Category Archives: Music

Is Music a Civilizing Force?

This short talk by Roger Scruton is worth listening to in its entirety. His thoughts on silence are especially profound.

I have come to realize that rock-n-roll’s purpose, among other things, is to un-civilize the individual. We love rock-n-roll precisely because we want to be un-civilized. I do believe there is some value in occasionally “letting down one’s hair.” I really can’t say it’s all bad. But I also believe it has to be appropriately counterbalanced with beautiful music that leads us to perfection of the soul.

This idea of perfection of the soul is laughed at by moderns. No one believes in perfection anymore, in part because they don’t think it’s possible, but more profoundly because they don’t believe there is an objective standard by which to measure perfection. But they also do not believe in the soul. Why seek to perfect something that does not exist? And why go to the effort if there is no life beyond this one? I would posit, however, that the existence of music, and the phenomena of human experiences of music, are an excellent argument for the existence of the soul, its eternal nature, and its desire for perfection.

Then, when I think of the Mass, I consider its music and what that does to us. I wonder about appropriateness, and form, and the teleological purpose of liturgy. I also think about Scruton’s comment about the soul being prepared to receive good music. Can poor music at Mass harm us in some way? Can the repeated use of poor music at Mass cause the souls present to be temporarily incapable of receiving proper music when presented? How might we fix this?

Why in the world did God make music, and what is the relation between music and the human soul?

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Gregorian Chant Today

Catholic News Service recently did a series of video reports on Gregorian Chant, what it is, and how it’s making a comeback in the Church. This is a great introduction to the music of the Church, in essence an ancient form of prayer that seemed at times to have been lost, but has been with us all along.

This last video is somewhat interesting in that the music in it is mostly not chant at all. Still, beautiful music.

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Johannes Ockeghem, the J. S. Bach of the 15th Century

I only recently personally discovered the composer Johannes Ockeghem. I’ve heard him referred to as the Bach of the fifteenth century. I’ve also heard that Ockeghem is every bit as brilliant as Bach. I can’t say one way or the other, not being an expert on either, but listen to this music and you will hear just how beautiful sacred music can be.

 

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Baby Boomer Mass

baby-boomers

original image found here

I gripe. I’m a griper.

One thing that is glaringly apparent to a former outsider of the Catholic Church (anti-Catholic Baptist/neo-Calvinist/almost Evangelical — good people, btw) who has recently come into the Church (that would be me in 2013) is that the Novus Ordo Mass is a reflection of the values and stylistic preferences of the 1960’s baby boomers. I know this because I grew up in a baby boomer era West Coast version of Christianity so prevalent in the 1970s — a version that even outdoes the Catholics in sentimentality. I saw how our Baptist church changed from the Christianity of my grandparents to that of my parents. (Oh, I’ve got stories.) In fact, I thought some of the changes were for the better. But for the sometimes nostalgic feelings I have for my past, I don’t think that version of Christianity is particularly good. And I certainly don’t think it’s good for Catholics.

A lot of water has gone under the bridge since Vatican II, and a leaning towards pre-Vatican II Catholicism is on the rise (and so is the resistance), but we still have the spirit of the 1960’s (the spirit of the baby boomers) with us today — some of that spirit is good, but a lot is not. Perhaps the evidence is most apparent in the music sung at so many Masses today.

Frequently at Mass we sing (well… not everyone sings) songs that are clearly poor shadows of the 1960’s folk-style oeuvre. I love that oeuvre, but not sung at Mass, and certainly not poor shadows as some kind of praise or prayer (honestly, I’m not sure what we are doing sometimes) to our King. But I see the baby boomers happily singing these songs without even having to look at the “hymnal.” (Hymnal is in quotes because a lot of these are songs that, at best, loosely resemble hymns, and the hymnal is really a cheap and disposable paperback — which itself is a message counter to the gravity, substantiality, beauty, and truth of the faith and Catholic worship — but that’s another topic.)

I can’t even…

It was the boomers that welcomed the new Mass, just as they welcomed “sit ins” and Peter, Paul and Mary, welcomed bell bottom jeans and antiestablishmentarianism, and rejected nearly all traditions and anyone over thirty.¹ It was the boomers who felt strongly that their parents didn’t and couldn’t understand how the world had changed.² Their parents voted for Eisenhower, supported Vietnam, questioned the civil rights movement, and would later vote for Nixon. Squaresville.

And here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson
Jesus loves you more than you will know
Wo wo wo
God bless you, please, Mrs. Robinson
Heaven holds a place for those who pray
Hey hey hey, hey hey hey

Catholicism was obviously even more entrenched deep within stale and rigid tradition. The very opposite of hip and cool. Right? It had to change. It had to get with it. It had to serve the Me Generation. Otherwise the churches would soon empty out, seminaries close, and priests leave the priesthood and become positive thinking gurus. (oops) The traditional had to go and the contemporary come in. Open the Church’s windows and doors and let the winds of the zeitgeist blow through, clearing out the cobwebs and stale air. Finally!!

What was not anticipated was just how stale the winds of fashion become from one day to the next.

Winds-of-God-Front

Who could have know where this would lead?

[An aside: I love Peter, Paul and Mary, but just not at Mass and certainly not poor shadows of that trio. On Eagles Wings?! Wat? And heck, I love that now everyday is “casual day” at work, but wearing a t-shirt branded Lou’s Shake Shack and flip flops before the Real Presence? Really? This is not merely a matter of taste, or class distinctions, nor is it an “ageist” argument. Rather it’s theological and liturgical. If we truly have the Real Presence before us, then…??]

[A confession: I am a Generation X guy, but only just under the wire. Some might even say I was born in the last year of the boomer generation — but I refuse to agree. I refuse I tell you. So I still have a lot of the Jesus movement coursing through my veins. I was weaned on Larry Norman. I’ve sang my fair share of folk/rock/pop “worship” hymns/songs/whatever and, I have to say, I  loved a lot of that. I even lead youth group worship. I still love the music of that Catholic-hating Jesus freak, the late great Keith Green. (Has anyone written a more beautiful modern hymn Oh Lord, You’re Beautiful or My Eyes are Dry?) But we don’t even get his quality of songs at Mass — unless we go way way back and sing great works from the past which ultimate put his songs to shame. Any why are we singing anyway if not to pray?]

Anyway, the boomers³ at the contemporary Novus Ordo Mass of today, who sing from memory those mediocre “hymns” with a smile on their faces, are probably the less than five percent (maybe it’s ten percent? I’m making this up) of their generation that remained in the church since the liturgical turmoil and confusion of the 1970’s and 80’s. In other words, it seems most of the boomer Catholics back in the day got what they wanted (change, revolution, freedom) and then left Catholicism for other things (Evangelical Protestantism, New Age spirituality, free market capitalism, pastel cashmere sweaters, etc.). And many of those that remain (including the Holy Father, who is a bit older than a baby boomer) are utterly perplexed as to why it’s the Catholic youth and Protestant converts who are leading the charge for the Church to re-embrace the Traditional Latin Mass and other traditional & ancient forms of worship and devotion. They see it as a return to a rigid⁴ faith. Perhaps for some it is, but in general I think it is something entirely different, something more profound. Perhaps less rigid, in fact.

Okay, okay… I also have to say the boomers who have remained faithful to the Church are also often examples of love for Christ, service to others, and active participants in church. Who am I to judge, right? They put me to shame, in fact. I’m probably a terrible person.

But to sum up, unlike the timelessness and substantial beauty of the Traditional Catholic Mass, the Baby Boomer Mass is looking old and tired, like yesterday’s styles. Strangely, to often the Novus Ordo Mass looks more and more like a time capsule and the TLM looks like the best choice for today. And isn’t that the case? What is trendy looks old so quickly, and what is ancient is timeless. Fashions come and go. We should not let the Form follow fashion.

Of course all of this is a gross oversimplification, and not necessarily (or merely) a generational divide. It’s not about boomers getting old. And it’s not merely a matter of “updating” the Mass to a more contemporary fashion or “going back” to some gold age. There’s a lot more to be said.

Anyway… I gripe. I’m a griper.


  1. “Don’t trust anyone over 30,” was a phrase spoken by Jack Weinberg, a leader of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement in the 1960’s.
  2. “Come mothers and fathers
    Throughout the land
    And don’t criticize
    What you can’t understand
    Your sons and your daughters
    Are beyond your command
    Your old road is
    Rapidly agin’.
    Please get out of the new one
    If you can’t lend your hand
    For the times they are a-changin’.” (Bob Dylan, 1963)
  3. Frankly, it’s not just the boomers. I do see some younger folks–in their thirties and forties–singing these songs without needing the hymnal. Why why why? Who are these people?
  4. According to Pope Francis: “[M]any young people in the church today who have fallen into the temptation of rigidity. Some are honest, they are good and we must pray that the Lord help them grow along the path of meekness.” Found here and many other reports.

 

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Traditional Latin Mass at Notre-Dame de Paris to commemorate Summorum Pontificum

July 7, 2017 was the ten-year anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI’s motu proprio (Apostolic Letter) Summorum Pontificum. Those of you who love the traditional Latin Mass know the importance of this letter.

On that anniversary a traditional Latin Mass was celebrated as a commemoration and celebration at the Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral. Here it is. It’s worth watching full screen with the audio up.

Things I observe:

  • The Mass is not stuffy or old feeling. It is certainly traditional, but does not seem at all out of date. The word is “timeless.”
  • A traditional Latin Mass seems more appropriate in Notre-Dame de Paris than does a Novus Ordo Mass (which one can find on the Notre-Dame website linked above). I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. That is, the “fittingness” of the form of the Mass (NO or TLM) and the church setting.
  • The Mass is beautiful. I am not against the Novus Ordo Mass. I have experienced some beautiful ones. I also participated in the choir at a Latin Novus Ordo Mass recently celebrated in my parish. However, this Mass above is truly beautiful and feels appropriate when one thinks that the King is present in their midst.
  • They have someone to direct the singing of the congregation. We could use that in the TLM I go to once a month in a nearby parish. It can get confusing without someone directing for those of us who are still learning the TLM (which is most of us).
  • The church is full. Maybe this is always true for this famous and grand cathedral, but on a hot and humid July day in Paris (many of the congregation fan themselves) this church is packed. Apparently not a few folks in France like the old ways.
  • At times I wonder if they are used to celebrating the TLM at Notre-Dame. I see little moments that seem to indicate not everything is going 100% smooth, that they are trying hard to make it work — and they do. I could be reading into it as well.
  • There is a mix of old chant and more “recent” polyphony (18th century, etc.). At least one of the polyphonic songs (really a prayer) I sang in the choir at our Latin Novus Ordo Mass.
  • I have never been to France, but I love this church. I studied it in art history class. What beauty and grandeur. A church truly appropriate to celebrate Mass in. Someday I may get there.
  • I love the moments of silence. This is one more reason the TLM is an antidote to our modern world. Silence is necessary for our humanity and our worship of God.
  • Latin! I love that I can follow the Mass even though they are French and I am not. We have a shared faith, and shared language, and a shared worship. This is true in many ways with the Novus Ordo Mass, but Latin brings us all together.
  • There is no altar rail. I don’t know if there never was, or if it was removed at some point (French Revolution? Post Vatican II?). I see some people having trouble kneeling to receive communion — bad knees, age, etc. I can relate. But kneeling is appropriate.
  • I love the humanity. Parisians dress better than where I’m from, but I see all kinds — well dressed, casual, sloppy, women with veils, most without, some folks with praying hands, some with arms crossed, some confused, some seeming to know exactly what is going on, etc., etc. All very human.
  • Excellent video coverage. Beautiful.
  • I must be strange to enjoy watching a complete Mass, but I did.

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Latin Novus Ordo

Ghent angels singing

I’m the one on the right, squinting, grimacing, and hacking my way through the Missa Secunda Kyrie by Hans Leo Hassler, O Sacrum Convivium by Remondi, Ave Verum by Mozart, Laudate Dominum by Diego Ortiz, and Cantate Domino by Pitoni, plus a lot of traditional Gregorian chant, and other works.

On the first Friday of February of this year my parish celebrated our church’s feast day (Our Lady of the Presentation) with a Latin Novus Ordo Mass. I already wrote about how I decided to join the choir. We, the choir, were not perfect by any means, and it was really a lot of hard work, but it was still beautiful and deeply rewarding. Interestingly, I had a small Twitter exchange tangentially related to this Mass.

Fr. Dwight Longenecker had posted the following tweet:

I have a gut feeling that many, many grass roots Catholics are longing for more traditional liturgy, and its my opinion that this need is best met by the Ordinary Form being celebrated in a traditional manner. This is what B16 wanted–for the two forms to influence each other.

His tweet caught my eye, especially in light of just having participated in such a Mass as he mentions. I cannot say that I want this kind of Mass over a Traditional Latin Mass. For me the jury is out. I love both. I am regularly attending a TLM at a nearby parish once a month, and I hope my parish does more of the Latin Novus Ordo Mass as well. I also hope we have the TLM in our parish again someday.

Anyway, I replied:

My parish just celebrated our parish’s feast day with a beautiful Latin Novus Ordo Mass. I volunteered for the choir. First time for me. Very solemn and beautiful. After recessional folks waited for the choir to finish Cantate Domino. Then applauded. Folks are longing for beauty.

Someone replied to my tweet:

“Then applauded.” Says all about the NO.

[“NO” meaning the Novus Ordo.] I should have expected this response. For man TLMers such things as applause at Mass is a sign of the “Spirit of Vatican II” times, which they despise. I get it. I’m mostly on their “team,” up to a point. But I thought about it and it occurred to me that the negative response was premature. For the applause, though perhaps not entirely appropriate (I don’t really know), did not actually happen at Mass, but after Mass had ended. Plus, applause can be a “thank you,” not only praise.

So I replied:

It was not praise for a good “performance,” but a thanks for what had been done (very hard work to bring a difficult Latin Missa Cantata to our parish). Mass was over. Priests had exited. Would have been appropriate at a TLM in a similar context. Says more about people than NO.

Parishioners also thanked the priests on the way out of church for bringing these “lost” riches back to our parish. Similar gesture as thanking the choir.

Baby steps in light of the damage done. It’s not yet TLM, but a step towards it.

Recognizing that, with charity, is good.

I believe I am right about this, but am willing to be corrected — though I might put up a fight. Anyway, another person also replied to my first tweet:

Applauded?

I replied:

Yes. Mass was over & the priests and servers had left the building, the people were standing & looking to the choir loft enraptured like they hadn’t seen/heard something like this for a long time (which they hadn’t) or ever. The applause says a lot about what people are craving.

Fr. Longenecker did not respond to either mine or the others’ tweets.

I know many who are ardent supporters of the TLM (as against the Novus Ordo) believe a Latin Novus Ordo Mass, though certainly more beautiful and solemn than the all too familiar happy-clappy Novus Ordo Masses common since the late 1960s, is still a kind of bastardized Mass, finally ill suited to proper worship. I don’t expect them to agree with my statements above. Perhaps I might not even agree in a few years either (though I doubt it). But for now I’m on a journey of faith and learning, and I have to say I loved our beautiful Mass on that first Friday in February.

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Remembering a teacher

photo

My daughter Wilder Rose speaking of her music teacher and the joys he gave her, and her sorrow of losing such a good and fine teacher.

A couple of weeks ago my kids music teacher died. He was a brilliant, generous, uniquely gifted man who was loved by many people and many families in and beyond our town. He was primarily a percussionist who played in various bands, played many other instruments than drums, taught numerous students over the years, and also handbuilt wooden canoes.

A year ago we purchased a traditional drum kit for our son who was 6 years old at the time. We began looking for a drum teacher. This man came highly recommended. We had some worries because our son is young and prone to fidgetiness (some might say he’s a touch ADHD). However, this teacher was perfect for our son, working with his natural tendencies, and helping him discover the music within him. Then he offered to add our daughter for just a few dollars more. So we bought her a guitar. Our daughter is deeply musical and sings, plays piano and fiddle, and has great natural gifts in music. But as she began guitar something beautiful began to happen. Suddenly her musically talent blossomed like it had not before.

This man, a musician, husband, and wonderful teacher, gave my children, and our family, the gift of himself. After he died we cried and cried, and then we began to discover just how much he meant to so many other people in our community. Today we went to a memorial geared more towards his students, who are mostly kids. There was a drum circle, sharing, tears, laughter, and good fellowship.

The world needs more teachers like him. His loss, as is the loss of any human being’s life, is very significant, but our community also lost a special teacher. We also lost a wonderful musician.

As a Christian I know that this life is not the end. I know that death is the severing of one’s soul from one’s body, and that someday they shall be reunited. The memorial only addressed this sense of continuation in terms of us remembering him and carrying with us what he put into us through his teaching and his person–which is no small thing. But I realize that our society today adds to the natural difficulty of dealing with the tragedy and sorrow of death the lack of deeper knowledge of God’s goodness and the ultimate end in which we are made share.

I pray for his soul. I pray that God will have mercy on him, and bestow His graces upon his soul, if only for the generosity, kindness, and love he showed my kids.

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