Lest we become what we behold....
The following forum thread has gotten me thinking....
ISTM that it was an act of closed-mindedness to close and sink a thread that directly deals with the “600-lb. gorilla” facing many who decry the use of Marty Haugen’s music: what, specifically, is it in the music that makes it unsuitable for the liturgy? Those few who work with “scholas” that sing for liturgies that focus overtly on tradition can avoid this, but the majority of us who grunt and sweat in average parishes need to address this issue head-on and in very intricate detail.
I am glad to be a member of CMAA because of many of the helpful (philanthropic?) endeavors that they pursue (e.g. Communio, PDF of the 1961 Liber Usualis, book reprints), but more and more I am glad that this organization remains “on the fringe”.
The current CMAA leadership sometimes appears to have no grip on the reality that those of us in average parishes face. I mean, imagine showing CMAA’s Sacred Music FAQ to Joe & Jane Catholic with 2.5 kids and a dog who enjoy singing “Here I Am, Lord” at Mass. You might reach a handful of them with a taste for the esoteric, but by and large, the “start from the ground up” approach that the FAQ uses is asking for people to ignore it. It might work with brand-new Christians, but not with very many cradle Catholics. Every good schoolteacher knows this axiom: “start with what they know”. Every good liturgical music director, too, knows to “start with what they know” when going into a new parish - even if the intent/hope is to introduce radical change eventually.
If you are ever going to critique, say, Haugen 51, there has to be some basis for that critique besides the simple, emotion-laden dismissals like “boy, I’m glad I don’t have to do this music” in the aforementioned thread. And I would also suggest that tales of the difficulty of teaching it to cantors carry little weight with those of us who have worked with many, many volunteer cantors who have little trouble singing it (and/or who have just as much trouble singing unpulsed or Gelineau psalms). Frankly, I have no empathy with the “pain” that these pieces have caused because I consider them all to be of at least decent, if not outright good, quality. (see below) Certainly none offend me.
What is desperately needed, eventually at least, is a real, unbiased engagement with the musical status quo in American parishes. What is good in it? The answer cannot be “nothing of the status quo is good; it all must be discarded.” (Nor do I think the answer can be “things are perfect as they are.”)
This relates well to Todd Flowerday’s situation. He did invite the scorn he experiences of late, and much of his criticism of Mahrt’s SttL appraisal seems unfounded to me, but I do think we need to examine, for example, with as little bias as possible, whether anything good comes from having the piano in church. Is a harp ok? If so, what if I play it by striking the strings rather than by plucking them? If so, what is the difference between that and a piano? I am of the opinion that the piano, just like the organ, can be played in ways that are sacred and in ways that are secular. (organ accompaniments to silent films, anyone?) Let us not forget that organs were BANNED in early Christian liturgy because they were secular instruments!
I am often frustrated with NPM because of the closed-mindedness I see in that organization. The Church’s rich patrimony of sacred music is relegated to the fringe; just recently have they finally added a section to deal with chant - the very music that is intrinsic to the Roman Rite! Many prominent voices in contemporary liturgical music still insist that the congregation must sing “everything”, giving no thought to the singing of dialogues and readings.
But I cannot and will not stand with people whose only expressed opinion on the music of Marty Haugen is “I’ve had such soo so much exposure to this music and am soo so glad I don’t have to deal with it.” This is an opinion that deserves to be closed and sunk, frankly, and is more harmful to liturgical music than Carey Landry’s entire oeuvre. It encourages us to close our minds and to replace thinking with simple emotion. It encourages us to sit on our laurels and not to grow. It closes us off from other people. In short, it’s not very catholic. Were I to stand with such people, I would be no better than the people who so frustrate me in NPM.
My own thoughts on the proposed list of Haugen psalm-songs:
The texts of all are just fine.
best: 51. Straightforward, simple, and pretty.
then: 33. The 3rd and 4th verses don’t “work” as well as the first two, IMO. But I do really like the deceptive motion from G to D/A in the 1st/2nd verses.
then: 22. Again, simple and straightforward. The verses’ octave leap is unnecessary, IMO, but the harmonic motion is effective throughout.
then: 34. I liked the harmony in this more some years back. The cross relation (tonic to flat-3) motive has worn on me, but overall I still think the setting is pretty good.
then: 66. What I have always liked here is the unpredictable-yet-natural harmonic motion in the refrain. The verses don’t work as well, though, IMO.
In my parish, we use Haugen psalms at communion only, and somewhat sparingly. It’s a large enough parish that 3 communion songs are usually planned, so there is a lot of need for communion music.
Lest anyone think I am some enemy of traditional liturgical music, we definitely do more Gregorian chant and polyphony than does the average parish as well. So far this year, we’ve done or planned:
Byrd “Lord, Make Me to Know Thy Ways”
Anerio “Ave maris stella” (chant/polyphony alternatim)
all 7 O antiphons
Farrant “Lord, For Thy Tender Mercy’s Sake”
Lenten communions: Visionem, Qui biberit (2nd melody), Lutum, Videns
Mandatum & Si ego foot-washing antiphons
Pange lingua (Aquinas)
my Reproaches setting (incorporates the “Hagios” lines from the Gregorian)
Palestrina “Sicut cervus” (we did “Sitivit” last year)
Pascha nostrum communion
Viadana “Exsultate justi”
Byrd Ave verum
And last year, many of the aboves plus:
Palestrina “Sitivit anima mea” (2nd part of “Sicut cervus”)
C. Rossini “Improperium exspectavit”
Duruflé “Ubi caritas”
two more foot washing antiphons
Tallis “If Ye Love Me”
Aichinger “Confirma hoc, Deus”