First Things Naively Posts This
  • Jeffrey TuckerJeffrey Tucker
    Posts: 3,624
    It's one way to get traffic. I actually think this kind of "rudeness" is defensible, if only because it reflects the views of a huge swath of the faithful.

    I post for information only, knowing that we all want be well informed citizens of the blogosphere. However, I wouldn't recommend that we use the forum to pile on either the editors or the composers of the pieces in question.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,955
    I have heard this before. There have been other lists of "the x worst Catholic hymns" of whatever time. I don't disagree on the hymns, but haven't heard a couple of them. I probably use 1/3 of the hymns in the RitualSong hymnal, and the rest are never heard by the congregation. I suspect that is not unusual practice for the musicians who post here.
  • DougS
    Posts: 793
    On a purely objective level, a couple of those are rather difficult for congregations to sing, which boggles the mind as to why they are still around. I didn't see "Sing of the Lord's Goodness" on the list or near the top of the commentary, but sheesh, a song in 5/4? Some congregations have enough trouble singing in common time!
  • Maureen
    Posts: 675
    Actually, I don't think anybody has any particular trouble singing in weird time signatures, per se. I could have lived my whole life thinking "Sing of the Lord's Goodness" was just a bit dancey and jazzy. People sing along with weird Celtic music time signatures all the time. Now, ask folks to dance a slip jig, and you won't get it. But the guy who always yells AR! howling the song out in perfect time while too drunk to stagger, that's not a problem.

    Of course, most Celtic bands that want people to sing along will strongly emphasize the basic beat and not try to disguise it. There are certainly techniques in church music, as in Celtic music, which disguise the basic beat, and will leave the audience puzzled and silent. (Even without assists from the drink on Saturday night at the bar, or conversely, the slow cognitive functions of early Sunday morning before breakfast.)

    Also, even if you are playing in a perfectly plain way, people may have conflicting ideas of what signals you're giving. Or they might be singing at the tempo the other organist always used, not paying attention to you because they're singing from memory or feeling alone. Quirky musicians, who train people to be used to intros being played at a wildly different tempo than the one they use for the actual song, may also be to blame.
  • "which boggles the mind as to why they are still around"

    It's 'cause they were often used to wrap up testimonies/witnessing in renewal groups, having a huge impact on people there and they drug this music into Mass to share with the whole world. Emotions were touched.

    They are not surviving for reasons of singability or musical excellence, unless you are a broadway show at mass person.
  • DougS
    Posts: 793
    Good point, Maureen, about the time signatures, but I just can't imagine having zero musical skill and being able to follow it the first few times.

    Also a great point about intros, etc.--so true. Many would do well by heeding John Wesley's directions for singing: "VI. Sing in time. Whatever time is sung be sure to keep with it. Do not run before nor stay behind it; but attend close to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can; and take care not to sing too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from us, and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first."

    We could all do well to heed #7! "VII. Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve here, and reward you when he cometh in the clouds of heaven." It's almost like he was writing from inside a monastery.
  • I make no apology for this opinion.
    The writer of this article freely, albeit tongue planted in cheek, offered that maybe "First Things" had too much time on its hands. So, this article is a muckraking device. Has anyone, including those faceless masses who share the author's sentiments, not decryed these items personally or publicly already? Did anyone receive further enlightenment or a deeper appreciation of the distinctions between its premise built upon an axis of "worst" v. "best?" In other words, what benefit was gained among all believers by its publication?
    CMAA is a boots on the ground enterprise. This ground has been trod upon time after time for decades. We should move forward onto positive pathways towards reformation and reclamation. As JT noticed with the publication of the archives of "Caecilia," we've always engaged the same bogeymen in previous eras.
    This was a classic example of "Keep moving, nothing to see here."
  • Maureen
    Posts: 675
    Re: following it the first few times

    That's why the organist plays the tune before Mass, after Mass, before the song starts....

    Of course, I have to admit that I'm awfully quick at picking up the kind of tunes that get slapped on us in church, just because I grew up in the 70's and 80's getting slapped with new songs every week whether we wanted 'em or not. It's still sorta Darwinist out in the pews at most churches... you learn fast, or give up singing fast. (Two guesses what a lot of congregations choose.)

    The thing with Celtic music is that, even though there are weird time signatures, it's the same weird time signatures. You hear a lot of 13/12 or whatever, because there are recognized subgenres of tunes that always use the same time signatures. With Catholic music written by composers with weird ideas, you never know what time signature you're getting next. So if people have heard 5/4, they can sing 5/4; or if the tune is easy to follow, they can follow. If they haven't, they are more likely to stumble. (That's why I said "per se".)

    But anyway, it's usually not the time signature that throws people off, so much as:

    Awkward phrasing and stupid note jumps.
    Extra notes thrown in on each verse, but always in a different place.
    Syncopation that is designed to punish the congregation for not being sightreaders, and which is different in every hymnal edition of the same song.
    Verses that don't rhyme or scan, in a totally irregular way.
    Melodies that deliberately mess people up.
    Incredibly stupid hymnal pagination practices.

    Even more vocal Darwinism ensues, because it's apparently against Catholic songwriting principles (at the major publishers) to make songs singable. It's not fair if a song is 3/4 here, 5/6 there, and 13/17 over yonder.
  • DougS
    Posts: 793
    "But anyway, it's usually not the time signature that throws people off, so much as:

    Awkward phrasing and stupid note jumps.
    Extra notes thrown in on each verse, but always in a different place.
    Syncopation that is designed to punish the congregation for not being sightreaders, and which is different in every hymnal edition of the same song.
    Verses that don't rhyme or scan, in a totally irregular way.
    Melodies that deliberately mess people up.
    Incredibly stupid hymnal pagination practices."

    So true!!!
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,500
    Charles, although I poked fun at the post's provocative led when I linked to it, I was glad to see it. I've noticed in my wanderings that ecclesial problems are like magma, boiling away cheerfully below the surface for decades (for longer?) until kazoom! They explode.

    Better to let off a little steam now and then. Just enough pressure to fix the problem--and we have a problem.
  • There is no ridicule loud enough for these pseudo-musical emanations.
  • Though I agree with Charles in CenCal on this and have no business commenting, my perplexity at the omission of "All I Ask of You" compels at least a shout. Even if with the help of a banned substance, you could never top this:

    Deep the joy of being
    together in one heart
    and for me
    that's just were it is.

    As we make our way
    through all the joys and pain,
    can we sense
    our younger, truer selves?

    Laughter, joy and presence:
    the only gifts your are!
    Have you time?
    I'd like to be with you.
  • Liam
    Posts: 5,003

    I once witnessed a groom sing that, mit guitar, at the ceremony - and he sang it an octave below the usual men's placement because he was a Bass 3...
  • Kathy, interesting notion. But two observations:
    1. The magma you speak of was owned by a lay writer from First Things. There's magma a-plenty running thru the lymphatic systems of many musicians, f'sure. But my contention is that by reprinting/redistributing that brewing volcano, we essentially packed that person's magma into a vest labeled "CMAA" and brought it into our public market for dissemination. You know where I'm going with this: that vest could explode, no matter how noble the vest adornment may have appeared.
    2. Magma could be regarded as a symptom, rather than the disease of geology. The techtonic disease that has opened the fissures for the magma to appear is likely our own ecclesiology, something I'm not prepared to analyze here.
    Though I'm a firm adherent to G's slogan, "Save the Liturgy, save the world," that axiom could be also considered to be a "Which came first, chicken or egg?" cliche.

    We simply need to stay on point. Globally and locally.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    This reminds me of the situation of a four-year-old who's just heard his first swear word and can't wait to share it with the world. Sure, it's something everyone needs to know, but we already know it and no one gains from you yelling it all the time in church. I posted it on my facebook, but again consider the comparison I drew, and you have most content I post there. This, the "society for a moratorium", and other "black lists" advance the cause of true sacred music in no way, and really set back those of us who have real work to do. It reminds me of reading a letter in the diocesan newspaper a while ago by some kook from "The Society for Catholic Sacred Music" or some nonsense. In this form letter, he argued that the music in Mass is bad, poorly performed, heretical, written by heretics, sung by heretics, and he hates the people around him, etc. His solution? Get rid of all music in Mass, and when there is music, don't pay the musicians. I've been known to agree with his summary of the state of Catholic music, but all he offered is whining. It's utterly unhelpful.

    I WILL say this about the list, since I find it (with only two exceptions) strikingly accurate... I've heard people say "what about (such song)? That's the worst!" And usually that song is of debatable quality, but hardly the WORST. What all of these songs (I won't argue my exceptions) have in common is that they're terribly over-sentimental. I find ST. COLUMBA, for example, to be a rather sentimental tune. But these are just a big bowl of sugar-water sludge. And yet they are at the same time the most reviled, beloved, and commonly used repertoire.

    This just strikes me as interesting. They didn't choose the most heretical texts. Or all the vox-dei ones. Or the music that most violates the rules of good composition. Or the hardest music to sing. They picked the sappiest and identified it as the worst. I can't say I disagree.
  • From my POV, the occasional calling out of these tunes is necessary. WE've been there, done that, to be sure, but I remember the day I stumbled on Aristotle's blog some years ago -- has all this really only been going on a such a short time? -- and discovered SOMEONE else who had misgivings about the music I was singing/hearing in church each Sunday. Since these songs are STILL torturing us weekly, perhaps the strong light should once again reveal their flaws. Now, as some of the comments have reminded us, they are embedded in many Catholics memories of their religious epiphanies, which means these songs will stay with us in some way, just as our grandparents' devotional songs hung around. At some point, though, these tunes must be removed. There are plenty of objective reasons why. Friends, we once had Monteverdi and Mozart writing music for our worship. Is our Sunday experience now so much less important that we must turn to less inspired creations? I have no grudge against any of the songwriters. They have written in true devotion (with one possible exception), but something must be done. MOST Catholics have no idea that there is an organization out here trying to change a basic aspect of their Sunday morning worship. We are not even on their radar.
  • I have revised yesterday's post about this issue over at the Chant Cafe, "Conventional Wisdom? 'So what...." that might shed more light on my POV, and JT's as well.
    Interestingly, what I predicted would happen, did already in fact occur on Jeffrey's companion article combox.
    I agree totally with Mike's last two sentences above. But do we want to fly into anyone's Catholic radar buoyed by someone else's hot air?
  • Jeffrey TuckerJeffrey Tucker
    Posts: 3,624
    "We are not even on their radar." Michael is speaking of average parish musicians. That's true enough. When the change happens, I don't expect that we will be on the radar then either. This is how cultural change happens. The ideas that began it are untraceable in their origin. That's perfectly fine too.
  • Looking back, what has survived and is of most interest from church publications from 1900-1950?

    The White List and Black List.

    These say a lot about what was considered bad and good then, as selected by an active group of church musicians.

    Maybe it is time for another set of lists.
  • FNJ, yours is an appropriate response in that it calls for action. In point of fact, The White List proposal put before the USCCB (I think Nov.'08) was remanded to the custody of two bishops, from the Sees of, can you believe it, Chicago and Portland! This isn't a recovered memory, I watched the buck passing on EWTN live.
    Anybody close to D.C. ever hear any more about it?
    Didn't think so.
    Under any other circumstances, I'd hope to proven wrong about the white list of TEXTS crossing the event horizon of the USCCB Black Hole and it's still on the table. But then, I'm still hoping the Abp. Vigneron gets recognized at the next plenum of mitres and tries again with "Fellows, what about the Propers?"
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,460
    I think lists like this, and the attitude that goes with them is detrimental to "the cause."

    It seems to me that people that could be most helpful are moderates: people l(ike me, for example) who are comfortable enough in the Catholic folk music world that we can handle "average" parish life, and yet who still have a strong love of and yearning for traditional sacred music in Mass. I'd be willing to bet the a good number of parish MDs like that stuff (it probably has a lot to do with why they went into church music in the first place), and you don't win them over by insulting them or their tastes.

    I would say that JT's approach in his rhetorical approach in his reflection on the SLJ is really respectful (considering his viewpoint, especially) and is probably about at the limit of "this music is bad" that is worthwhile. Beyond that, and people start shutting down and you become really unhelpful. (Remember, your goal is not to make other people who agree with you already giggle and feel good- your goal deals with the serious business of [ultimately] the salvation of souls]).

    But even with JT's respect, wittiness, and keen observations (and dapper dress), a rhetorical approach is probably simply not that helpful. The three biggest needs (in order) are:

    Prayer, is obvious. Example is needed to give people a goal. Instruction is needed to show them how to get there. I believe that instruction is the biggest missing piece right now (although CMAA and CCW and others are doing a stellar job filling that need as fast as they can). NLM does a great job with examples, but they are likely to piss off someone like me (I unsubbed when JT left). I know many of you pray already.
    But more could be done.

    I feel about this list the way Cardinal Arinze feels about liturgical dance: the people who had time for it should have prayed an extra rosary instead.
  • Jeffrey TuckerJeffrey Tucker
    Posts: 3,624
    Adam, I really do appreciate this. I'm grateful for the explanation. I think you will enjoy the transcript of a conversation between Charles and me at the Chant Cafe.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,460
    JT and Charles: I like you guys more and more all the time.
  • So which part of a white list is not example and instruction? And a black list as well?

    These lists dod not survive because they were not an example of what should and should not be and who has not been instructed by reading them.

    If the USCCB thinks that there should be a list....are they wrong, too?
  • G
    Posts: 1,397
    It is hard to take seriously, or even seriously snarkily, a "Worst of..." (as it would also a "Best of...") list that does not recognize that all of history did not being with our experiences, our sentience.

    But I do think those who are suffering are entitled to blow off a bit of steam now and again, (and yes, people do suffer from being subjected to tripe when they are trying to engage in the highest activity of human existence.)

    Save the Liturgy, Save the World!
  • Adam, I'm pretty sure that most of us here work in the way you suggest. All I am saying is that on occasion, the word needs to get out there ARE people who don't love those tired old songs. At some point one has to stand up and be counted, because you can gradually move towards proper church music all you want, but at some point people are going to stand up and start pointing and screaming like pod people that you are taking away their beloved Mass songs. They are going to want to know why and you had better have a better answer (for them) than the Church says so. Sorry, but sometimes I think the word "charitable" has become code for "don't make anyone upset." OK, I'm done.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,460
    And another thing...

    This list is hardly the worst songs. It is simply the most popular among a set of songs found objectionable as a whole.

    A useful list would be:
    "Songs even hippie-Catholics shouldn't like"
    which would really be code for
    "Songs even Adam wouldn't program, and why they are so awful."
  • Ruth Lapeyre
    Posts: 341
    Hmmm, so that's where the list came from. A friend of mine just copied it to me in an e-mail. Funny thing is I had never heard the number 10 hymn on the list until I was asked to sing it for an ordination Mass up here in Michigan in June. Not funny I guess until I tell you I did not sing it in Spanish or English but ... Polish!