Friday, September 14, 2012

Just follow the directions, call me in the morning.

Yet another synchronous revival of concern over what "truly" constitutes the various aspects of sung worship at our catholic rites at both the Chant Cafe and the MusicaSacra Forum. Apart from citing the prevelent documents' legislative recommendations (the key word being "recommendations") the push remains fixed upon the resurgence of ritual chant to its principled place, that would be "first place," as the quick yet eternal fix for all yer troubles-musicale at St. Malaise the Mediocre and such parishes ever'where. What mystifies me is that all shareholders to the unique call of "church musician" old enough to have lived and worked the evolutionary curve from Wagner/Schuler/Salamunovich to Hurd/Haugen/Haas aren't being systematically asked about how they've survived, nee even prospered for over four decades as they've lovingly accepted the burdens placed upon them by people, pastors and peddlers, kept the home fires stoked and burning every Sunday for every congregation, and have come to realize that, indeed, noble simplicity is the achievable goal. On the other hand, it seems that the push to inculcate the chant (which leads to polyphony which leads to Schubert which leads to Messaien which leads to.....Stockhausen? or Carey Landrey?) is cried so freqently and urgently as if by a muezzim from a minaret! Even Fr. Zed posted yesterday that no one individual or group can hector their way to convincing a pastor and people to "just do it" with putting a TLM and its attributes into a weekly parish Mass schedule. But in Jeff Tucker's recent post at the Cafe he reiterates "There is a way out." The tenor of the title of the post is yet another reminder that chant proponents are united in the perception that "church music" everywhere amounts to the USS Poseidon (or the Titanic, your choice) already keel upside down, and we chant proponents are so cockswain sure, just like Gene Hackman's hip but stern preacher/messiah character in the original film, and if we don't move in single file through the serpentine problems that confound us, we will drown, the ship will sink, and humankind will throw petals on the water and move further away towards other abysses. Jeff states with certainty:
There are objective conditions that rule our discussions of liturgical music. There is tradition but that tradition is not arbitrary. It is bound by a ritual purpose and structure. This, and not individual taste, is what serves as our guiding light. The music is not there simply to please people. It is there as a servant of the liturgy.
All of that somewhat terse assessment is true in a sort of didactic way; not unlike the placards in airplane seat pockets that are then repeated verbally by flight attendants to a cross-section of disinterested to extremely interested passengers in said plane. "In the event of...."  if you're really becoming interested in what's happening in Mass, please follow the instructions." My young colleague, Adam Wood, inserted a clip from the great slapstick movie "Airplane" about the singing nun ministering to the gravely ill child on the plane, who in the process of singing her happy clappy nun song rips the IV from the child's arm with the headpiece of her omnipresent guitar. Well, the other appropriate clip from "Airplane" concerning following liturgical principles would be the one where the lead attendant orders passengers to assume the correct emergency position for a crash landing, and they all scramble into an absurd melange of idiocy and chaos! The problem with think-tank processes, surveys, making more and more legal documents (think of Pelosi begging congress to pass Obamacare just so everyone could then have a reason to what was in the law after the fact!) and aesthetes calling all the shots is that it doesn't account for the purpose of liturgy, to save the people first! Serving the liturgy is an ideal that cannot merely imply serving the people well and in good fashion and taste. Churches have been often dubbed hospitals for sinners. Well, how's our health care system doing lately? Better than the Church? About equal maybe? Well, by my reckoning we're seemingly in a state of perpetual triage. Standing at the nexus of nave and sanctuary crying out "Chant you people, chant now, chant well!" is analogous to young Kevin Bacon's ROTC character in "Animal House" facing the riotous stampeding Faber townspeople raging towards him, and his pathetic cries "All is well, all is well!" If all is well in Catholic Church Music Land, how come I know of more than a handful of top drawer musical leaders who are struggling to either keep the legacy of their work going under intolderable circumstances, or who are seeking a shrinking scenario of professional possibilities in an extremely tenuous civic economy which redowns upon a church economy a hundredfold worse? I'm going to mull this whole enchilada over for a while, after a brief interlude. But has it occured to anyone that there are a spectrum of factors that have influenced the three or four living generations of pre and post concilior catholic culture besides the ritual purity and moral rightness undergirding the Church's Thought on these liturgical matters? What if Great-granny Mildred's most cherished musical memory from "church" wasn't singing the Dies Irae in her schools choir in a loft 75 years ago, but a constant re-hearing of hymns such as "Nearer my God, to Thee," "In the Garden," or or this great classic, So, if you're fortunate enough to consult with a cogent Millie prior to her passing, are YOU going to have much success recreating Fr. Pasley's eloquent exegesis of the Dies Irae at the Salt Lake colloquium to her and her attendant family in order to persuade its singing as the Offertory at her "celebration of life" Mass? And good luck telling Mildred's daughter and grand-daughter that OEW sucks and you won't play it when they keel over either. The liturgy cannot be merely dealt with in the abstract. There are persons involved-both people and divine creatures, not the least of which is the Creator of all. And, of course, like Hallmark, when we want to send our greetings to Him, we want to send the very best. But that "very best" may not always be summarized tidily in elegant simplicity or ornate adornment. It may be a fingerprint of a cross in the dirt and clay, or scrawled on a napkin in a hurry, or in the inconvenient clank of coins into a collection basked amidst the bills and checks. Now, in the interim, don't a one of ye who lurk here think I've touched the third rail and fried my connection to the eternal, sacral language of our Roman Catholic chant. I'm just sayin..... To be continued.

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