Saturday, February 10, 2007

CMAA: constructive critiques

Since CMAA does not allow comments on their weblog (probably a good thing), I will post here some reservations about this organization.

But, first, some praise.

It is astounding, and incredibly useful, to have resources like the 1961 Graduale and a complete pre-V2 Missale made available for free download, in text-underlaid PDFs. These alone would prompt me to continue my CMAA membership.

Sacred Music has some interesting articles in it. I very much enjoyed Tietze’s article, I think an issue or two ago, about differences between the processional antiphons in the Graduale and the Missale. Mahrt’s article a few issues back further about the musical constructions of the proper chants was very handy knowledge.

Given the apparently small number of leaders in the organization, there is a lot of cool stuff happening with the group: t-shirts and mugs, downloadable PDFs, weblog posts, and more.

In general, the organization has much more tech savvy than, well, just about anyone. From this I get a warm, fuzzy feeling of being “at home”, being myself a musician with a strong technical bent (who did work full-time as a programmer in years past). I think this will help attract the right minds to the organization’s work.

But, here are some beefs:

An obvious oversight: why is there no email list for CMAA members? (Ok, Jeffrey says there is one. I don’t recall being invited to join it, though, until emailing him.)

Another oversight: there is no hint of regional chapters. We may gather that membership is not exactly booming in comparison to NPM, but even knowing if there are one or two other CMAA members in my area would be of great help in advancing the cause of chant/polyphony/good-modern.

There is too much “head-in-the-clouds” about the reality of how things are today. I mean, really. I work in the trenches of parish music ministry. I deal with the parishioners who hate Latin and want to sing David Haas and Spirit & Song (or at least to try to sing them). The priests and liturgists may be more open to it, but they know there’d be hell to pay. It’s all I can do to get any chanting, even Gelineau and Guimont responsorial psalms, to be accepted in the parish’s sung prayer. There are some who do like traditional Catholic music at Mass. Some. Just as there are some who appreciate the use of Latin. But in my experience, and I would imagine in that of most FT Catholic church music professionals, traditional Catholic music is a hard, hard sell to the mainstream of Catholics. Chant CDs may sell well, but apparently that doesn’t translate to widespread acceptance of the form at Mass. The relatively few who do like these things (which, I agree, should be experienced and made a part of every Catholic’s liturgical participation) have fled to those few speciality parishes (themselves indulging in the post-V2 error of “go to the church you like the best”).

I should add, Gavin is one of the lucky few whose pastor truly seems behind the cause of traditional Catholic sacred music.

The paraphernalia that CMAA would have me distribute to my parish’s music ministers, let alone to ordinary pew Catholics, might as well be in another language. I would hazard a guess that none of its authors is a teacher, for whom one of the fundamental rules is: “start with what the students know”. In this case, if you want to talk to Joe Catholic about sacred music, start with “Here I Am, Lord”, because that’s what he knows.

Sacred Music could really use some more contributors.

Along the line of Sacred Music, did the magazine ever print a recognition of the points Paul Ford raises in defense of his book “By Flowing Waters”, a book which Calvert Shenk apparently dismissed in the Spring 2004 issue?

This is a critique that would go for much of the Reform2 commentary, but in particular with CMAA, come observations on Haugen/Haas music that is at least less offensive would go much further toward reaching Joe Catholic (and even Joe Liturgist) than the seeming universal condemnation. Whether we like it or not, the music of the SLJs is probably here to stay for some time. The best we can hope for in the immediate time frame is coexistence with the 600-pound gorilla.

And, lastly, a Dies iræ wall clock?!? Could be just me, but that’s something my non-chant-enthusiast friends would buy for me as a gag gift. I mean, it’s funny, even hilarious, to me, but I guess I’m not sure it’s intended to be funny. (And I say this as one who laments the removal of Dies iræ from the Mass.)

I am hoping that these critiques will be a catalyst for some positive changes. I know the guys at CMAA are doing everything they can to further the cause of sacred music, but I wanted to throw this out there to see what other folks think of the direction in which we seem to be headed. There is so much good possible from this organization - I guess I simply worry that, unless we “come down to earth”, all people will see in us is fanaticism.


At Monday, February 12, 2007 12:21:00 AM, Anonymous moconnor said...

I'm a big fan of CMAA, but you're right, it's not yet connected to the real world. I also hope that they will bring on some folks who can come up with creative ideas that will get the camel's nose under the tent. That said, this is a grass roots movement. There are powerful interests involved and it may be a good thing for the organization to have a firm sense of its mission as it expands. We'll see what happens.

At Monday, February 12, 2007 9:20:00 AM, Blogger Jeffrey Tucker said...

I really do appreciate your comments here. What we are dealing with here is a great tension between pointing to ideals--and this is wholly necessary because this is what is lacking--and dealing with existing reality, in which these ideals are largely unknown. Where is it best to position an organization in this struggle? It is possible to be too aloof to the grass roots (my impression is that this is a problem that has long persisted in the sacred-music movement) and then there is the opposite danger of too much engagement with existing structures and idioms to the point where principles and standards disappear. This is a problem that afflicts every "radical" movement.

I must say that William Mahrt's incredible testimony before the USCCB's music subcommittee seemed to strike the right balance. It was a real inspiration. To me this testimony was a perfect demonstration of how to closely engage the existing structures while never losing site of the ideals.

For example, there was a moment when everyone was going on about diversity of styles and finally Dr. Mahrt said: the issue isn't about forbidding this or that type of music currently in use. It is about what our priorities are, and what time of music is to be considered the liturgical ideal. What is the measure and the standard of excellence against which we are to measure current practice?

It is a simple but striking point, and a great starting point for constructive discussion.

I can't speak for the CMAA--it is a national organization with great musicians and intellectuals, and, as an amateur, I can't consider myself among them--but surely there will be bumps and missteps along the way, no doubt, but I only only suggest that we all need to be patient and work hard day by day in every way we know how. Small steps, bit by bit, will make the difference over the long term.

At Monday, February 12, 2007 9:45:00 AM, Blogger Jeffrey Tucker said...

One final note on the Dies irae clock. It's one of those brilliant ideas that seems crazy and impossible--surely not!--and then, in a mischievous way--why not?--suddenly possible once you think about it. When several choral directors swooned at the idea of putting it up in their practice rooms, it seemed inevitable.

At Monday, February 12, 2007 9:22:00 PM, Blogger Gavin said...

It's good to see I retain some notoriety, even as a commentor :P

The CMAA does leave a bad taste in my mouth for some reason. I think the problem is in the whole way that it's a "grassroots" organization. It isn't one. It's still an organization of musicians dictating to people what they WILL like and embrace as Catholics. They don't have the lack of ethics like NPM does, but still I'm waiting to see lay non-musicians rise up in support of chant. It won't happen.

I think the best work that the CMAA could do (but isn't) is to engage non-musicians EFFECTIVELY. It isn't effective (and I'm guilty of this too) to say "you're going to shut up and listen to the choir sing the introit instead of a hymn because it's Catholic, dammit!" How often does the idea pop up among CMAA members of "people don't want to sing 4 hymns", "People don't want this", "people want that", all of it unsubstantiated. I'm not saying we should go the NPM route of polling people and spreading that, I'm saying that what we need is EFFECTIVE ADVOCACY AMONG NON-MUSICIANS!! I capitalized that for a reason.

When CMAA members can soberly ask themselves "why did Glory & Praise work", let alone acknowledge that it did, without characterizing NALR as a statue-smashing rapist travelling from Oregon to Maine spreading heterodoxy, we'll get somewhere. So long as it's just polemics, anger, and bitterness, the reform of the liturgy in music and otherwise will just stall.

I will add a word of praise that CMAA's Sacred Music is an EXCELLENT publication with consistently amazing scholarship. The next step is to have more than 4-5 parishes per state that can take advantage of such a resource.

At Tuesday, February 13, 2007 10:48:00 AM, Blogger Jeffrey Tucker said...

I'll go on record as being firmly opposed to "polemics, anger, and bitterness." ;)

The CMAA does have a job to do: it is pointing to the ideal. That's really what is missing in discussions of sacred music today. It is not only about diversity; it is about priorities. I really do believe that is the most important job that the CMAA does.

I'll repeat too that we all need to have patience. The CMAA can't do everything at once. One step at a time.

At Tuesday, February 13, 2007 12:31:00 PM, Blogger Gavin said...

Of course, Jeff is one of the stars of the CMAA for good reason. It's musicians like him that will turn the tide of public opinion in favor of chant, etc.

I should add that another thing lacking in the CMAA is a plan of "how to get from here to there" in terms of the parish. Advocacy of chant is good, but we know all too well what happens if you go into a Glory & Praise parish and switch straight to Gregorian Chant in Latin. That's part of why I had my blog, to document the stuff in between.

Since Cantor mentioned my boss, I'd like to add that this is a near-essential part of good music. My boss teaches why we do what we do, he's not afraid to have a good liturgy, and he's reasonable. He is also very supportive of my work. We as musicians know how important a support structure is, and it's even better if a big part of that is at church. I can NOT immagine introducing introits, etc. without a priest who actually will explain to people why we do it. One of my friends has a priest who at least is good intentioned but doesn't know an Introit from a Communio. Sadly, as much as a priest like that might want to help, he can't do a lot. What's needed is supportive AND knowledgable priests.

At Tuesday, February 13, 2007 2:39:00 PM, Blogger Jeffrey Tucker said...

Gavin, I completely agree that the transition is the challenge. But I'm against pushing one model. Every parish is different. You have different tools to work with, different traditions, different styles of leadership, a variety of skill levels, different levels of attachment to current hymns and hymnals, not to mention budgets. Each case suggests a different approach, and there's probably a lot of trial and error involved. It took me about eight years to get on the right track in my current parish, and five more to adapt in a wholly stable way.

What we need is a large toolkit and lots of patience.

At Thursday, February 15, 2007 12:35:00 PM, Anonymous Sam Schmitt said...

"It's still an organization of musicians dictating to people what they WILL like and embrace as Catholics."

I find this comment a bit odd. Far from anybody being forced to listen to chant, most people are barely aware of its existence as church music (they've probably heard it only in movies or on recordings.) When it comes to church music, they don't even have an option - or, more likely, they don't even know what the options are. Telling them seems like a good first step.

I would hope that members of the CMAA (like myself) realize that dictatorial tactics in this regard will (obviously) only backfire and discredit the organization, and more significantly, quality church music. This would be sad since as far as I can tell the CMAA is simply trying to promote what the Church wants - nothing more, nothing less.

At Friday, February 16, 2007 7:29:00 AM, Blogger Jeffrey Tucker said...

Let me also go on record as being very much against using force as a means to create music.


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