Monday, July 02, 2007

What to think of P&W music?

Most readers of this and other Catholic blogs, esp. those whose subject matter is more or less specific to sacred music, are probably of the opinion that music of the likes of Fr. Michael Joncas’s works is to be considered on a “lower rung” than, say, the chant propers of the Mass. Or at least, we apply guilt-by-association: since the music of Fr. Joncas, Marty Haugen, David Haas, et al. is mostly to be associated with gender-neutered Biblical text adaptations, musical constructs and instrumentations that resemble modern popular music, Cardinal Mahoney, and other things most of us would probably rather see excised from liturgical celebrations, we have an inherent bias against the music.

It is not altogether unfounded. Fr. Joncas, for example, is very much in the same camp as Bp. Trautman regarding liturgical translation. I can’t recall specific examples, but I think the mindset once regarded as “liberal” (but which, today, I think is more of a relic of the 70s and 80s) concerning various Church teachings is often rightly associated with Dan Schutte & Co. In short, guitar Masses and their musical progeny associate well with “cafeteria Catholicism” of the most popular kind: shunning difficult moral teachings and generally wishing the Roman Catholic Church would forget the first two words of that title.

But this cannot be said, I think, of the kind of music that emanates from Franciscan University at Steubenville. In many ways, this school is a model of what Catholic higher education should be: all studies are explicitly connected to the Christian life in one way or another.

While I, at least, strongly associate orthodoxy with “tradition”: women wearing mantillas, chant/polyphony, organ, etc., the music that comes out of Steubenville is much closer to Carey Landry’s work than to Bruckner’s. My encounters with it are largely of the “lead sheet” variety: unadorned melodies with guitar chords written above. Lyrics are simple and generally non-Scriptural, with a prominent element of devotion (i.e. non-liturgical).

What to think here? It seems the only lack of “orthodoxy” here is that the people who usually advocate for this kind of music at Mass seem opposed to the use of Latin that our liturgical norms mandate. (It is often a moment of confusion when these people find out that Vatican II actually mandated continued use of Latin.)


At Monday, July 02, 2007 11:14:00 PM, Blogger HilbertAstronaut said...

1. It's interesting that a number of my high-church or at least "middle-church" friends are interested in gender neutrality when it comes to liturgical translations. I think that, _if_ you look across denominational lines, it's an issue that cuts across "low-church" / "high-church" boundaries. But, in the Roman church, it's somehow associated with composers of the "nice" music that followed the strum-and-hum period.

2. Steubenville -- that Americanly protestant, self-consciously orthodox phenomenon, which seems incapable of taking itself with the humor it deserves ;-P

3. Why should the first thought one associates with "tradition" be an article of women's clothing? ;-) (No, seriously, why?)

At Wednesday, July 04, 2007 9:46:00 AM, Blogger Cantor said...


The association you observe is, I believe, conditioned by reality. I am not the first to notice it by any means.

Care to explain your comment on Steubenville?

The trappings of “tradition” that I noted were not in any particular order. I know many tradition-oriented Catholic women who don’t wear mantillas - though I don’t know many tradition-minded Catholics who are inimical to use of Latin and chant.

At Wednesday, July 04, 2007 10:58:00 AM, Blogger Alice said...

I have little love for the Franciscan University at Steubenville; however, they are starting a sacred music program this fall. As far as I can tell, the program is in line with the relevant liturgical documents and features a strong core music curriculum. I do wonder how this is going to play out on the campus since the University seems to be the home of the Catholic P&W movement. Like you, I tend to find P&W far more devotional than liturgical, and, while I think that it's inappropriate in the liturgy, I have no problem with it as an extra-liturgical devotion.


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