of liturgists calling the shots.

We need more articles in diocesan newspapers, frankly. I don't know what yours is like, but mine is almost entirely syndicated. It could use some work. I'm working on it.

At Tuesday, September 19, 2006 7:35:00 PM, Blogger Cantor said...

I think John Q. Catholic would hear “Sicut cervus” and say to himself, “that sounds like church.”

Fr. 1970s Liturgist would hear it and tell us that no matter how sweet it may sound to our ears, it is inappropriate because of any/all of the following:

1) In an incomprehensible language, so it impedes active participation.

2) Precludes congregational singing, so it impedes participation

3) Distracts the people’s attention from the altar and readings.

etc. etc.

Very Rahnerian/functionalist, a musical analogue to painting over murals and covering stained-glass windows.

At Tuesday, September 19, 2006 7:58:00 PM, Anonymous Pes said...

Well, none of those objections had, or have, any merit.

1. Parishioners had parallel texts in their missals.

2. Participatio actuosa was never synonymous with congregational singing.

3. The sung texts are readings, integral with the others.

4. They hardly "distract" from the altar if the compositions are suited to their liturgical place and subordinate to the sublimity of the Eucharistic Prayer. Visually, they should be no distraction if the choir is positioned properly.

But we've been through all this before. The ideas and their expression are clear enough. Other forces are at work: the music industry, the strong association of music with a socializing function, Pelagianism, impatience with the demands of tradition, technologically empowered popular piety, etc.

The list is long. And yet how common is it to hear young people say they are astonished, even ravished, by the paradoxical serenity and spiritual ache of Palestrina, Victoria, Byrd, Lassus, and all the rest...

At Tuesday, September 19, 2006 8:02:00 PM, Blogger Cantor said...

Read Lucien Deiss’s “Spirit and Song of the New Liturgy”. It’s eye-opening and sad to think that this guy, who strikes me as not lacking for arrogance, had such a profound impact on the liturgical reform.

And yet how common is it to hear young people say they are astonished, even ravished, by the paradoxical serenity and spiritual ache of Palestrina, Victoria, Byrd, Lassus, and all the rest...

Honestly, pretty rare, around my parts anyway. But then, kids are told subverbally that the type of liturgical music appropriate for them is “Awesome God”. It’s a mess.

At Tuesday, September 19, 2006 8:46:00 PM, Anonymous Pes said...

Hmm, is this the guy:

"We will be a more liturgical, more biblical Church," says Deiss. Isn't 'One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic' what the Church professes?

Notice the sense of consolidating power. These guys are not clowning around. They wield power and aim to keep it.

At Tuesday, September 19, 2006 8:46:00 PM, Blogger Ephrem said...

As far as what the congregations' reactions would be, we're all working from anecdotal evidence, so it is hard to say. I think that some of the people in the average big suburban parish would react negatively at first, just because the music is new and "non-participatory" in the sense that they don't sing it. Some (especially older people) might wonder if "we're going back to the old days."

I hate to say it, but to really know what's on the mind of the people, you need to bring in the social scientists. Yikes.

At Tuesday, September 19, 2006 8:53:00 PM, Blogger Cantor said...

Read the book. Really.

We look at things differently now - using the Propers is now considered a good thing. Deiss disdained the idea.

To understand how we drifted askance from what is spelled out in the CSL, read Deiss (and notice how, in his treatment of Gregorian Chant, he completely avoids the explicit mandate for congregations to learn their parts of the Ordinary in Latin).

At Tuesday, September 19, 2006 9:02:00 PM, Anonymous Pes said...


I've been googling, and your post about Deiss from back in May came up. Good post. I'll try to find a copy of his book, but my interest really isn't historical at this point.


You're right about all this anecdotal stuff. I suspect most of us in the pews just want the music not to be embarrassing. Hearing somebody limp through the Hallelujah chorus is just as cringe-inducing as someone belting out some Celine Dion Mega Church weeper.

But this is to approach the Mass as a show.

When it's really a prayer.

At Tuesday, September 19, 2006 9:48:00 PM, Blogger Ephrem said...

Pes, I agree, it's a prayer. It's distracting, though, to hear something badly done, and try to ignore it and think charitable thoughts, and offer it up, and then hear something even worse, etc. There's prayer going on, but it's possibly more of a prayer AT Mass, than the prayer of the Mass. Still, it's sacrificial!

My own search is for the principles that underlie better music. For words: theology, poetry, elevated diction, Scripture. For music?

At Tuesday, September 19, 2006 10:17:00 PM, Anonymous Pes said...

Prayer at Mass, yes, better. I'm happily corrected.

For music? Well, maybe cantor will make that the topic of a new post.

At Tuesday, September 19, 2006 11:01:00 PM, Blogger Cantor said...

Better music is such a hard thing to define.

We can, though, more closely approximate it if we put restrictions on it:

1) sacred ritual music
2) congregational music

Our forebears associated the first of these categories with a detachment from individuality - ergo why there are no solos in most older sacred ritual music. In place of the self-expression that characterized secular madrigals and, later, opera, counterpoint stood in as the test of the composer’s mettle.

As to good congregational music, we can examine the six elements of music:

1) melody
It’s nice to have patterns that repeat and to be safely diatonic, staying roughly within an octave range.

2) rhythm
Again, we need something straightforward if 400 people will sing it together.

3) harmony
Here we have the most freedom. Everything from DIX to Proulx’s concert-worthy “Mass for the City” can stand in here; of course, the restrictions on melody affect harmony as well.

4) texture
Homophonic or monophonic, pretty much by definition.

5) dynamics
Generally, one consistent dynamic seems, at least today, what works best. A loudly singing congregation is seen as a good thing.

6) form
Gotta be simple - the editors of Spirit & Song would do well to re-examine their work in this light.

At Tuesday, September 19, 2006 11:03:00 PM, Blogger Cantor said...

As an addendum, strophic hymnody (usually) accomplishes the detachment from individualistic expression by its very nature: the same music comes with several different verses, so tailoring one verse to the music could ruin the others, or at least make for awkwardness.

At Wednesday, September 20, 2006 9:33:00 AM, Anonymous behr said...

There are exceptions to "simple is better". An a capella congregation shocked me once by singing Vaughan Williams' "The Call" brilliantly. "Unsafe" melodies work fine if there's genius behind them, with natural dynamic changes too. Please don't sell us too short, we'll miss wonderful things.


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