Why do I not care about this music?
  • So tonight there was a Mass in a new time-slot - a friend informed me just a few hours before and I thought why not? The congregation consisted of me and my friend. The priest, who is experimenting with the new time for a week to see if it gets traction, celebrated a lovely NO Mass (in Latin). He loves to sing, and he unexpectedly sang the ordinary, though picking the chants at random (not all from the same Mass). I recognized each, and alternated the chant with him off the top of my head. And at the end we sang a rousing Salve Regina. In all this my friend - infamous for her tone deafness - sang joyfully along. So we had a lovely Mass with a real hodge-podge of music sung non-harmoniously. And I just didn't care. There was a joy and intimacy in the tiny gathering that seemed far more important than producing a lovely, well-organized singing.

    I am rather fed up lately with the lack of charity that seems too often part and parcel of lovely, well-organized singing. So perhaps that's why I enjoyed the hodge-podge. Would it be better in some senses if it were done in an orderly and harmonious way? Sure. Would it be better if that 'harmony' were achieved by telling my friend she should shut up, or complaining to the priest that he didn't organize the music properly beforehand? In this case I can't see how that would be better at all.

    But given my years of propensity to gripe about bad music in Church, why my change of heart? Anyone else ever pondered this sort of thing?
  • Not to open a Pandora's box of unpleasant song, but I have always said that we are counseled in holy writ to 'make a joyful noise unto the Lord' and that the only people who are required to do so 'in tune' are the choir.

    While attending the Christmas midnight mass at Christ Church Cathedral sometime in my twenties I was seated next to a lady who was obviously advanced in years. As 'O Come, All Ye Faithful' began at the procession all stood up and began singing. The little old lady next to me began singing lustily with the most wobbly and out of tune voice that I had ever heard (and haven't heard since!). I was quite vexed, yes, thoroughly miffed, that her voice was 'spoiling the singing' and irritating me; but after a few moments I chided myself for such prideful arrogance. After doing so the lady's voice began to sound beautiful. It was the voice God had given her and she was using it to sing his praises. At least she wasn't standing there tight lipped, like some we know of, and insisting that she 'can't sing'. That ended up being a very special and memorable mass for me. On the night on which we celebrate God's charity to us I learned a lot about charity, especially musical charity - which is hard for many of us musicians.
  • Carol
    Posts: 856
    I love both of these stories!
  • jcr
    Posts: 132
    As one who has been accused of "musical elitism" often and recently, I felt obliged to chime in here. I'm reminded of a story told of Charles Ives who heard repeated complaints about "John" who I believe was a stone mason and who bellowed loudly, lustily, and badly out of tune at services. Ives was quoted as saying something to the effect that one needed to turn and look at old John's face because if one only listened and missed the joy of his expression one would miss all the music.
    There is a time and place for our best and best prepared music making, but there is also a time for a kind of joy that knows no such limitations as a musical score or thorough preparation. Professionals can be too wrapped up in their imagined preparation and "miss all the music."
    I'm also reminded of a Christmas eve several (actually quite a few) years ago when the entire youth choir, scheduled to sing at one service (Methodist), failed to show with the exception of two 14yr girls. We had a suitable piece that we "sort of" knew and I asked if they wanted to try it. They agreed to sing it through and it was fine. They said they wanted to sing it and actually gave a quite good performance of it. Neither of these girls had any solo singing experience before this. I was really proud of their courage most of all, but also that they put it together and took on the task. I assured them that they would do a good job of it. The Pastor, however, was upset with me because the youth choir had dwindled to so small a number. What are our priorities? They really ought to suit the occasion and situation. It is a shame to "miss all the music".
    Thanked by 2Carol Paul F. Ford
  • Ex ore infantium perfecisti laudem, propter inimicos tuos.

    In an old reader that we have somewhere about the house, there was a story about a little hermitage in the woods, where every evening at vespers the three old hermits sang the Magnificat, croaking and out of tune. One day they had a visitor, a youth with a marvelous voice. Listening to him join in their singing, they were amazed and fell silent. Our Lady appeared to the three hermits that evening and asked, "Why was my hymn not sung today at vespers?"

    I am glad to hear a defense of tuneless singing, this is important.
  • As a PIP, I love these posts. We will make progress much faster if, as this Priest did, we "just do it". Those who have choirs can weave in their expertise as well.
    Thanked by 2Carol JonathanKK
  • A few, not many, times in my life I have heard some stentorian lady or gentleman, even a nun (these people are always very sturdily built and large of girth!), bellow their deep-throated song so loudly that they nearly drowned out the organ and choir (indeed, the entire congregation), and, with their own tempo and oblivious to all else, all but got the congregation quite off. One knew not whether to be nonplussed or to stop singing and enjoy the performance with a degree of indulgent amusement. Whichever, one could take some comfort in believing that God could not but have heard our praises on those occasions. And me? The memory of their unbridled praises fills me with joy to this day.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,955
    One of my earliest encounters with singing was watching a 300-pound soprano waste away from TB for multiple acts in an opera. I know those sturdily built people all too well. Although now retired, my biggest trial in church music was dealing with singers who stayed past their primes. You would think they would realize when it is time to quit, but they rarely do. We organists seem able to keep going as we age - up to a point. But singers, not so much.

    Before some singer has a meltdown, yes I know there are always exceptions. I have met a few singers who sing well into advanced age. They tend to be singers who practice and put considerable work into singing well. In church music, I found there were sometimes political considerations, meaning some folks were well-connected to the point it was impossible to get rid of them. Then there was the problem with a volunteer choir of not having enough singers. It was like a grocer said when a rotten apple in a bag of apples was called to his attention, "You have to take the bad along with the good." LOL. Yes, I have had a few of those rotten apples.
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • You ask why your change of heart? I think those that have eyes to see (and hear!) have allowed this pandemic to see things through a new lens. Six months ago many of our churches were closed.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,955
    Some are not fully closed but even with limited attendance, we older folks are not willing to take the Covid exposure risk. Of course, no choirs.
  • ...in a bag of apples...
    The parable of the wheat and the tares may be relevant here?
    Thanked by 1CharlesW