We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
One of Myers’s recurring themes is the ways in which the dumbing down of the general culture has infected American Christianity and conservatism. These are two spheres where we might expect the work of “preserving cultural treasures” to be taken up. Yet wander into a Mass or worship service in any suburban Catholic or Protestant church and you’ll hear “praise songs” that might have been lifted from Sesame Street or, if the service is High Church, the soundtrack of Phantom of the Opera. It’s hard to believe this is the same religion that inspired Bach and Palestrina, whose choral works are no more familiar to the average pastor or parishioner than the chants at a Kikuyu circumcision ceremony. The liturgy, what’s left of it, is either pedestrian or absurd. (The Shepherd who used to maketh you to lie down in green pastures will now, if you’re a Catholic, “in verdant pastures give you repose.”) Among clergy no less than the laity, a desire for beauty and reflection is deemed prissy and dull.
I'm an Episcopalian. Our music director has a master's in piano performance from a very good Chicago university and teaches voice. I sing Tenor for him. I've sung Palestrina, Byrd, Tallis, Mozart, Bach, etc. I've sung in English, French, German, Spanish, Latin and Hebrew. I've sung some praise songs, too. Also some spirituals, some simple and some quite challenging (e.g., Keith Hampton).
The Catholics I know say "You guys sing the music we gave away to you." I tell them that a) they didn't give it to us, they abandoned it, and b) a good bit of that music was actually composed for us, because when Queen Elizabeth I instituted the religious settlement between the high church types and the Puritans back early in her reign she kept on the composers of such music because she happened to like choral music.
Roman Catholic liturgical music is under the guidance (in the USA) of the Conference of Catholic Bishops and ultimately under the Vatican. It is not known for praisercise or rock bands and there is a distinction between "praise" music and worship music. organ and human voice are the preferred instruments, guitars generally accepted (ukuleles not for some reason). In practice, music choices are made at the diocesan or even parish level.
I've heard Anglican hymns as Catholic as any Roman Catholic hymn, I've also walked out of an Anglican service wherein an abomination called I just want to be a sheep (baa baa baa baa) was performed.
The topic of music suitable for the Liturgy is one that makes me bonkers. Much of the music being used in parishes was first published in the 70s and 80s and is still being trotted out by music publishers and pushed at parishes who don't have a trained liturgical music director who is interested or are purchased by the Worship Committee whose members are not musicians or are still caught up in the whole Vatican II "experience".
As a cradle Catholic, I've seen - and heard - a lot of vile music during the course of my regular Mass attendance. I have suffered with the folk group who seem to think that they're the focus and attempt to lead sing-alongs when the parishioners clearly are not interested in singing and would prefer some precious silence to contemplate.
I've also sung a goodly amount of sacred music by Palestrina, Franck, et al, and have never felt more lifted up and joyful at Mass. Alas those experiences are few and far between.
Luckily, the movement to reestablish the use of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (i.e. The Tridentine Mass using the 1962 Roman Missal) has begin to pay off. People are reconnecting or discovering for the first time (due to their young ages) the beauty of this music. As the ranks of orthodox priests begins to increase, the more this will happen. I am hopeful. But in the meantime, I bite my tongue and offer it up.
Yes, I've been in this discussion many times on worship and music committees. The sentiments expressed above all resulted in churches that said "Goodbye, kids! Unchurched people? Screw you!" That's not a prediction, that's a description. The idea that well they should like it, we should make them, it will be good for them in the long run, this time it will work for sure... helped destroy two successive generations in the church.
Thanks for that, we really appreciate it.
I am musically trained, have sung in traditional choirs and know the verses and bass parts of most hymns by heart. I lean toward keeping as much as we can of what is good. I am also on public record deploring "Jesus is my boyfriend" songs, or camp songs, except at camp or for children's choirs to sing. But those who insist on high culture with no mention of what this has cost or how it must be applied judiciously and how it fits in discussions of community worship, evangelism, and teaching should observe themselves from the outside, rather than observing everyone else. You had your chance, you chose to raise the nose instead.
People have a "heart language" for music in worship, usually related to what they heard and sang when their own faith was forming and growing. Most fail to see that it is not everyone else's. They just see it as a lack and failure in the other people. (My church history was varied enough that I have no heart language, but can get along with all).
It is hard, very hard to choose music that is both beautiful and functional for worship in congregations that come from varied backgrounds. People who would rather fight culture wars than show up for worship and humbly submit in Christian charity to what works best for all, should simply not be listened to. Go destroy someone else's church, please.
Assistant VIllage Idiot
Shudder. The vileness that is Marty Haugen and the "Gather" hymnal. What kind of photos does he have of whom?
I hoped "I just wanna be a sheep (baa baa baa baa)" was a joke, but no.
There's no need for religious music to be all high-culture, but there's a difference between low-brow folk music and vapidity. A song can be repetitive and rhythmic and suitable for what amounts to a jam session of togetherness without being banal or treacly.
You'd have to be in a coma to sing and enjoy something like "We really want to thank you, Lord" -- three notes and three chords endlessly repeated in the same dull words. Do even six-year-olds like that stuff?
actually, the Jesus Prayer used by our Orthodox friends, which can be as short as "Jesus Christ, have mercy on me", might be said thousands of times a day. When its that short, it may be said while drawing breath ("Jesus Christ") and exhaling ("have mercy on me"). its a form of what the Orthodox call hesychastic prayer.
Ego iustus volo esse pecudes (bebo bebo bebo bebo) --this doesn't work either.