Sunday, March 18, 2007

thoughts on CCM/P&W in liturgy

We don’t talk much about Spirit & Song, Holy is the Lord, and the like on this blog, but I thought I would share an experience I recently had and two thoughts that I gleaned from it.

I recently went to an area young-adult activity that had exposition/adoration, Mass, then a concert. The music for Mass and exposition was done by your typical “contemporary” group, and well executed. The amplification for the Mass went through a PA that had been set up ahead of time for the concert later on, and the music was quite loud. People sang fairly well - about as well as I remember from regular college Masses. But of course, the amplification was so loud that you couldn’t hear yourself. It really gave the impression that, rather than “singing the Mass”, my vocal participation constituted “singing along” rather than “singing”. My singing was auxiliary.

The music for Mass was kind of standard fare stuff, but redone, in some cases, for drums/bass/guitar/keyboard/screech-singing. The responsorial psalm was sort of typical of the genre - the response was all syncopated and funkified, which made it very difficult for me to sing it after a first hearing. (But, judging from what I know of the music selection for such Masses, the people choosing the music wouldn’t likely have thought very deeply about how learnable the music is on first hearing.)

Speaking of how easy congregational music is to sing, I began to think how frustrating it has been, the times I have had to do S&S-type stuff, when the music has a form like this:

Verse 1
Verse 2
Verse 3
Verse 4
Bridge 2
Final Refrain

...and, of course, each verse is different enough musically that you can’t deduce one from having learned another.

Then, the concert, with two (long) opening acts. Again, well-done stuff - not music I find very interesting to listen to, though I enjoy playing stuff like that. Toward the end of my time there, it occurred to me how dialectic the pronunciation was, and how awkward it would sound were these singers to have used the tall, clear vowels and crisp consonants I try to get my singers to use.

The next thought was, how well do good diction and formality go hand-in-hand, while dialectic/sloppy diction goes with informality?

I am wondering if I have stumbled on a “proof” of the idea that people who like hearing pop music at church just don’t want to feel like they’re really in church: they don’t like music that sounds right with good diction, which inclines them to shun formality by association. (And Gregorian chant does tend to sound formal, doesn’t it?) The problem is, of course, that the Mass is inherently formal: even the vestments and decorations aside, the structure of the ritual is very formal.

Whaddy’all think? Should I publish? :)


At Tuesday, March 20, 2007 10:13:00 AM, Anonymous Ephrem said...

It's worth exploring. I do think that the "songs" in the Mass can actually keep us on a superficial level of our being. And thus they keep us from deeply entering into the Mass.

At Tuesday, March 20, 2007 10:47:00 AM, Blogger Gavin said...

"people who like hearing pop music at church just don’t want to feel like they’re really in church"

You said in so few words what I've spent the last few years of my life trying to say! I think it'd be worth getting out there if you were to "beef up" your point more. Popular music needn't necessarily have bad diction. Last night I was listening on my iPod to a certain band I'm ashamed to mention (Starts with AB, ends with BA...) and I noticed at some points the vowells were perfect. And let's not forget Gospel/Spirituals; those often benefit from less than perfect diction but are still a "churchly" genre. Or listen to some authentic southern shape-note singing. Not to contradict your point, I just want to give you something to consider in firming up the point.

At Tuesday, March 20, 2007 12:21:00 PM, Blogger Cantor said...


Re shape-note singing and Gospel music, one difference I think is that, culturally, these are presumed (by me, at least) to be, well, less than erudite environments. There wouldn’t have been much contact with intelligentsia. This would stand in opposition to the traditional association between the RCC and academia (in Western society, at least).

As regards ABBA, I actually don’t know their music. Are there really pure [o] and [i] vowels? Like, “to see” would really be pronounced “tooo seeee”, not “tuh siih”?

At Wednesday, March 21, 2007 11:51:00 AM, Anonymous moconnor said...

Don't forget that Abba was Swedish group. Their English pronunciations were most likely over-worked to overcome their accents and lack of internalization of the language in the same way we sing German, French, Latin, etc.

At Friday, March 23, 2007 2:33:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sloppy diction seems to me to tie in with a refusal to "dress up," deliberately casual body language, and the desire of some highly educated experts to limit "sacred language" to a ludicrously small vocabulary.
Do you think this might also be part of (what I think is,) is a fairly recent societal developement?
A sort of "anti-aspirationalism"?
Once upon a time the uneducated and economically disadvantaged for the most part at least tried to imitate those of higher social status.
Now such aping is as likely to go the other way.
The pride of the Hyphy movement, rich suburban kids trying to be ghetto, the marketing of haute couture "grunge" -- these would have been unthinkable.


(Save the Liturgy, Save the World)


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