Monday, September 03, 2012


Helen, always the voice of reason.
My good friend, Jeffrey Tucker, has again posted his reasoned rationale internationale
that posits the obvious and elegant solution to the perceived dilemma of choosing "repertoire" by which congregations (everyone present at liturgy) can aptly, if not ideally, "sing THE Mass." His article, "The Madness of the Method," reminded me of the dramatic school of thought called the "Method," and often associated with actors such as Marlon Brando, whom many people regarded as mad, in many senses of the word. But is the method by which musicians ply their trade in service to liturgy really all that "mad," no matter how one would characterize it? Not all actors subscribe to one method. Not all painters or sculpters rigorously adhere to any particular dialectic or systematic process of "arriving" at their chosen methodology. Someone as naturally gifted and pedagogically studied as Brando can merit the highest achievement in his art (and even perpetuate his own legend by refusing to recognizing that officially) while another soul, such as Jennifer Hudson, without a whit of stage or camera experience, can reach that same level preter-naturally. One size never fits all. Let's fisk the article.
(Experts) stand in front of parish musicians and repeatedly tell them that the most important job is to engage the congregation to the point that people feel like singing, and that means catchy tunes and simple words. And how to decide between the hundreds of such songs in the mainstream pew resources? The answer is to look at the theme of the week, which is given by the readings. Flip through the book and find a song that seems to match in some way. Check out the theme index. Then consider and anticipate the congregation’s reactions the pieces of your choosing and give it your best shot.
For an unititated reader of all things Tucker, the above excerpt is a clear example of how Jeffrey "seeds the cloud" in order that the rainfall will come down hard on the side of his argument. Depending on one's point of view, everyone in the Church since St. Pius X has been telling us that the congregation is, in fact, supposed to sing the parts of the Mass proper to their "office." This is clearly the objective of that and subsequent pope's motu proprios, encyclicals and other exhortations, in addition to ecclesial legislation as well. But how JT coins it, the experts "harp" on the musicians to persuade the people to "feel like singing.." via the experts "catchy tunes and simple words." That's a sword thrust. But a sword has... (wait for it) two sides by which one's argument may live or die. Whether by the implicit banality of sacropop and unvetted theological correctness of these "experts," or by the implicit "flat earth" approach he ascribes to the thematic approach, he shed lights only on those aspects when they don't suit a successful outcome. Jeffrey fails to mention that such experts not only "do" the same thing at all CMAA events, albeit more aligned (I admit and appreciate) to the vision of said pope and others, but also proffer the same sorts of "carrots on a stick" not only with stepping stone solutions in the brick by brick philosophy of reforming the reform, but also in the "alien" formats of thematic content, whether by textual allusions of propers by Dr. Christopher Tietze or "Hymn of the Day" thematic constructs that Kathleen Pluth is (happily to this writer) initiating. Therefore, the real question remains a very old one: who's Oldsmobile of song has a more legitimate place on the freeway of ideas? Corpus Christi Watershed's redone classic Delta 88, Matt Maher's Chevy Volt, or an all original black sedan from the Thirties of the Graduale, restored in mint condition from the auto museum? And for what's it's worth, I don't really believe that anyone who takes the time to sit and contemplate the recommendations of experts just takes their samples and then gives those "their best shot" on Sunday morning. They're trying to chauffer their best as they have a carful of back seat drivers, or worse, some automaton GPS voice barking directions at them before, during and after each Mass.
The liturgy itself is being held hostage to a few people’s on-the-spot views of what the message should be and what should take place. A major aspect of the Mass, one that can make or break the entire point of the ritual, is being put in the hands of people who have little or no substantive guidance or basis for their decision making.
Such hyperbole not only is unwarranted, but an injustice and detrimental to maintaining dialogue with thousands of musicians who have not been evangelized by the "correct" experts. What's more, it adds another hectoring voice to many I mention above, not the least of which is likely the pastor of their parish! Who, exactly, is really holding the liturgy hostage if we want to stress the vertical aspects and heirarchies of our ecclesiology and liturgics? Jeffrey seems to think it a simple matter to bone up on one's chant skills to a minimum (SEP/PBC) or maximum (GM/GR) level and boom, Just Do It! Really? That simple, huh? Just like Nike's victory, just personally invoke and infuse what is obviously the "mind of the Church" on any given Sunday. Just for a second, imagine what would result if the Lifeteen Music Director just walked in one Sunday night and told his Praise Band/Worship Team Singers to just "sit this one out" as she renders the Introit by herself in a church full of people because no one else has access to the right book nor the competency to chant that. Besides, chanting the proper processionals is the provenance of the schola, choir or cantor (in their stead, right?) Okay, everybody back in the pool at the Kyrie/Glory to God! The point is, things are not just that simple, and though the process, or sausage-making, maybe ugly and maddening, it is not solely up to the musician to inflict their will upon the gathered Faithful. And word up, I can count on one hand the number of priest celebrants locally whom I know to possess more than a cursory knowledge, and what's worse, interest in practical (much less philosophical) liturgical theology and practice. So, decision making on the part of the musician is not given license merely by the principle that mother nature abhors a vacuum, I CAN FILL IT! And you vill zing und like it. In fact, Jeffrey clearly advances the notion that one person is, in point of fact, responsible for what culminates in the execution of each Mass:
To be sure, it is flattering for the musicians to hear that they have this power. When the workshop leader comes and tell them this, their egos get a boost. Most aren’t paid and most are(n't) sic really trained, so this kind of responsibility can be welcome in lieu of material reward. It is to be accept a job that is almost priestly but without the trouble of six years of training and ordination. But the truth is that no actor in the liturgical world should have this level of power and discretion, and it is wrong to expect this of anyone.
But, I don't think this sort of out of hand dismissal of the efforts if not the abilities of the "great unwashed" proletariat of amateurs is the best parfumé by which to attract bees into the CMAA hive. And then spray them with this:
In other words, it is not our job to discern themes of the day and take over the job from the Church of pushing texts that we find appropriate. The texts for singing at Mass are already given to us. There is an entrance text, a Psalm text, an offertory text, and a communion text. These are in the liturgical books. The counsel to pick and choose whatever you want amounts to a counsel to ignore the liturgy of the Church and substitute something of your own making.
Except that we all know that the Church, whether one thinks it bane or blessing, also prescribed a system of options, for whatever Her reasons known or unknown, that are oxymoronic in their precise inarticulation. (At this point, I'd like to remind any reader that no one will feel all the better by shooting the messenger.) And what's more and again, that same system allows for the interregnum of surrogates (whether in Latin or vernacular) that will persist until....? The end of the path of worship in this world is, I readily admit and embrace, is the Latin Rite last revised largely under John XXIII, with the adjustments of certain prayers, collects, etc. So, there is a qualfiable and quantifable amount of disengenuity if one admits exception or suspension of the rules for a smaller, nobler remnant, but only excoriation for those trapped in a system they did not devise, nor are provided any means of remediation other than self-impetus and resolve to educate themselves and then evangelize others. And, truth be told, this oxymoronic situation has persisted from the day of Palestrina and St. Philip Neri to this very day, it is not solely the Bugnini Frankenstein pastische fabrication that has enslaved the liturgy alone. The only thing we all seem to agree upon is something needs to give, 'cause by and large what we've got is nothing to celebrate as catholic. But we trip over our own argument's logic all the time with the Liturgy War strategems. For example:
Most everyone today think that Gregorian chant is a style or a genre, one marked by a monkish solemnity... Gregorian chant’s distinct contribution is that it is the most complete and robust body of music for the ritual of the Roman Rite that elevates and ennobles the word of God in the liturgy itself. The point is not to sing chant but to sing the liturgy itself, meaning the text that is assigned to be sung at the place in the Mass where this particular text is intended to be sung. The notes are important but secondary to the WORD .(my emphasis)
Not one ounce of that sentiment would be anything with which I'd contend. But, there is a bit of "have your cake and eat it too" wishful thinking underneath the nobility. If adherence to the Word is primary, then why remains there disdain for a Ricky Manalo setting of Pange lingua, or a Bob Hurd setting of Ubi caritas? What's lamentable about this almost ridiculous stalemate where the advocates of the status quo about the "liturgical industrial complex" (which is the basis for the Tucker indictment in his post) and those who earnestly know that authenticity and re-solemnization of the musical servitude at Mass is sorely lacking, is that we've periodically had this same argument crop up since the beginning. There were little island parishes where NEW scholas were formed in the early seventies chanting propers. One of the progenitor musicians of the folk music movement in Baltimore, Ray Repp, re-voiced a concern with a vinyl LP collection called "Benedicamus" that no one, NO ONE, paid any attention to in the late seventies because of the vast enthrallment with the Jesuits, the Dameans and the subsequent superstars from Minnesota, California and England. And even when the now graybearded Bob Hurd introduced his Missa Ubi Caritas collection in the 80's, OCP didn't really get behind it save for the fourth option tune which is its namesake. And, like Repp's effort, it was ignored by the majority and villified by the disdainful charge of dilletantism by the traditional minority. So, with this first post in a long while on my lonely little blog I speak for myself in assessing these really not so incendiary skirmishes or advert campaigns for instant relief. We can't even agree on what constitutes an "alius cantus aptus" in our conservative circles; we've yet to see a fulfillment of the Graduale Parvum, which would be a huge step forward if legitimately completed and endorsed by the USCCB/BCL and the Vatican. So, let's stop the pretense in the meanwhile, and just tell the folks the truth. This is what we like and think is right, and that over there isn't. Simple.

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