Whose fault is it that we use bad music and what can we do about it?
  • lacrimosa
    Posts: 42
    There is a nearby parish where one of their services is affectionately referred to by a friend of mine as the "Hootenanny Mass." The music is dreadful.

    Why don't pastors step in and do something about bad music? I know that this parish has had at least three pastors in the past dozen years. I can't believe that at least one of them wasn't appalled and did something about it.

    I don't think what music ministers select is necessarily what the congregation wants. In the past in my parish, well before I was involved in any choir, there were three English masses and each had their own distinctive style of music. I believe one of the masses was referred to as the "folk mass." It seems that there was the idea that people picked the mass according to the music, but for us, and I presume for many others, we chose the time that fit our circumstances and it wasn't about selecting the mass with music that pleased us.

    I remember listening to a local radio station and the owner of the station said that when they hire new DJs that they tell them that the radio station is not their "personal jukebox." The DJ was not there to play music that only pleased him, but was to keep his listeners in mind. I realize that music as mass is supposed to be for worship and not entertainment, but I make this comparison because it seems that the choir leaders are picking songs they like or that makes them feel good and are presuming that that's what's best for those of us in the pews.

    Anyway, the question is why don't the pastors do anything about it, or is it that they like this music too? And those of us who see that that there is much room for improvement--what can we do (besides complain here)?
  • Pastors can be encouraged to attend the Sacred Music Colloquium. My pastor offered to pay for staff development for me, so long as I didn't attend the "big three" or NPM conference, 22 years ago. I was delighted to attend the Colloquium at Christendom just before Cal Shenk died. Pastors can learn much (or unlearn much, if necessary) in a week when they're no in the spotlight.

    Pastors sometimes don't do anything about it because the Chancery wishes them not to do so.

    Thanked by 1ServiamScores
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,933
    Often, the pastors are not taught any better. Our long-time pastor of many years studied, organ, voice, chant, classical religious music, conducting and this was the norm in his seminary at the time. Now? I am pretty sure that kind of training isn't done much any more.
  • MarkB
    Posts: 1,025
    I read somewhere a quip that if bad music continues at any parish for more than six months, then someone has made a deliberate decision to have bad music.

    You are correct that it should be fixed. There could be many reasons why it's tolerated. Could be the pastor doesn't know any better. Could be the musicians are volunteers and the parish gets what it pays for. Could be the music director is untrained about liturgy and the tradition of sacred music.

    Yes, unfortunately, many music directors or groups just pick what they like and sing that at Mass. That's not much better than following OCP's suggestions for which new music to sing each Sunday.

    Pope Francis's apostolic letter on liturgical formation (Desiderio Desideravi), released yesterday, has some good advice and instructions for fixing what ails the Novus Ordo. Among them are that the liturgy is an objective norm, that not just the priest but every liturgical minister or person attending must be imbued with the spirit of the liturgy, and that excessive creativity is a liturgical abuse.

    You could volunteer to sing in one of the Mass choirs and then begin to exert an influence.

  • Chaswjd
    Posts: 254
    We are all responsible. Those who managed the reform following the Second Vatican Council decided that instead of creating music of beauty and turning to the Anglican patrimony for their treasury of music, turned to folk art instead. Since that time, no one has taught Catholics to ask for more. And for the most part we don't.

  • lacrimosa
    Posts: 42
    I came into the church as an adult and didn't know any better until 20+ years later I experienced the Latin Mass. I was "raised" as a new Catholic with songs like "We are One in the Spirit" and "Gather Your People O Lord."
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  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,767
    There's a saying that who pays the piper calls the tune. Many Pastors have a preference for volunteers, though.
    Thanked by 1ServiamScores
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 3,177
    @Chaswj I realize that this is primarily an Anglophone forum, but turning to the Anglicans would not have solved the problem of extremely bad liturgical music after the Council in, say, France or Italy. I think that the problem is much deeper than that. And also, much music of the Anglican patrimony is just as unsuitable for the Novus Ordo as the Roman patrimony: if an 8 minute motet by Ockeghem is too long, then so is an 8 minute anthem by Parry; if the choir can't sing a choral Sanctus by Palestrina, then it also can't sing a choral Sanctus by Darke.

    The problem is that the Novus Ordo liturgy was developed in words without music: the music was clearly an afterthought, cf. the disconnect between the Liturgy of the Hours and the Ordo Cantus Officii and Antiphonale Romanum I & II, or between the Responsorial Psalm in the Lectionary and the Responsorial Psalm in the Graduale Simplex. The reformed Rite required, either for reasons of liturgical form or language, the immediate development of new liturgical music ex nihilo, and no one was prepared to do that, or very few, and even fewer of quality.

    Even today, most of the best of the new liturgical music is written by people here; and if I'm incredibly honest, much of it (and I include my own compositions in this category) deserves to be forgotten as soon as possible, because it really is nothing more than utility music with very little artistry or spiritual depth. But this utility music is what the Novus Ordo requires because there is no time within the liturgy for liturgical music to truly exist. There's a reason why internationally acclaimed composer, James MacMillan retired from music ministry a few years ago.
  • MatthewRoth
    Posts: 1,939
    Also, the Anglicans adopted bad music too… This is particularly true of the Episcopal Church; my first experience seeing an Episcopal service was almost no different from seeing the NO in English like most of us knew it in somewhat normie parishes. It's just that there are enough wealthy parishes with good choirs that mask what happens elsewhere.
    Thanked by 1tomjaw
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 3,177
    That, and that even The Hymnal 1982 is better than Breaking Bread.
    Thanked by 1tomjaw
  • Salieri,

    That's some bar! Are you planning a pole vault or a limbo contest?
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • Andrew_Malton
    Posts: 1,156
    “The problem is that the Novus Ordo liturgy was developed.”

    Yep.
    Thanked by 1tomjaw
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 3,177
    Chris: Do you mean that liturgical music shouldn't rise to the level of art? Or that the liturgy should not support art? True that music is the handmaid of the liturgy, but is it necessary that the handmaid be beaten and abused by her master?

    Certainly not everyone is a James MacMillan, or a Palestrina or a Poulenc for that matter, but the fact that highly qualified musicians have given up because of the seeming futility of trying to fix the seemingly unfixable, such as Sir James, and several here on the forum, who have either left active music ministry or have dedicated their talents exclusively to the ancient usage of the Roman Rite.
    Thanked by 2CharlesW tomjaw
  • Salieri,

    No, I don't mean anything of the sort.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 3,369
    Salieri - much of the problem is the speed with which the NO was constructed. Whether there was a genuine likelihood of schism, as Bugnini claimed, or because he feared that reactionary forces would block progress, I do not know. I have given this example before, but: John Ainslie produced a Simple Gradual for Sundays and Solemnities, based on the Graduale Simplex, at amazing speed. It would have provided a better basis for any parish which resorted to St Louis Jesuits and slid downhill thereafter. But the revised calendar came out IIRC a week after Ainslie published, any pastor would look at his book, see 'Septuagesima', and think 'superseded'. Same fate of course for the GS itself, a revised edition did not emerge until 1975, by which time the horses had not just bolted they had bred two generations.
    Anyway, the NO was developed in Latin, with the GS as its hymnal and singing paramount,as IGMR says, episcopal bans on Latin, contrary to VII, were the 'smoke of satan'.
  • Music should be a work of beauty. Beauty comes in a great variety of forms -- a small child is a work of beauty, but so is a Romanesque church, when undamaged.

    Salieri said that the Hymnal 1982 was better than Breaking Bread, so I asked if he was going pole vaulting or limbo dancing. (Is the goal to get over such a high bar as Hymnal 1982 or so low a bar as Breaking Bread).

    Thanked by 1Salieri
  • PaxMelodious
    Posts: 425
    one of their services is affectionately referred to by a friend of mine as the "Hootenanny Mass."


    What are the other services like? Does the one dreadful Mass cater to the people who cannot stand caterwauling high-art choirs, overpowering organs and dirgy chant - thereby leaving the other two Masses with the to express parts of the church's musical patrimony which drive *some* people away from God?
  • Pax,

    Badly performed beautiful music is still beautiful music. The Hootenanny Mass (if I understand correctly) is intentionally focused on the worshippers, and not on God.
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 3,177
    Ok, CGZ, I didn't realize that you were responding to the 1982 vs Breaking Bread comparison. Fair enough. I wouldn't necessarily call the '82 a pole vault, that honor (or, rather, honour) would go to the 1940 or to The English Hymnal---when your musical editors are the likes of Winfred Douglas or Ralph Vaughan Williams, it's unlikely to be surpassed.
  • davido
    Posts: 873
    There were things to learn from the Anglicans: the British popular choral tradition; adaption of chant into English; how bring the German chorale to English liturgy.

    I think the problem is the cultural shift, the attitude that old is bad, novel is good. The paradigm of mid 20th century culture brought all the folk and pop music in and left out the trained musicians who could have developed (and sometimes tried to develop) the congregational based repertoire that Protestants had already mastered.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,499
    I'm not sure who's to blame exactly but I think the old adage all that is necessary for evil to flourish is for good men to be silent can be adapted here.

    All that is needed for hymnals to lose their quality is for the reform of the reform to neglect the hymnals.

    99.5% of the parishes in the United States are going to sing a 4-hymn sandwich this coming Sunday. How many of us in the reform of the reform movement are working at all towards making sure they have a good selection?

    Thanked by 2ServiamScores Heath
  • GambaGamba
    Posts: 539
    The Irish.
  • Kathy,

    How many of them have prepared the ground so that a less than hideous option is within reach?
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 3,369
    Aristophanes The Frogs c.405B.C
    It has often struck our notice that the course our city runs
    Is the same towards men and money. She has true and worthy sons:
    She has good and ancient silver, she has good and recent gold.
    These are coins untouched with alloys; everywhere their fame is told;
    Not all Hellas holds their equal, not all Barbary far and near.
    Gold or silver, each well minted, tested each and ringing clear.
    Yet, we never use them! Others always pass from hand to hand.
    Sorry brass just struck last week and branded with a wretched brand.
    So with men we know for upright, blameless lives and noble names.
    Trained in music and palaestra, freemen's choirs and freemen's games,
    These we spurn for men of brass...

    It is strange that although we are a 'liturgical church', Catholics do not issue standard hymn books as many other denominations do.
  • LarsLars
    Posts: 116
    I said to a few priests in my area that it's better to have dignified silence than profane noise - no one so far has agreed with me.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,933
    It is strange that although we are a 'liturgical church', Catholics do not issue standard hymn books as many other denominations do.


    Given their glorious track record, I shudder to think what the conference of bishops would produce.
  • ServiamScores
    Posts: 2,721
    No kidding…
    Thanked by 2tomjaw Salieri
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 3,177
    We have two: They are called "Graduale Romanum" and "Graduale Simplex", plus their more-or-less official vernacular versions. Hymns (as the word is usually taken to mean in common usage, i.e., "Holy God, we praise thy name", not "Gloria in excelsis Deo") are not, strictly speaking, part of the Roman Mass, and it is not clear whether or not Hymns are included in GIRM 48: 4, considering that the emphasis of the other three options are Antiphons and Psalms; and if Hymns were envisioned, why were they not explicitly mentioned as they are in GIRM 88, the only place in the entire Missal where hymns, in their common meaning, are mentioned.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,499
    Salieri, you are correct. And yet the fact remains that hymns are ubiquitously at the Mass.

    I think they should be good ones, don't you?
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 3,177
    I think they should be good ones, don't you?

    Of course. And both music and lyric should exhibit the "goodness of form" spoken of by Pius X in Tra le. Unfortunately, many modern hymns and songs do not exhibit "goodness of form", regardless of the genre. But I do think that too much emphasis has been placed on hymns in the past several decades, and to the detriment of the liturgy, as it (the Liturgy) is no longer viewed as an objective reality, the tool by which the Church, Mater et Magistra, forms her children, but as the plaything of liturgists and musicians to fashion in their image.
    Thanked by 2MarkB tomjaw
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,499
    Too much emphasis has been placed on hymns except by the very people who have the motivation and the capacity to make the best theological and aesthetic judgments about quality.
  • Salieri, Kathy,

    Perhaps I can broker a peace treaty between your two warring factions by proposing a liturgical and spiritual renewal of the Church: let there be anew the promotion of the hymns of the Divine Office, in Latin, with the Gregorian chant melodies attached to them (sometimes more than one melody applies there) and thus, promote the selection of hymns beyond the Office which can be properly used first outside of the Public Worship of the Church and, when sufficiently hallowed by custom, introduced into whatever part of the Roman Rite they can be introduced without violating the "Latin only" rule. Additionally, perhaps you two can actively promote processions and other demonstrations of lively piety, during which new hymns (for the processions, for example) can be used.

    Thanked by 1tomjaw
  • ServiamScores
    Posts: 2,721
    Let us not forget that, strictly speaking, hymns and propers do not have to be at odds, at least within the novus ordo. We always have an entrance hymn and antiphon, as well as communion hymn and antiphon, at every Mass.

    There is also the hybrid solution of antiphonrenewal.com which rearranges tropes of the proper texts into metrical settings so that they can be sung with well-known hymn tunes.

    At least in our case, I have been using their entrance antiphon texts for over a year, which we sing during the procession itself, and then we immediately transition to singing a setting of the actual proper, typically in the vernacular, during the incensation of the altar. This has the added benefit of not only putting the text of the propers into the mouths of the congregants, but we also get the opportunity to then reiterate that same text in immediate continuity, sung to a Gregorian melody, which renders the original context much more clear. Chanting the antiphon thus becomes didactic not only in terms of text, but also liturgy.
    Thanked by 1LauraKaz
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,499
    Yes, I've done the same. https://www.giamusic.com/store/resource/hymn-tune-introits-singing-the-sundays-of-the-liturgical-year-print-005323

    Still, nothing done within the realm of propers addresses the reality: hymns are what almost all Catholics hear and sing every Sunday. Every week they are well or poorly categorized. Every week they absorb an impression: does the Church's teaching cohere? Does the Church know more about art than my neighbor child studying piano? Is there more artistry or less than I can discover much more easily on American Idol?

    Thanked by 2CHGiffen Salieri
  • ServiamScores
    Posts: 2,721
    Quite so.

    This is why we removed our hymnals from the pews and I go to great pains to make worship aids now. I'm VERY choosy about what hymns we sing, and when (and what melodies). I trawl hymnary.com for superlative old texts whenever I can, and I regularly pair texts with alternate melodies to best suit any given liturgical action. (I also quote encyclicals on sacred music whenever I have space in the worship aid for a "music minute", so that way I don't waste any teaching opportunity.)

    I have to say that being freed from the fetters of bad hymnals has been quite a lovely thing. The choir regularly remarks at how beautiful some of the texts we sing are (things that would have NEVER been caught dead in our old hymnal) and I've been able to expand our repertoire too.

    Granted, I acknowledge that this isn't a privilege that every church can enjoy. I have the requisite skills for all of the typesetting and editing, and I'm full-time and have an annual printing budget. (And most importantly: I have the support of the pastor and choir!)
  • TCJ
    Posts: 966
    Pastors often seem to bend to the will of the loudest parishioners (or the richest).
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • MatthewRoth
    Posts: 1,939
    "Episcopal bans on Latin" aren't the only thing to blame. The US received an indult to anticipate the changes in language, not ritual, of the pre-conciliar missal as found in 1962; the problem is that anything which could be said in English only had English. There's no Latin option. (Photos here.)
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 3,177
    Lest anyone get the impression that I am against hymns, I am not. But I do think that we (i e. the Roman Rite Latin Church) needs to take a serious look at liturgy. And I can't think of a single Mass that wouldn't be vastly improved just by replacing the multitude of almost heretical Communion songs and replacing them with the Mozarabic setting of Psalm 34(33) from the Graduale Simplex. I also think that our energies would be better placed on getting the congregation to sing (and memorize) three or four Gregorian Ordinaries that can be changed seasonally, rather than hymns that change every week.

    Why can't Catholics sing? Because of two extremes; either the music is so banal and used so often that no one cares (99% of vernacular Mass settings, of which each parish knows one, which is sung for every Mass, from Funerals to Christmas), or is almost impossible for trained musicians to sing (80% of the Haagendasz repertory) and changes weekly.

    Hymns are beautiful. But they need to be put in the correct place. They are not, for the most part, liturgical texts, and so shouldn't take priority over liturgical texts; but good hymns should be treated with respect and care. They should, as much as possible be sung complete, or as complete as possible. This is why I focus on programming one English hymn at Sunday Mass for after Communion: it can therefore be sung in it's entirety because it is not constrained by another liturgical action, like a Procession.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,668
    We have two: They are called "Graduale Romanum" and "Graduale Simplex", plus their more-or-less official vernacular versions.
    yet, the fact is almost always ignored... along with the Mass that they support.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,499

    Hymns are beautiful. But they need to be put in the correct place.


    Yes, as the ideal idea, this is definitely true.

    But the fact of the matter is that they are not in their correct place. Overwhelmingly so. Not only does everyone use hymns in parish programming, but many parish programs use them exclusively of the propers, which of course are preferable.

    So we can't ignore hymns, I think, at Mass or otherwise. Treating all hymns like bad children has the effect of refusing to talk about them. They aren't going away, so do we ignore them or talk about them?
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • Kathy,

    I think I get your point, but (in my experience) bad children are the ones everyone talks about!
  • MarkB
    Posts: 1,025
    The Diocese of Marquette has experimented with implementing a diocesan hymnal and requiring its near-exclusive use. How's that gone? I don't hear anything about that anymore.
    Thanked by 2tomjaw Bri
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,451
    The fault, dear lacrimosa, is not in our stars
    But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
  • Reval
    Posts: 180
    In response to MarkB at the top of the thread:

    "I read somewhere a quip that if bad music continues at any parish for more than six months, then someone has made a deliberate decision to have bad music."

    I wonder what it means if the bad music continues for fifty years?

    "You could volunteer to sing in one of the Mass choirs and then begin to exert an influence."

    This might work, I suppose, but it seems more likely that a musician who programs bad music is going to take umbrage at the newbie choir member who comes in and starts making suggestions. Meanwhile the choir member has to sing crummy music while perhaps missing out on a better liturgical experience elsewhere.
    Thanked by 2tomjaw LauraKaz
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,933
    I think, and my two cents worth here, that instead of taking the church into the world and transforming it, the world has been brought into the church. All the bad music and other abominations are really just reflections of the popular culture.
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 3,177
    Which is why the Church has in the past guarded against aggiornamento. The Church in the second half of the twentieth century, and in the present day, has aggiornamento-ed itself into irrelevance and oblivion. And if the Church is supposed to be Mater et Magistra, does that not imply a certain amount of authority over the world, to form, educate, and sanctify the world? What we have now is the situation of the parent or teacher who tries to be a "friend" rather than a parent or educator: it creates self-centered, frankly horrible children: if it doesn't work in the family or in the school, why should it work in the Church?
  • francis
    Posts: 10,668
    (good) Parents don't compromise with 'bad children'... (I prefer to call them misled, uneducated, uncatechized, etc.) Still loving them, no matter what, is one thing, but participating in their shenanigans (wrong behaviours) is another matter altogether.
    Thanked by 2Reval tomjaw
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,499
    Francis, the problem with this reasoning is that hymns are not bad children. Anyone who thinks they are should be aware they are disdaining Sts. Paul, Ambrose, Gregory the Great, Peter Damian, Bernard. Thomas Aquinas, Teresa of Avila, etc etc.
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,933
    There is nothing wrong with hymns - good hymns, that is.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,668
    No one is saying hymns are bad. What I am saying, is that replacing what should be there with the second best or even third or fourth is a mistake.
    Thanked by 2tomjaw LauraKaz
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 3,369
    The point is that Mass provides the texts (in Latin), we should not be substituting hymns with other words. I think Kathy's provision of metrical translations of the Introits is brilliant.
    As pointed out already, GIRM provides for a freely chosen hymn of praise after communion. And a recessional is not banned by GIRM.