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Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Of Gregorian Chant and Cricket Bats

There is an on-going conversation at a board (to which I will not link because of the frequent uninformed rancor,) about whether there is such a thing as objectively good liturgical music, - and the 900 lb gorilla twin brother to that premise, that there is objectively BAD liturgical music.
Who knew that that pronouncement of the Snowbird signators, (often derided as the quintessence of Duh....,) was controversial?
The current code word for "bad," is "insipid." As might be expected from this board, (and the editorial positions of its sponsors,) there is a great deal of support for the notion that "people like it" is proof of something beyond.... well, the fact that people like it; that ultimately it all comes down to a matter of taste; and that as democracy has proven, majority rule in such things will always produce the desired results.
Because, you know, trained musicians are, um.... (say it with a sneer,) elitists!
Annie: What's so good about putting words together?
Henry: It's traditionally considered advantageous for a writer.

One poster, whose work I look for all over St Blog's, pithily describe one dreadful ditty's music as having the dignity of elevator music , being unworthy of liturgy; and its text as mediocre, like a Hallmark card, and equivocal. (This poster has a way with words, he is a voice of a moderation that is the furthest things possible from being lukewarm, he is pointed without being unkind and he is a true progressive. But I digress....)
Others insist that every community is different, it's a matter of taste, so the song in question can be very appropriate at, "right for" some parishes.
(We see yet again the elevation of Parochial Preference to Magisterium.
Forget Ordinary Form and Extraordinary Form, we should all be celebrating the Rite of Thewaywedoithere.... but again, I digress.)
Such talk always reminds me of Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing, (from which I quoted above.)
Do you know the play?
The "Cricket Bat Scene" should be required reading for every Church liturgist.
For I believe that great hymnody, great polyphony, great anthems, great folk music (as opposed to the puerile, faux naive commercial garbage we have so much of today,) , Gregorian chant -- they are as "cunningly put together" as a cricket bat, (even if great genuinely folk music cunning is inadvertent, or the "cunning" of an entire community rather than an individual.)
A playwright, [Henry, the creation of the playwright Tom]: Shut up and listen.
This thing here, [he is holding a cricket bat] which looks like a wooden club, is actually several pieces of particular wood cunningly put together in a certain way so that the whole thing is sprung, like a dance floor.
It's for hitting cricket balls with.
If you get it right, the cricket ball will travel 200 yards in four seconds, and all you've done is give it a knock, like knocking the top off a bottle of stout, and it makes a noise like a trout taking a fly. . . . (He clucks his tongue to make the noise.)
What we're trying to do is to write cricket bats, so that when we throw up an idea and give it a little knock, it might . . . travel . . . (He clucks his tongue again and picks up [a script by a writer, a "lout with language" who, though having his own supporters and adherents, is in the judgement of Henry, who is entitled to judgement by virtue of his experience and skill] )
Now what we've got here is a lump of wood of roughly the same shape trying to be a cricket bat, and if you hit a ball with it, the ball will travel about 10 feet and you will drop the bat and dance about shouting, 'Ouch!' with your hands stuck in your armpits.
(Indicating the cricket bat.)
This isn't better because someone says it's better.... It's better because it's better. [emphasis mine] You don't believe me, so I suggest you go out to bat with this and see how you get on. [speaking of words] If you get the right ones in the right order, you might nudge the world a little or make a poem that children will speak for you when you are dead.

The words and notes that people have been choosing, and then putting together in a certain order.... what ideas do they express, and how well have the ideas "traveled?"
What are supposedly Catholic people today believing, and how are they acting on those beliefs, what are they practicing?
Are our hymnals filled with cricket bats, or just one by fours that people "like"?

3 comments:

Sir Monocle said...

Your Label "40 Years in the Desert" is so perfect here. You know, I visited my local parish recently (my son goes to CCD there) for a 2nd Graders pre-communion mass. It's a lovely domed church with fantastic accoustics and a brand new Berghaus pipe organ. For reasons unbeknownst to me, the organ never gets played. Instead, music is played from the the piano up front; loungy-sounding stuff with lyrics devoid of Theological insight. Granted, it's a kid's mass. But, kids aren't that dumb, are they? Duke Ellington once said, "If it sounds good, it is good." Problem in a lot of churches is, congregations have been forced to listed to so much crap that they don't know any better.

Sir Monocle said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Scelata said...

"Granted, it's a kid's mass. But, kids aren't that dumb, are they?"

It's more than that.
Frnakly, I'm more willing to make allowances for cheeze requested at funerals, since it is adult, even elderly people who comprise the bulk of the congregation, and their (bad) taste is already (de)formed, (although they may not be incorrigible in their bad theology.)

Defenseless children, on the other hand, are being fed cheeze and Twinkies at a point in their lives such that, even if they one day know better, they will have always a soft spot for the junk.
Save them from that!
The very greatest effort, the finest music, the most exquisite preparation should go into children's liturgies!

(Save the Liturgy, Save the World)

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