good rules of thumb
  • JamJam
    Posts: 636
    I'm just interested in a bit of a mental exercise... how could one make a simple, one-sentence rule which excludes most inappropriate church music and includes what is appropriate?

    My attempt is thus: liturgical music should never be something you could possibly dance to.
  • I'm trying to think of something helpful. Hmmm. I believe St. Pius X did a fairly pithy job in his motu proprio on the subject. Look at the opening paragraphs and, something closer to a rule of thumb, perhaps p.79. JPII's chirograph expands on St. Pius' principles, esp. in paragraphs 1-7. The chirograph is a great read, maybe you've read it?

    As an aside, Jam, I often feel like dancing during triple meter sections of more upbeat motets. My husband came home to find me jumping rope to Byrd's Mass for 4, and had a hearty laugh at his sacred music nerd. (Hey, I get score study in however I can!)
  • JamJam
    Posts: 636
    Feeling like dancing and actually being able to dance are different... mostly I'm trying to include meter-less chant and exclude anything a djembe player could use XD
  • You would leave out a ton of 17th-century music, then. Lots of great dance rhythms. No Bach, either, but I'm always a little reluctant to use his vocal music anyway. He was an excellent theologian and worked that into the music quite adeptly.
  • incantuincantu
    Posts: 989
    Taking a cue from Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's remark on obscenity ("I know it when I see it"), I have done a little experiment with my parish liturgy committee. I have then close their eyes and imagine where they might hear each of four 15-second musical examples: 1) polyphony, 2) contemporary Christian, 3) chant, 4) secular pop music. For polyphony, people invariably say "in church" or "in a cathedral," while their idea of chant often conjures images of a monastic community. Unless it's a song they recognize, people often can't tell the difference between contemporary Christian (Haugen, Haas) and secular pop music with similar instrumentation. For the polyphony, I have played Byrd's "Sing Joyfully" and then asked people to tell me what language they had just heard. More than half respond Latin. Now, I use a recording of the Tallis Scholars who have about the best technique one can imagine. From there I can talk about what it really means to understand a piece, because while we might not have understood each word, we all get the sense that it is both happy and sacred.

    But I've strayed off-topic. Here's one sentence that I came up with the other day: "While the official liturgical directives of the Church do not specifically mention every type of music that is not appropriate for use during Mass, there is only one type of music that they explicitly mention as required; and that is Gregorian chant."
  • incantuincantu
    Posts: 989
    By the way, singing "Qui manducat" makes me want to dance, so I'm not sure that's a criterion. Who was it that said on here something to the effect of "sacred music does is not something to make us feel happy, but a way for us to express the happiness we already feel"?
  • My one sentence: Say you are brought in blindfolded and there are no lyrics, or you don't understand the lyrics, you just hear the music -- you should still know without doubt that you are in a church.

    As for dance music: several years ago I wrote: "The zarabanda [sarabande] was danced in Spain three hundred years ago. It is a stately, formal dance in three/four time that is oh so very slow. Such is the dignity of a zarabanda that I have from time to time played one at the organ as a voluntary before or during a mass. The people never know that that moving, spine tingling music they hear is but the dance music of an age gone by."
  • If applause feels completely appropriate after hearing the piece, then it's probably inappropriate for Mass.
  • Incantu, I hereby request to use your experiment. Its the best thing I've heard to explain why sacro-pop P&W is so out of place at Mass. BRILLIANT!!!

    Joseph, your one sentence is also excellent.

    Church music in church. Gee, what a concept.

    Jam, I understand the appeal of free rhythm, it says sacred like nothing else. But I do think much fabulous sacred polyphony would be excluded. Michael's right about all the dance rhythms used in 17th (and some 16th) cent. sacred works.
  • incantuincantu
    Posts: 989
    Mum, you have my full permission. I think it's best to use popular music of a high quality, or at least something that you particularly like, so as not to be accused of putting up a straw man just to tear it down.
  • I don't mind the dance test, if by dance we mean what contemporary society thinks of as dance, which includes just sort of grooving around to a beat. I mean, Holy God We Praise can be rendered as a Waltz but most people wouldn't think of it that way (except perhaps with the extreme tempo I tend to use on this hymn, mainly because I want to be over and done with it).
  • G
    Posts: 1,397
    Its performance should never call attention to the performer.

    This may be a function of the performer or the music itself.

    I used to hear the Laudate Dominum from the Mozart Vespers and think, ya know, sorry, but that just doesn't work in the context of liturgy, (I know, heretical to most musicians.)

    Then I heard it sung, (by one of the greatest sopranos I've ever been fortunate enough in whose presence to sit, so if she'd wanted to, she could have made the entire church rise and give her a standing o in awe,) in the context of fully sung Solemn Vespers, and realized, but only AFTERWARDS, ah ha! THAT'S how it's supposed to work!

    And after that bit of diffidence, not calling attention to the performer, to be truly great liturgical music, it shouldn't really call attention to itself, per se.

    (Save the Liturgy, Save the World)
  • Jam:
    I can't do it in one sentence. I 've written some publicity copy and this is the most reduced text that pertains to your topic.

    “It’s not what you say, but how you say it.” - : "Don't use that tone of voice with me."
    What is the attitude expressed in a mariachi style communion hymn, or a tango? Would it be appropriate to sing “Tantum ergo” to “Mac the Knife?” Is it enough to have an appropriate text and ignore the musical form?

    One sentence aphorisms sonetimes have a nice ring to them but don't wear well.
  • Dittos to Ralph's contention.
  • JamJam
    Posts: 636
    Well, I can't do it either, not really... it was more of a thought experiment than something people would actually use.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    My (subjective) test is like incantu's: would someone hearing this know that they're in a church, or that something sacred is going on? Then again, I would tend to say that context is key to suitability. St. Paul would probably be scandalized by the obscene pagan melodies of fully developed Gregorian chant. Pope Marcellus would shut up about intelligibility if he heard all the thirds and tritones in the baroque era. Jam herself is not in communion with the majority Roman Catholic members here, due to the use of the organ (ok, and the filioque, papal primacy, original sin, and all that jazz). I accept there could be a time when the organ becomes obsolete and what we now define as "pop music" could be considered as suitable to the liturgy and a venerable tradition, perhaps even by law. That idea gives me actual nightmares, but it could happen. For now, pop music is associated with secular culture and watered-down weak spirituality (no offense intended to evangelicals, but that IS the popular consensus on that music), and hence it should have no place in our churches.

    I would further move Jam's question away, and say that it may be less profitable to speak of suitability and more profitable to speak of efficacy. For the goals of worship, whatever they may be, what music accomplishes those goals best? As I said above, I think a more mature faith and closer experience with God is achieved through the classic Western church music tradition, as opposed to the more shallow music of modern times. I think that discussion can prove more useful than high-and-mighty proclamations of "suitability".