Thursday, July 22, 2010

New Translation Thursday: Two Comments in the Cafeteria

Welcome to this edition of "New Translation Thursday." I hope you are all having a good week.

I am off to Notre Dame shortly to teach in the Summer Song program there. But I wanted to share two very interesting responses from our survey about the new translation. Here's the first comment:

I am a strong advocate of the new translation, and insofar as I am responsible for the musical direction at our parish, I see this as a unique opportunity being presented. It is apparent that there is a strong desire to move in the direction of greater solemnity and towards a more "traditional" (i.e - chant based music) approach to liturgical music, and so I am resolving to use this time to reshape the music program at our parish towards this goal.

And here's the second:

The other thing that I have been unhappy about is that the plan is for people to learn some of the new musical settings, such as at least the Gloria, in chant at first. Composers have already worked on introducing great contemporary settings for the new liturgy and I would rather have these introduced right away. I believe that it will lessen the pain of switching to the new liturgy if the new mass settings are in the contemporary style that most people are used to.

I believe these two comments represent two very strong trends; the former—at least I believe—to a lesser extent than the latter. After having spent last week in Detroit singing through many new and revised musical settings of the Mass, I came away not really having a sense of a clear direction in the minds of musicians or publishers, for that matter. As a Catholic publisher, we need to serve the singing Church and, at the same time, we need to show leadership as well. Many of those who work here at WLP are degreed musicians, liturgists, and theologians. Many are doing weekend music work in parishes. While we must work with our composers to produce settings of the highest quality, settings that will satisfy the needs of those represented by these two comments, we also need to move people in directions that are consonant with what our bishops are hoping for us as a Church. This blog has tried carefully to maneuver a way through all of this. Many of you have offered "proof texts" for why we should follow one direction or another. We have reached a conclusion that perhaps our greatest contribution to the implementation of the new translation of the Missale Romanum  is to publish the very best music in styles that will support the praying of the texts, so that the texts will help change our lives and move us closer to a living encounter with the Eucharistic Lord. I don't believe that there is only one style that accomplishes that more than another. But, there are people—real people—for whom one style will accomplish those realities more strongly than another. Some have argued that this approach is too close to a "cafeteria" approach to Catholicism. Perhaps there is a kernel of truth there; but it happens to be the living reality of the Church, at least the Church here in the United States and Canada that I have had the privilege of experiencing over the last twenty-five years.  

Please pray for the students at Notre Dame over the next several days. 

As always, comments welcome.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

(Sorry about the font issues today; not time to fix right now.)


Liam said...

There is some confirmation bias involved in spotting trends, because publishers that have tended to emphasize non-chant settings of service music won't tend to attract the input of audiences that seek more (largely vernacular) chant-based settings. I know among my progressive musical colleagues over the past dozen years or so, the interest in vernacular plainsong has risen dramatically. In part this is because plainsong is something a congregation can own without reliance on a musical ensemble or even any accompaniment, and thus acquiring a repertoire allows liturgies that are customarily not staffed with an ensemble or even an accompanist to be musical, as the progressive musicians of the Vatican II era intended.

Chironomo said...

While you are perhaps right that the greater number of current musicians (and more importantly, Priests) would fall in line with the "latter" point of view you presented, pastoral musicians entering the field in the last few years, and again more importantly Priests ordained in the last two years are trending towards the former view in far greater numbers than at any time since Vat II.

I am currently working on an article on this very topic and the statistics are eye-opening to say the least. The landscape will be quite different in perhaps ten years from now, regardless of the actions of the "hierarchy" regarding music.

jdonliturgy said...

As a cantor and choir member in community where we only use chant during Lent (Agnus Dei only) I rather connect with the second comment.

I have been a musician in 3 different parishes over the past 20 years - and none of the congregations were comfortable with more than occasional chant. It isn't that we cannot do it. It's that we have absolutely no desire to be so completely out of touch with the modern world.
My current parish uses primarily contemporary music, and that's what the people sing best and most enthusiastically. When we add in even a traditional hymn, people sing in a lackluster way - and this is with a very good organist, who leads well, with a brusque tempo. When it comes to chant, most of the people just stand, watch the choir, and listen. These are ordinary, middle class, inner city folks. Many are older and grew up with chant. They simply now find it irrelevant to their worship experience.

This situation is even more complex in a bilingual community, where we share our Easter Triduum, patronal feast and other special liturgies in both languages. We are going to need good new settings using the new English text alongside Spanish. Chant, simply put, does not work well for this.

Bottom line - if we were to start introducing the new sung texs of the ordinary with chant, my community would be even less likely to participate. A switch in their accustomed musical genre would not enhance participation, even with good leadership.

Anonymous said...


Well said, as usual. You say the publisher's job is "to publish the very best music in styles that will support the praying of the texts, so that the texts will help change our lives and move us closer to a living encounter with the Eucharistic Lord."

Two implications deserve to be underlined.

(1) The music (and indeed the translation) are only means, not ends in themselves. Do they really help us lift our hearts and minds to God? Or are they doing something else, e.g. staking out our position the the culture wars? Shouldn't we, then, be evaluating their effectiveness?

(2) Such evaluation has to be concrete and specific to the "performance:" this set of people, this parish, this Mass, this Sunday. The evaluation (with any suggestions for how to change next time) best occurs at the lowest level. Possibly one reason few pastors, music directors, etc. even attempt this may be the difficulty in obtaining reliable answers. The data collection menthods would have to go way beyond comments like "I enjoyed the music" or "They sang the Roman propers to the last note." (Fine, but did you really pray?)

Wish more people commented on this blog.


Jerry Galipeau, D. Min. said...

Hi Chuck, thanks for the comment. I urge people to leave their comments. Many tell me they "don't feel qualified." Trying to change that little by little.

Paul said...

Thanks for that great post - you put into words what I couldn't express myself. Our community is the same. I think chant is wonderful, but it just doesn't go over well here. If it works for the other, well, by all means do it! It's a BIG church!

Chironomo said...

I think chant is wonderful, but it just doesn't go over well here. If it works for the other, well, by all means do it! It's a BIG church!

I'm going to ask this in all seriousness, so I hope everyone will take it as such.

To what extent are we willing to extend the idea expressed above as a criteria for other aspects of the liturgy? Are we going to ask "Do the readings really go over well with our assembly?" And if they don't, do we instead change to something that the assembly will like more? And how would we know if the readings do in fact, "go over well"? Do we ever ask people's opinions about the readings? Or how about the other prayers during Mass? Are we even concerned about whether the "people" like them or feel moved by them? Do we really care if those prayers and orations "go over well"?

Or is this appeal to the tastes and preferences of the assembly only applied to the music at Mass because that is a facet of the liturgy that we've been led to believe we can have more control over? Or maybe we've been led to believe that the primary purpose of the music at Mass is to engage the people's interest? Has the popular notion of "I like this kind of music, he likes that kind of music but that's OK because it's all just a matter of taste" become so firmly entrenched in the liturgy that we approach liturgical music as entertainment without even realizing it?

These are questions that I think are worth considering as we enter what will be an exhillarating but possibly very contentious time for musicians in the Catholic Church.

Liam said...

The "it's a big church" principle is only as good as you are willing to stomach things that others love but that you profoundly detest.

In practice, I find most people aren't as earnest in practice as they would like to think of themselves in principle. So, we move on.