How the Church Lost Her Soundscape
  • tdunbar
    Posts: 120
    Over at First Things, Peter Leithart writes about How the Church Lost Her Soundscape and concludes:

    Expertise is one of the values of modern culture, but expertise has always had a limited scope. We trust experts in physics and computer programming and perhaps foreign affairs. But the suggestion that there are experts in aesthetics, musicians who know what music one should appreciate, is greeted with hostility, also in the church. “I know what I like” stops every argument, buttressed by “Musical taste is subjective.” Lebanese organist Naji Hakim has lamented that in the Catholic Church “many in positions of liturgical responsibility, with no musical education as regards technique or aesthetics, have come to believe in a tabula rasa, denying any lineage whatsoever.” Professional musicians have been “sidelined” as “the lost common denominator has become the rule.” He wonders whether Catholics “realize the level of mediocrity which the present liturgy has reached.”

    The church created the soundscape for Western Christendom because she cultivated her own musical life in the liturgy that united human voices with the angelic choirs of heaven. I can hardly imagine a more worrisome sign of worldliness, or clearer evidence of the church’s identity crisis, than our eager renunciation of our own soundscape and our determination instead to reproduce the world’s.

  • Exactly why my last job only lasted a year and a half. When a person with actual KNOWLEDGE talks about documents, instructions from the Church, and even liturgical trends and is shot down with "but that doesn't help MEEEE pray!," what is the point? A very "progressive" parish shouldn't bother recruiting a liturgist or musician with CREDENTIALS; they merely need someone who is good at "listening" to "what the people want" and being able to provide it. Which makes it all the more puzzling why they were impressed with the credentials that I DID have in the interview process ...
  • Those with a background in philosophy know that a misapplication of David Hume girds many “it’s all subjective” and “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” arguments. Yes, Hume thought aesthetic judgement rested in the subject and that reactions of observers would vary, but he also noted significant unity of opinion amongst those whose responses were informed by study. In other words, knowledge of craft is the antidote to aesthetic anarchy.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,500
    Is this what happened? I thought what happened was that a generation of musical theater majors couldn't find work and so they became choir directors.
  • Kathy,

    I'll take your point and run with it. In my experience, it's not theater majors in need of work that have latched onto this carnage; it's already employed elementary school music teachers. As someone who has experience with both Church music and music in the public school system, I'll tell you that the problems are much the same in both places. Actual knowledge of craft has been replaced with "recipe books" for classes and liturgies. Just pick up your Teacher Edition of whatever music text you're using, and it tells you exactly what to do (hint: it's Orff instruments. Kill me now, it's always Orff instruments). These individuals take a part time gig at their parish, where they pick up OCP's Today's Liturgy, see that The King of Glory is recommended for this weekend, and then don't give it another thought. It's complete philosophical laziness writ large.

    Before I get crucified by too many teachers, let me tell you: if you don't do the "recipe book" thing, you are the exception. The norm is so large that it's depressing. The reason that tons of Mass music sounds like children's music? Well, it is.
  • Andrew, +1 !!!

    Music educators are, in my experience, hands down the worst musicians. They know the least, do not have a command at their craft (either MUSICALLY or regarding teaching theory), and are the laziest.

    Is that a generalization? Yep. And it's one that I've found to be true in almost all cases.

    And my wife is a music teacher ...
  • rogue63
    Posts: 410
    You're right about music teachers generally: the one I replaced here was carting loads of recorders, xylophones and drums to the weekly school Mass. Thank God the current pastor stopped that stuff and hired me when the lady retired. Two other Catholic schools in my city have started a showchoir for their students, but there's no schola or solfege or real music teaching happening to balance it out. I do feel quite alone sometimes----I'm a Ward Method teacher, and the pastor and principal support my initiatives toward better music, but the other teachers in the diocese are usually part-time between two or three schools, non-Catholic, and generally ignorant of what constitutes real music pedagogy. We're setting up a diocesan meeting for music teachers in the spring, and I'm hopeful but not overly optimistic. I can't blame the other teachers for being ignorant of sacred music directives when they only show up at school once or twice a week-----that's a structural problem.

    It kinda shows how much value the powers that be have placed on music. Do we hire full-time RE directors? Yes. Do we hire a full-time youth minister? Yes. What about multiple secretaries for the various church departments? Yes. Math, science, history, literature and religion teachers? Yes. Music? Oh, that's a bit la-di-da, isn't it?

    My situation is fortunate, but we are an exception.
  • dad29
    Posts: 2,219
    Andrew, I thought you were writing about my parish...

    FWIW, it's been my experience that few 'music teachers' have a CLUE about the entire Western tradition of music. We can forgive them for not knowing about Chant (sorta), but not for not knowing--or appreciating, or teaching, about JSBach, Beethoven, Shostakovich, Faure, Elgar.....(etc.)

    There is a real connection between appropriate music for Mass and the classics, even the 'secular' ones: that is, that the music sets and dominates the mood. (Remember your Plato? "Music is that which moves the soul...")

    So when the music sets and dominates the mood during Mass, what 'mood' IS it? We know what 'mood' is in the room at a symphony concert of the Brahms Requiem, or of Elgar's "Variations," or JSBach's Magnificat, or St John's passion.

    How can a trained musician ignore that reality and set a 'mood' of coffee-house or lounge? Or Sesame Street?
  • Kathy, you baaaad!
    PGA: since I don't work many evening or weekend hours at my academic library, I'm spared the worst of it, but in my experience, yes, eddies are not to the level of other musicians. It's interesting to me that two of the biggest music teaching methodologies, Orff and Kodaly, were designed by composers; Edwin Gordon is the only non-composer I can think of who has done anything comparable. There's a fairly recent Gordon article which I read once and have not been able to find again, where he rips the profession a new one for not knowing their craft as musicians. OTOH, non-educator musicians tend to dismiss the value of a structured pedagogy. The difference between educators is the difference between me grabbing a cookbook and making something in the kitchen, and a Michael Ruhlman who understands all the processes and can conceptualize a new dish without experimentation.
  • Michael Ruhlman who understands all the processes and can conceptualize a new dish without experimentation.

    I'm trying to glean the same ability with mixology, Jeffrey, by reading the regular articles in the "Atlantic Monthly". Not to worry, though, I can't afford to realize such conceptual concoctions! But I thank God for the ability to cognate the sensus inebrium through such exotic unions, even if just the fruit of the vine which so gladdens my heart! ;-)
  • In a project I am involved with I am working for an organ pedagogist. So many of us were taught by people who passed along what they had learned. It's illuminating to work with someone who develops and teaches strategies for teaching the organ.
  • rogue63
    Posts: 410
    @ Jeffrey Quick:

    The Orff-Schulwerk is not a method for musical education. Its practitioners (the well-trained ones, at least) will completely deny that the Schulwerk has any methodology at all. The Orff-Schulwerk, properly implemented, advocates for expression at the expense of communication. The Orff-Schulwerk is a way of doing music; one hesitates to use the word "teach" and "Schulwerk" together, or even the word "facilitate". I do some Orffish things with my students, but only as diversions or entertainments-----it doesn't at all qualify as real and solid music education.

    Seriously, go to a Ward Method seminar. That is THE stuff for teaching music. Catholic musicians who have an opportunity to teach children and are not currently using the Ward Method are missing the best opportunity.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,948
    Although I am certified as a K-12 music teacher, I don't teach music. I realized some years ago, the mediocrity of texts, standards, and music teaching in the public schools. Then I learned it is just as bad in the Catholic schools. I did encounter, at times, good school music teachers who used their school salaries as a way to survive on the low pay they received in their churches. I never got the fascination with Orff instruments. These days, I work as a church musician, but teach school based on my other degrees in library and computer science.
  • It's interesting to me that two of the biggest music teaching methodologies, Orff and Kodaly, were designed by composers; Edwin Gordon is the only non-composer I can think of who has done anything comparable.

    Yes, and in my experience, Gordon is the one that actually produces results in students. Back in the day, Gordon came to speak to the Orff association at my college. The teachers in that room simply couldn't conceive of another way to "teach" music, and Gordon ended up calling them "Orff (ladies of the night)." He was never invited back. He was also totally right.

    Although I am certified as a K-12 music teacher, I don't teach music. I realized some years ago, the mediocrity of texts, standards, and music teaching in the public schools. Then I learned it is just as bad in the Catholic schools.

    This. Furthermore, the breakdown of music and cultural education has bled into the churches in a major way. God bless teachers who work their hardest to give students a good education. They get little support from inside or outside their profession.
  • Pope Benedict:‘These are all phenomena that one can only observe with sadness. It is sad that there are what you might call professional Catholics who make a living on their Catholicism,but in whom the spring of faith flows only faintly,in a few scattered drops. We must really make an effort to change this. - Interview with Peter Seewald

    "To resist this eclipse of reason and to preserve its capacity for seeing the essential, for seeing God and man, for seeing what is good and what is true, is the common interest that must unite all people of good will. The very future of the world is at stake".BENEDICT XVI
    Monday, 20 December 2010
  • francis
    Posts: 10,697
    Great quote, Ralph. It is so unfortunate that a (relativistic) myopic view formed by selfishness eclipses reason this day and age.
  • Ward is fantastic.

    Unfortunately, study in the US of this method is too expensive. Difficult to pay a mint for education that prepares someone to work in a field that is known not to pay decent salaries.
  • rogue63
    Posts: 410
    I attended the Ward I seminar at CUA this past summer and I raised exactly the same point to one of the Dom Mocquereau Foundation board members. Catholic schools (mine included) are notorious for poor salaries; in fact, my family of 4 (with baby #3 on the way) already qualifies for WIC and food stamp benefits, and I work over 40 hours a week! Yep, the Ward study is not cheap at all, but it certainly pays the world back in what is gained.

    The board member had no answers for me----she only shook her head and agreed. This is, as I mentioned, a structural problem. Music, especially in the Catholic schools, is an afterthought, a fun little extra. There's a wider cultural malaise at work too, and I'm not sure how to fix it. That's why I'm trying to keep my candle lit instead of cursing the darkness.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,697

    don't give up... don't give in... i know it's hard to hear, but you have a great place awaiting you upstairs.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 9,173
    The greatest amount of the cost is related to the graduate tuition fee charged by CUA. I took the Ward 1 course a few years back on a non-credit basis for a much lower cost. If it's possible to do that for the whole series (I don't know whether this is an option), it might be useful for people who don't need the graduate credits.
  • Chonak, as the Catholics are heard to say, BINGO!

    Great suggestion.
  • Well, back the original subject. The changes of Vatican II arrived at the very moment that post-modern thought was approaching its apogee. Post-modernism rejects the idea of "masterpieces" or the preeminence of art music over popular music. All aesthetics are culturally relative and learned phenomenon. Intellectually, these claims have merit, but theologically they simply cannot apply. Once we say that all church music should arise from the local culture, it becomes quite difficult to convince that local culture of the absolutes embodied in the faith. My Protestant friends wonder why Catholics are so hide-bound (if they only knew). I see the adherence to tradition and practices as a reflection of our belief in certain theological absolutes. The two work in hand in hand in the best of situations.
  • At first, Michael, this didn't seem to make sense, but then I reread it and you have hit the nail on the head. Thank you.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,697
    Yes... thank you MO.
  • dad29
    Posts: 2,219
    Michael, it's interesting that you state "...intellectually, these claims have merit..."

    Seems to me that they don't, especially if the Golden Triad (truth, beauty, goodness) holds.

    Yes, emphatically they are incompatible with theological absolutes.
  • @dad29, well, intellectually the ideals of post-modernism make sense by "contextualizing" matters of truth and beauty. Not everyone finds Gregorian chant beautiful, for example. However, when this contextual view of aesthetics is applied to an institution such as the Church, it disturbs the entire belief system by undercutting the supposedly surface matters like music, art and ceremony, which themselves are outward signs of the absolute truths held by that institution.
  • Michael: "contextualized" Truth is not necessarily easily observed . The opposite is more true.The trouble with "contextualizing" is that it is difficult to observe it operating in society: Like trying to get a fish to discover water. Yet it is essential: Is the label on a Campbell soup-can more socially effective in the grocery store, or on a Warhol painting? Most likely when never noticed it until it became art.

    IF appreciation of art (or any medium) occurs only within an aesthetic perspective then we are most likely moving it into an"anti-environment" of a museum. That is not to say that past art cannot reassert its active role in froming society. In fact when it does it usually demands a higher form of participation.
    Chant will give new form to worship yet it some ways has to become as common and invisible as water to a fish.
  • Ralph, Of course I am not promoting post-modern philosophy as a religious or even aesthetic ideal. I'm just doing my best to explain how art and music have been sidelined in the Church. When all beauty is based on every individual's (or small community's) preferences, it's hard to argue for the universal, even if we believe it is best for the Church.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,697
    +1 MO

    personal preference has zilch to do with what is appropriate.
  • MO and F: I agree. Our responsibility to the congregation can address the congregation's ability to to be fulfilled music. This criteria should be far beyond that of "personal preference" and does not dismiss our absolutes.

    I think we could easily identify the text of a song as the "material cause" and the melody as the "formal cause". But if we expand this structure by identifying congregation "material cause", then "formal cause" should be a new prayerful environment. Of course if the content of the music or intent lacks a grounding in the absolutes then we create an environment for relativism.
  • The problem with church music would not even exist if congregations really understood the purpose of the Mass.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,697
    +1 again MO
  • dad29
    Posts: 2,219
    Umnnhhh...not only congregations, MO.

    There are a remarkable number of 'church musicians' who don't understand the purpose of the Mass.

    And a lot of other things.

    Just today I had one tell me that "Es Ist Ein Ros'" is seasonal music--for ADVENT.

    I would guess that 70++% of 'church musicians' are totally unaware of 'church music' prior to 1965--unless they sang some in their HS or college choir--and have NO idea why the organ is superior to the piano, or a nice chamber ensemble, for church purposes.

    In this country, due to incompetence? ignorance? 'we don't really care'? (pick one) there is not ONE 'missalette' publisher which includes the Offertory versicle in their publications--not even now, with the new and improved translation. (Yes, I know CMAA does.)

    Which indicts NOT the missalette publishers, nor the Faithful, nor the musicians, by the way.

    It indicts the Bishops.
  • +1 Dad.
    It's difficult to imagine this reality will ever be addressed or improved within our lives, or even two or three generations ahead.
    It's so frequently weird to have to contend with the peaks and valleys of clericalism, whether overtly or passively aggressive. From the pulpit we mostly hear "we must be happy campers for He is in our midst and will yet come again!" Privately, we have to steer through a multitude of personal preference, "likes or dislkes," and critical detritus that reminds us why the corpus must remain affixed to the cross, a visceral reminder that we must suffer. But at whose hands or words are we made to suffer within the confines of the Church?
    It's maddening when the regularity of these "offer it up" peaks and valleys can be charted, were we to have the time to chronicle these absurdities. I know that's very oblique, dark lens language. It has to be so.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,697


    you got that right too
  • Blaise
    Posts: 439
    Here is an idea:

    The founding of more sacred music programs in Catholic universities. We cannot allow secular institutions such as Eastern Carolina University or UNT do all our bidding for us. There has to be a good, solid formation in liturgical (and general) theology. Liturgical theologians and canon lawyers familiar with liturgical law should have input into the curricula of these programs. Otherwise, we may end up with more of the likes of "Let us sing a new Church". Perhaps a re-reading of Cardinal Ratzinger's (Pope Benedict XVI) lecture on the organ (or was it sacred music in general (?)), reposted in Sacred Music ca. 2006, could be required material.

    May I also suggest some elective rotations:

    How about one to a Byzantine Catholic Church? There repertoire is even more fixed than ours, so the goal here would be to get a musician in the habit of deciding music according to a fixed repertoire and lectionary as opposed to one's own taste. Repetition builds habit. Just like when an emergency medicine resident physician needs to build his or her intubation skills, he or she rotates in anesthesiology and ICU. Some other rotation goals: an appreciation for chanted liturgies. Both of the Eastern Catholic churches (one of them a mission) I have been to have their Divine Liturgy chiefly chanted. Where is the Latin Church in all of this? Are we, too, not part of the universal (that is, Catholic) Church? Why are our liturgies chiefly spoken? Other goals for this elective: some appreciation for sacred choral music (when appropriate---Byzantine music is chiefly chanted, not rendered chorally---SATB liturgical music is one of the few gifts which the West has brought to the East, namely, from Italy to Russia---it's time we took some of it back). I went to Divine Liturgy on the occasion of the Presentation of the Theotokos in the Temple a few weeks back. Before the priest gave the opening blessing ("Blessed be God...."), the singers sang one of the most beautiful Marian hymns I have ever heard-----with a choir of......two (yes, I know, it's called a duet). Additional goals: an improvement in singing skills, at least for men. This can be done by the men serving as cantor (that is, reader). (I do not know if women are allowed this role in the Byzantine churches.) A final rotation goal: a general appreciation for Eastern Christianity and Eastern Catholicism.

    I have enough trust in my own generation to see that things can improve in the future. Even when I was in first grade twenty years ago, not enough to develop a taste for anything, when I first (and last) heard a rock band with electric guitar at Mass (a Saturday vigil one), I knew instantly that something was wrong. Fortunately, I never heard this kind of rubbish live ever again.

    "The world has need of Beauty in order not to lose hope. Beauty, like Truth, leads the soul to God." (cf. "Message to Artists", Second Vatican Council)
  • francis
    Posts: 10,697
    duplicate deleted
  • francis
    Posts: 10,697
    go paul!

    we need more DOERS in the trenches and more KNOWERS in the formation of DOERS. As a musician of the church I lived in obscure liturgical bankruptcy for most of my career. now that i know the truth i am going to help lead the charge the best way i can. Come Holy Spirit. Protect us most Venerable Virgin Mary.