Tuesday, July 4


Following Up and an Idea

My post on liturgical music seems to have produced some fruitful discussion, so I wanted to make a few clarifications as well as a suggestion. First, the clarifications:

- I think Jane and Sarah have had a useful debate and discussion of what it means for chant and organ music to have "pride of place" in Catholic liturgy. I would tend to agree with what I take to be the conclusion of their discussions: that these norms should be respected within the context of whatever other kind of music is being used. Thus, whether one is going to add on choral music, a brass ensemble, clarinets, etc. one should consistently make use of first and especially chant and also organ insofar as is possible. Obviously, for many parishes, a good organ and organist are simply not affordable, and this is understandable - in a sense, this proves the value of chant, which can be performed well without accompaniment.
- I do not propose Our Lady of Mount Carmel to be a norm since, obviously, as Sarah has pointed out on her blog, many parishes outside of a city like Chicago and with a more diverse ethnic composition will not be able to pull something like that off. I propose it as a constructive example of how a normal parish that could just as easily based on its composition and location be performing the greatest hits of Haugen, Haas and the St. Louis Jesuits manages to instead carry off a program of great music that the congregation appreciates. Indeed, it is instructive that in the 1960's our grand Skinner organ in the choirloft, having been poorly maintained for years, was nearly removed to turn the choir loft into a cry room! Instead, William Ferris was hired as choir director, and the program thrived to the point of being able to purchase and install a second organ. Thus, great resources are not needed to start a music program, but a good music program makes it easier for the parish to stomach and want the cost of installing and maintaining an organ and hiring an organist to play it.
- My own "ideal" sung Mass is not necessarily entirely choral, though the one I happen to attend and sing in happens to be very choral. I do think, however, that the option should remain open for the choir to sing parts of the Mass at the very least on special feast days. Beautiful choral settings with touches like the slow, soft "Jesu Christe" during the Gloria can help foster a greater appreciation of the mysteries being expressed and thus help the regular congregational versions of these pieces to come off better.
- I think that we need more of these instructive examples to get out there, so let's do something about it. It can be very hard for people to know where to start in building a good music program with few resources, so seeing places that do it is extremely helpful. So let's put together a directory of excellent Catholic parish music programs. And again, in doing so, let's be charitable and be willing to think beyond the ideals we already have, whether they look like St. John Cantius, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, or what. As I suggested at the beginning of this post, there's room for a legitimate diversity. So basically, describe a program that you've been a part of or run across, and why it can be a good example of those looking to start something. I think with the right attitude, this can be a very good instructive exercise for people looking where to begin. Certainly websites like Cantica Nova are also our friends in such an effort, but flesh and blood examples tend to be the best form of inspiration in this regard. The results will become a sidebar link on the Shrine, and perhaps will also become a series of profiles to highlight them (the better the website and resources about the place, the more likely this is to happen).

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