Struggles related to music consumerism
  • Claire H
    Posts: 337
    A small story...

    I taught at our RE parent sessions last week (all the parents of K-5 have a class while their children are in session, which is great). Topic was "Sacred Music in Your Domestic Church". At the beginning of my talk, I conducted an informal, show-of-hands survey:

    1. How many of you self-identify as hobby (not professional) musicians? As in you play an instrument or sing for fun?
    2. How many of you considered yourself musical at one point and time (perhaps in grade school or high school), but not any more?
    3. How many of you consider yourself non-musical?

    I expected to see imbalance in the answers, but confess to being floored when at the first (of four) sessions, NOT ONE HAND was raised in response to question 1. In a room with 75-100 Catholic adults. I literally said out loud, "You guys need to get a life!"

    Part of my presentation was addressing several common myths relating to singing and to the nature of liturgical music, so I hope and pray that provided a mix of challenge and encouragement. I also spoke about the cultural shift that occurred due to the 20th century bombshell of recorded music, pointing out that while it opened a whole new world to us, it also robbed us of something. Before recorded music, "musical families" were not such a commodity as they are now, because any family who wanted to enjoy music had to make it for themselves! Yet over the past 100 years, we have gone from being a society of mostly music participants to excessively (at times exclusively) of music consumers. I've come to realize a vast majority of Americans (I do think this deprivation is stronger here, for a variety of reasons) miss out completely on the joy of engaging in music-making.

    Other struggles related to this handicap:

    -An awful lot of folks in the pews have little to no confidence joining in with even the simplest congregational hymnody
    -Many have never experienced head voice
    -Because of the above (thanks in great part, I'm sure, to the narrow, chest-centered range of pop music and a few decades of folk Masses with guitarists who capo everything down a third or forth), people complain that "we can't sing with those sopranos in the rafters" when we sing hymns in their standard keys (with treble Cs and Ds)

    That last one in particular gets me. I have to bite my tongue and really work remain patient and charitable when trying to explain/clear the air on that bizarre perception (cause, you know, one can feel like a broken record after awhile!).

    Me: "You know that Holy, Holy* we have been singing forever here (since way before I came?). Well, the highest note in that one that you sing all the time actually is the same as the top note in any of the congregational hymns we sing".

    [*Heritage Mass]

    P.S. I'm fairly, certain, though, that if we were to pull out "On Eagle's Wings"—which of course has a range to Eb, higher than anything receiving complaints—there wouldn't be anyone saying it's too high. ;) Oh, but fickle inconsistency can be such a cross.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • Liam
    Posts: 3,646
    In my family where I was one of six Boomer-Gen X siblings, three of us played instruments (horn, saxophone and clarinet; I also took music theory in high school and more in college) and three didn't. The three who didn't went much longer to parochial school (where there was no instrumental music program) and the three who did did so in our great public school system. (My parents were relieved when I started school in 1966 that our pastor had the power to dispense with my attendance at parochial school, as our public schools were far better, and thus I never attended Catholic school at all - the sibs who went to Catholic school in the '50s and early '60s dropped active practice of the faith as soon as they were out of the house, as it were.)

    We didn't have a keyboard at home, however: no room or funds for that. (If we had, I might have been able to develop my compositional aspirations.)

    I do know that, as fiscal crises waxed and ebbed in cycles over the ensuing decades, that school music programs got much leaner. I grew up at a time where it was common to see children carrying instruments to public school - a lot of children. (I carried horn for 9 years, and have the residue of the callouses on my legs to prove it). It is a very rare sight today.
    Thanked by 2Carol CHGiffen
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,828
    The entire culture shifted. Just ask, if you can find them, the piano manufacturers who are mostly out of business. The keys in hymnals have been lowered, despite the fact that congregations could at one time sing in the original keys with ease. Having taught school, music and art are first on the chopping block when money gets tight. The kids, and increasingly adults, too, have their heads in their phones most of the time. We have a passive culture that wants to be entertained, not participate.
    Thanked by 3Carol CHGiffen dad29
  • I'm really thankful for this post. It's very true, unfortunately both in regards to the keys of tunes, as well as people's lack of participation. I might be inclined to think that people who don't make music are just not cultured, and you're right - they don't have a life. How boring is it to go through life, even the 'pious' traditional ones, and not have beauty and art in that life - beauty and art that comes from Him Who is Eternally Beautiful!
  • Liam
    Posts: 3,646

    That is one of the reasons I am much less gimlet-eyed about the using of hymnody in lieu of Propers than many here (I have no brief against the use of Propers as such, and I have issues with their effective being banned or marginalized). Most Catholics in the USA have until recently lived in an English-speaking culture, and - with the very notable exception of the Catholic Irish - the English-speaking peoples have for centuries been relatively enthusiastic hymn-singing peoples (not necessarily as much as German-speaking peoples, but still...). Hymn-singing is about the last activity that people join in the making of music - while of course I know that retaining musical culture is not the job of the Mass, as it were, if we want generations of future Catholics to sing the Propers, we would be well advised not to banish hymn singing entirely from or to the margins of the Mass in our zeal to restore the Propers to their place in the sun. Co-existence is perfectly possible, just usually not wanted by directors inclined to almost all of one thing or the other.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,828
    I think you are correct, but I wouldn't lay all the blame at the feet of directors. Many who gush profusely about Propers want melismatic Gregorian Propers that congregations can not sing, and never will be able to. Also, blame priests who wont go along with such and decree the use of hymns. Nothing wrong with hymns at all and they do promote congregational singing - a good thing. Hymn-like English Propers could take the place of both, but the tunes would have to be known and not change drastically every week. There is no body of standardized literature. Some have written hymn Propers, but they are not widely known or used. There is also the problem of Propers having little relation to the NO liturgy or its content.
    Thanked by 3Carol Liam CHGiffen
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,201
    I suspect that Irish catholics thought of hymns as nasty Protestant things, and, worse, emblematic of the Ascendancy. They/We (a quarter of me) do however have their own vibrant musical tradition.
    Thanked by 1Carol
  • M. Jackson Osborn
    Posts: 6,548
    I do not understand this concern that the people should sing the propers. Whether they are Gregoian chant, psalm tone, or choral versions the propers are the choir's, cantor's, or schola's to sing. The propers should not be watered down to hymn-tunes just so that people can (if they will) sing them. One of the objects of having the propers (in Latin or in English) is the preservation of that portion of the historic chant repertory (a concern that was, lest we forget, uppermost in the minds of the fathers of the Second Vatican Council!).

    At Walsingham we have the propers and hymns. The people sing (and sing enthusiastically) the hymns and the ordinary (including creed and Our Father), which is enough for them. On most Sundays the choir sing the psalm tone versions of the propers (which the people could easily learn to sing were that desired), and on solemnities they sing the Palmer-Burgess version of the Gregorian settings. On Marian feasts and a few other times the people sing, in English, the entire Cum jubilo mass as given in the back of The Hymnal 1940 - which isn't exactly easy.

    The proper versions of the propers are, indeed, too complex for most congregations to learn. That said, it is a cruel falsehood that holds that the people cannot sing chant ordinaries. Last fall we introduced Credo III (in English and in square notation) to the people, and within three weeks they sounded as if they had been singing it all their lives.

    It is best to proceed carefully with what is, in fact, quite possible, and not be deterred by all those old 'the people can't' shibboleths. If the people are singing everything within their abilities (hymns, ordinaries, responses) there is no justification for bastardising the propers just so the people can do them too. Listening attentively is, after all, a form (and sometimes a superior form) of 'participation'. While we are teaching people how to sing, we should also be teaching them how to listen.
  • Maureen
    Posts: 646
    There were a fair number of Irish hymns, in Irish. They usually got hauled out at wakes, patron saint festivals, or all night prayer vigils. Once it got legal to go to Mass, they showed up on walks to Mass.
    Thanked by 2Carol Liam
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,201
    The current post at Canticum Salomonis has some views on Neo-gallican chant of Dom Guéranger (Ch. XX of Vol. II of the Institutions Liturgiques). The third and fourth paragraphs are emphatic about congregational involvement in chant. But note that it is in Sunday Vespers and hymns and not the Propers of the Mass. There is a footnote [I am not clear who wrote this footnote, and I suspect the quotation is by Bartolucci, and not as written.] -
    It is true that in the 1950s, people in Brittany still sang Sunday Vespers by heart, and in many places the Requiem Mass was known, as Domenico Barlucci Bartolucci recalls: “When I was a boy I remember that the people used to sing in church. They sang at Vespers (all from memory: the antiphons, psalms and hymns); they sang at devotional functions (Way of the Cross, Marian devotions, etc.); they sang in processions (the Magnificat, Te Deum, Lauda Sion, and other hymns); they sang even at Solemn Mass sometimes. (When I was a boy, each Sunday at my little church there was a Solemn Mass, and on normal Sundays the people sang by themselves.)"

    Note further that Guéranger is reflecting on the superiority of the Medicean chant editions to the Neo-gallican compositions.
    [EDITED to reflect correction to original]