Dissonance over church music:Readers reply to Thomas Day

Dissonance over church music READERS REPLY TO THOMAS DAY A hilarious misjudgment St. Paul, Minn. To the Editors: I believe that Thomas Day is ignorant of the topic he addresses in his...

...What chutzpah...
...Such harshness may well betray an unruly bias within its author toward one type of worship and one only: the kind the author likes...
...We are not like those hootenanny Catholics of the sixties...
...I would suggest my pieces "I Will Sing of the Lord," "I Rejoiced When I Heard Them Say," "Only in God" (Will My Soul be at Rest), and "This Is My Body" as attempts to achieve this scope, while still employing first person singular pronouns...
...At the Lutheran college where I teach with 10 percent Catholic students I hear them complain too about the "silly songs'' at Mass...
...ELLEN M. NEWMAN An encouraging word Decorah, Iowa To The Editors: Thanks to Thomas Day for his analysis of kitsch and how it has overtaken Catholic worship...
...For a few weeks or months let the singing, at that one liturgy, focus on the essential dialogue between celebrant and people, cantor and people unaccompanied by either organ or guitar...
...Day ever noticed how many men drop out at the end of that hymn because it's too high...
...One of the most remarked-upon qualities of the "Jesuit" hymns is the ease with which congregations learn them, together with the longstaying nature of the melodies...
...If the music can carry that word, the seeds of Christian unity will already be present...
...The standard retort goes like this...
...They have attempted the perilous task of blending a needed warmth and legitimate emotion with a decidedly church orientation...
...How odd to be railed against for what we have not done and have tried our best to counter...
...Jesus, the source of our unity, is described by Gospel writers with the very words of this psalm...
...Gone are the days when Judaism and Christianity put these words in a special language and a special chant to remind us ofhis "otherness...
...Louis Jesuits' "sound" is the canon of taste, the law of the land...
...To the Editors: Thomas Day's article denounces the "sweet sentimentality" of the newer liturgical music in the church today (i.e...
...If someone in the parochial school decides that, henceforth, the children will learn only music in Glory and Praise or if the folk group treats the communion meditation as the summit of the parish's liturgical life, you may not object...
...With a bit of detachment, Day could be open to these examples not of what he and I both oppose, but of what we are urging...
...Louis Jesuits...
...But I do insist that there is a connection...
...To the Editors: I believe that Thomas Day is ignorant of the topic he addresses in his surprisingly sarcastic article, "When the Congregation Prays Twice" [March 8...
...They are in the public Christian domain...
...What Mr...
...But the psalms use the "I" words, and psalms are the official prayer of the church...
...But Day is content to use "St...
...When in doubt, use a monotone...
...But can't you see...
...Louis Jesuit" music) point to some aversion toward open feelings...
...Obviously it is not the use or non-use of "I" words that promotes congregational unity, it is the breadth and scope with which they are used...
...Thomas College of St...
...Downstairs music, in spite of its many qualities, does not have this folk objective quality, this ability to go beyond personality...
...To the Editors: The problem that Thomas Day raises may have no easy solution, but it seems to me the most efficient interim route to a ' 'liturgy that proceeds with objective solemnity and a great sense of purpose'' may be by way of the Episcopal hymnal...
...The "I" and "me" of Scripture, especially in the psalms, have been successfully set to music in a number of different ways, to name just a few: chanted psalm tones, Anglican plainchant, Protestant hymns that paraphrase Scripture (e.g., "A Mighty Fortress"), and, of course, the very useful modern versions by Gelineau and Deiss...
...There is only so much work that anyone can endure and here is where the music of "the groups" comes in...
...Day remarks that "personal" music does not become common prayer by inserting scriptural phrases...
...We follow the example set by the St...
...Day or I care personally about this or that hymn...
...For them, that change was at least as important as anything that John XXIII brought about...
...How can Day allow them in his objective liturgies...
...Day might be the one to write it if he could manage to be fairer to people...
...In fact, my parishioners have skated fearlessly into those "treacherous" pages of Glory and Praise...
...Once this sung dialogue is established, once the people sense that they are apart of the work of liturgy, then the time is right to lift the moratorium, bring back the instruments, and proceed with the addition of other music...
...Excessive stress on emotion makes a song selfconscious...
...Bach) walked away from Lutheranism over similar issues...
...Does American Catholicism have anything in its hymnal to match St...
...Here is one suggestion (and I borrow from some letters...
...Day's tactless characterizations of congregational music (he calls it' 'folk mass'' music, or, inaccurately, "St...
...JOHN FOLEY, S.J...
...The secession has been thriving largely because upstairs,'' mainstream,'' "orthodox" Catholicism in the United States has a huge void where its liturgical music is supposed to be...
...This is the very attitude I have shunned as a plague upon worship and music, and yet it is the very thing that Day wrongly accuses me of in my music with the "St...
...the editors, with a great deal of experience behind them, realized that this type of music is just too erratic for a diverse congregation to sing...
...To the Editors: I enjoyed your article by Thomas Day on the need for suitable music in our churches...
...Day seems to have had nothing but bad encounters with both music and musicians of what he calls revival kitsch...
...What we need to know and I suspect the St...
...He goes so far as to call it "mush," "kitsch," and "egocentric," and he suggests such music is of questionable suitability for liturgies...
...Thus, at my expense, he makes a very good point that I myself made in print almost five years ago...
...Louis Jesuits'' as a generic logo for all music of a congregational nature that he dislikes...
...Watch and listen carefully to the following: (1) the "voice of God" in song and (2) the way the congregation sings "I" and "me...
...The situation is nowhere as melodically grim as Mr...
...DR...
...And without question, sentimentality is to be avoided, which I would define as emotions disconnected from the reasons for them: emotions for their own sake...
...What we are witnessing today is the development of a kind of loyal secession within Catholicism...
...Objectivity, to be sure, can easily turn into cold rigidity, but at least it insures that the event belongs to everyone...
...Hear the last stanza: I bind unto myself today The power of God to hold and lead, His eye to watch, his might to stay, His ear to hearken to my need...
...Kitsch describes well a type of folk music that exists in our churches...
...The Sacramentary and hymnals provide practical music...
...I agree...
...I would offer for Day's examination my pieces ' 'The Cry of the Poor'' and "Our Help Is from the Lord" for examples of exact translations of psalms set to music...
...Day agrees and now urges the same, five years later...
...This hurts, since I agree heartily with at least one of the points he is trying to make, and have worked diligently to exemplify it in my music...
...This year St...
...Louis Jesuits and the others who, for the first time in history, have written music that plumbs the depths of Scripture's meaning...
...Within these "me" words is a prototype of human persons struggling for God...
...Composer in residence College of St...
...Her one continued complaint has been the poor quality of hymns sung with special reference to Glory and Praise...
...But to understand where we are today, and what we have to do, we have to judge fairly the contribution made by groups like the St...
...In each one of these cases, the "me" in the psalms becomes a very big "me," a collective statement of the whole assembly...
...The Word of God to give me speech, His heav'nly host to be my guard...
...But not all folk music is kitsch...
...Indeed, God is our friend, but that familiar style of music indicates that he is also under our control...
...Day's words are well taken, and those parishes who are still singing the examples cited in his articles have much catching up to do...
...Louis Jesuits...
...Yet his illustrations come from music by other composers, not us...
...Louis Jesuits in the same breath with some inferior music which they did not write...
...Day then offers options he describes as "dignified, conventional, sacred music, even Gregorian chant...
...The emotion compressed into this music might be great enough to make you cry, but the singer seems to be objective about the whole thing...
...But if music attempts to be true to the passage of Scripture it is setting, it will tend away from privatism and toward commonality...
...A "universal" liturgy, Day claims, will be "objective" in tone, "dignified," in order to "appeal to the multitude...
...Thomas Day's article to be exceedingly sad, but not for reasons I think the author would appreciate...
...It would be a good idea also to ban guitars for a couple of years and get rid for good of the ubiquitous song leaders...
...If, as Day says, there is anything wrong with music that is romantic or sentimental, then let's consult the antonyms: aloof, frigid, timorous...
...Methodists left the Church of England and the Pietists (denouncing composers like J.S...
...In defense of the Saint Louis Jesuits, their songs do not qualify as good examples of kitsch as defined by Mr...
...Certainly much is to be said for the ' 'best case scenario'' Day proposes, however, he would do well to take his own article to heart...
...He offers a more shallow source: communal music has always used the words " we " and "us," he says, Commonweal: 272 whereas private devotional types make use of "I" and "me...
...Obviouly, too, the best of modern hymns set to music by such composers as Vaughan Williams...
...In downstairs music, the "I" and "me" of Scripture are always embraced in intimate, snug-and-warm melodies that suggest the coziness of the (private) living room, rather than the work of the whole diverse assembly...
...WILLIAM A. BURKE Commonweal: 274 Pretense to authority Florissant, Mo...
...THOMAS DAY Commonweal: 276...
...Must all worshippers then be taught that feeling is bad form...
...Texts should be marked, I said, "by their ability to be assimilated, to be spoken by all...
...But who cares what Mr...
...Glory and Praise by the St...
...But like revolutionaries in the royal palace, they still seem reluctant to use all that is 3 May 1985: 273 now theirs...
...The recent compositions of Conry, DeBruyn, Joncas, Hautgen, Haas, Manion and Parker show us just how far from "kitsch" the folk movement has progressed...
...But I would invite Thomas Day to examine the text and music for pieces of mine such as "Rise Up Jerusalem," "Come to the Water," "For You Are My God," "One Bread One Body," or "May We Praise You," among many others, to see the orientation toward God, and toward God among his people that I am referring to...
...There is admittedly an added formality in ritual worship...
...And since many of them also come to weekday chapel where we use a good hymn book they know that students can sing with lustiness if given something decent to sing...
...I have striven in all my music to mirror the felt meanings of the scriptural words, rather than to impose emotions...
...Day gives us is the malicious declension: my lyricism, your sentimentality, his kitsch...
...I have immense sympathy for the pastor who has to deal with the secessionists, the charismatics, the traditionalists, the revolutionaries, and highly emotional, obnoxiously opinionated people like myself...
...The traditional Irish melody with its striding two-one measure is irresistible...
...Unfortunately, it is going to take more than a few protests to correct things...
...Day portrays it...
...I have had the opposite experiences, and deny that soupy adjective to any but a few select hymns ("Isaiah 49" being one of them...
...it is the supercilious condescending lover of German chorales who basically hates people because they can't appreciate good music when they hear it...
...Today, even in the "new, improved" versions of the downstairs liturgy, we hear this "voice of God" in casual, la-de-da tunes, as if this were the most commonplace thing in the world...
...If' 'it all begins with the person in the mirror," as he says, then the extreme egocentricity of setting oneself up as judge and jury becomes obvious...
...A lector reading the epistle, a bishop reciting the Eucharistic Prayer, and a backwoods folk singer performing an old ballad can be quite moving and yet remain models of objectivity...
...Ethnomusicologists pointed out long ago that authentic folk singers, in many cultures, deliver love songs, tragic ballads, great epics, and so forth in a detached, restrained style...
...The melody is about as "unpredictable" as "Silent Night...
...See to it that the school children are taught to sing good hymns exactly at the age when they are most apt to take to them (i.e., the grade school years...
...What we need is a more balanced critique, to help us move on with some confidence...
...Forster said, in a diatribe, that every Englishman "has been taught at his public school that feeling is bad form...
...he knows that it is not meant to be a series of comforting songs interrupted, now and then, by his talking...
...I said in Pastoral Music that liturgical pieces cannot have a "me'' preoccupation, but must be apt for communal praying and singing...
...This secession, immensely proud of its ability to make scriptural texts glow with feeling, nevertheless has an ugly side to it...
...We learn them fast, and we do not tire of them," say letters from all over the English-speaking world...
...Because of the diversity of music available to pastoral musicians today, and the spectrum of backgrounds of liturgical planners, it is a mistake for one to pretend to be enough of an authority to deem what is "suitable" and "appropriate" for services where one does not know the nature of the congregation, the musical resources available (if any) and the preferences of the pastor (which is often a highly influential factor...
...Patrick's Day fell on a Sunday...
...Be Not Afraid" is community oriented...
...This style is so common in folk music perhaps because, when they perform, the singers are not "themselves," entertaining us...
...Words like "moaning and self-caressing," "mush," "grouptherapy," "obnoxious boasting," and especially the repeated use of "kitsch," which literally means "garbage," do not emerge well from the mouth of a man who is promoting unity and dignity in religious worship...
...That which makes the many people one is described and contained in the word of Scripture...
...Egoism, sentimentalism, preoccupation with self undermine the common ground upon which a congregation stands...
...The Episcopal hymnal the musical heritage of Christianity in English is theirs...
...He knows that, regardless of the nature of the congregation, liturgy means work of the people...
...Louis Jesuit" music is "treacherously difficult for an ordinary congregation...
...A friend and colleague of mine, a good practicing Catholic entirely at home with his middle-class background, jokes about the music encountered at most Masses as a form of penance "the price you have to pay to stay Catholic...
...One may honor the courage that kept the old faith through so long a tribulation, but one need not sing the old songs if they are bad songs or, much worse, attempt to fill with the fruits of a summer workshop the silence that three centuries of kings and popes have imposed...
...it loses its place in things...
...There are hymns in the Episcopal hymnal that rise into the Baptist registers where a Catholic's emotional voice begins to crack, but there are literally dozens that match or surpass the stanza above in the vigor and honesty of its emotion and doctrine...
...Period...
...They know that as soon as they try to radiate warmth, as soon as they try to project the felt meaning of the text, the words disappear behind the display of personality...
...That a good hymn book can be produced and that it can prove successful in virtually every sort of parish is attested by the remarkable success, for instance, of the Lutheran Book of Worship...
...Liturgy is not a club meeting...
...My wife has been for twenty years a happy and proud parochial school teacher...
...A distinction must be made here because both of these tunes use subjective texts, thus making them candidates for the kitsch collection...
...Let them now put some work on hymnody and take lessons from anyone who can teach them...
...Louis Jesuits...
...Let us call it that...
...Catherine A recommendation: the Episcopal hymnal Pasadena, Calif...
...Let the pastor request a "musical moratorium" at perhaps one Sunday liturgy, and then let things begin at the beginning...
...Notice how often the congregation or the performers up front sing the "voice of God" (i.e., his utterances in Scripture...
...If anyone eventually destroys the reputation of the Jesuit musicians from St...
...Let them use it...
...Furthermore, the latest volume contains selections from the modal biblical psalms of Father Lucien Deiss, hardly associated with Victorian favorites...
...If we want to understand why Judaism 3 May 1985: 275 and Christianity often resisted this type of music, we will find insights in anthropology and genuine folk music...
...Instead, they represent the whole community, the collective memory of the whole culture...
...The contempt for any kind of religious music that does not sound like "Be Not Afraid" is breathtaking...
...He seems blissfully unaware that there is a difference...
...Above all, see that the hymns sung are sturdy ones focusing on the acts of God on our behalf...
...This belief has been a main principle for all the liturgical music that I and my companions have written...
...This is not a help but a hindrance to our common search for effective liturgy...
...nearer our own day Arthur Sullivan, Ralph Vaughan Williams...
...During the centuries that followed Henry's Act of Supremacy, the Anglican church was able to call on the musical masters of every era: Bach, Haydn, Handel, Mendelssohn...
...Has Mr...
...The bulk of these compositions are objective and scriptural...
...In every conceivable aspect of sung liturgy weddings, funerals, all of it it is not "folk" singers or guitarists that ordinary people have trouble with...
...Are they not "kitsch...
...But I think one of the major sticking points for Thomas Day is that of emotions in music...
...it is the product of a culture that has become accustomed to watching singers stand behind a microphone and emotionally squeeze out his felt meanings of words...
...I have to apologize for mentioning the St...
...This is a hilarious misjudgment of our music, though it may be true of other pieces in the same genre...
...The psalmist never truncated human experience, never repressed feelings, and psalms have been integral to communal Catholic church worship through the centuries...
...Finally, I would question the overall helpfulness of such an unmannerly and uninformed article as Day's...
...JACK MILES Candidates for kitsch Washington, D.C...
...I would put forth my own "May We Praise You" or "Turn to Me" as two examples of felt prayer, as differentiated from emotionladen or sentimental prayer...
...The Episcopal hymnal is as appropriate for Roman Catholic worship as the Oxford English Bible is...
...The "proclaiming" style of music channels the private subjectivity of the words into something public, communal, and universal...
...Hassidic Jews broke away from "mainstream" Orthodoxy in part because of this matter of objective worship...
...There is nothing new under the sun...
...Thomas Day may actually not understand the deep-rooted unity that Scripture provides...
...There is a distinct form of anti-intellectualism here and it is frequently directed against anyone who can read bass clef...
...In the 1960s, American Catholics entered the public domain of their country as they never had before...
...I was unfair...
...Patrick's hymn in the Episcopal hymnal, "I bind unto myself today The strong Name of the Trinity...
...My people sang "Hail Mary: Gentle Woman" almost as soon as we finished the rehearsal...
...Besides, as Joan Rivers would say: "Can we talk...
...As an Englishspeaking communion, the Roman Catholic church has scarcely a century of free public life behind it and far less than that of anything approaching artistic sophistication...
...Nor did the Jesuits write "Only a Shadow" nor "Stay With Me" as implied in the article...
...Let the organ, even if only a small electronic, be used at every Mass (or, in parochial schools, the piano...
...They run all the way from high elation to dark depression...
...Catholics need a good, standard hymn book of high quality (which does not at all mean "difficult" or "high-brow," but just the opposite accessible to the full range of worshipers...
...Louis Jesuits would be the first to help is what succeeds, and why, as we can judge by a wide variety of opinion...
...The music will not be about "me" but about God and the ways God gathers us to one...
...The common nature of liturgical prayer has been a main reason that I and the others have chosen Scripture or a close paraphrase of it for nearly every piece we have written...
...Somehow, he has to tiptoe across that minefield of controversy (which we can see in the above letters...
...They don't like all of the songs, but that's not the point...
...Louis Jesuits or the music of the Weston monks...
...Wherever the secessionists have taken over, that St...
...But when we see it in church, right next to the collective, communal majesty of the Roman Rite, when we see the intimate and the banal in music blown up to large proportions, only one word can describe the situation: kitsch...
...Catholics worked so hard for liturgical renewal...
...He must not express great joy or sorrow, or open his mouth too wide when he talks his pipe might fall out if he did.'' A caustic view of the British, but perhaps not so far from Day's own prejudice about worship...
...Whether they like it or not, they have become the symbol, the logo, of secessionist Catholicism at its best and at.its worst...
...This ability is an identifying characteristic and is the basic critical standard we have "for selecting music for liturgies" (June-July, 1980, p. 45...
...I agree that there has been other music, from the 1960's onward, that has tended toward subjectivism, even as our culture has...
...it teaches us more about Scripture than any book could ever hope to accomplish...
...What this other music will be is anybody's guess (chant to rock 'n' roll), but, if the priorities are firmly established, it will be music that brings the factions together joyous, assertive, sweat-producing, even charismatic work music, not daydream music...
...There have been brave attempts to fill in this void but they often come to nothing when a parish staff (getting smaller every day) has to get through the ordeal of providing six or seven weekend liturgies for the convenience of a very demanding laity...
...Such a book would represent a rich heritage from classical medieval hymns (e.g., "Holy God, We Praise Thy Name," "O Sacred Head, Now Wounded," "Savior of the Nations Come") to the enormously popular and thoroughly singable hymns of an Isaac Watts and a Charles Wesley...
...These songs are part of the patrimony of Englishspeaking people wherever they may be...
...Glory and Praise is a collection of contemporary music whose only reason for being gathered into a book seems to be the use of guitar chords for every song...
...And the music...
...This religious relaxation music is an excellent aid for private devotion...
...Within reason, the singing should be simple, even stark, and the words should be the prescribed texts...
...Louis, it will be their friends, not their detractors...
...After all, if we only sing "me-centered kitsch'' our whole religion will become what we sing...
...Thomas Day could have known that about our music if he had tried...
...Louis Jesuits" (though, since I am writing this letter, I will speak mostly about my own compositions...
...It's time for such an article (articles, books, whatever...
...So have my three companion "St...
...When the psalmist says "my life ebbs away: all my bones are disjointed...
...To the Editors: I am a musician, and a parish leader of song...
...He has incorrectly loaded all the music contained in three volumes of Glory and Praise under the title "St...
...LEIGH D. JORDAHL Reply from Thomas Day To the Editors: Attend any Roman Catholic downstairs liturgy...
...It is television, video music...
...Such formality may well require a tilt toward what might be called "feeling," which is more profound and quiet, rather than toward "emotion," which is more toward the surface and less well-integrated with the whole of the human being...
...Furthermore, after telling us what he doesn't like, he tells us what he likes: "Holy God...
...Some of their efforts succeed...
...I agree with the premise: we still badly need good congregational hymns, hymns which are "objective" enough for common worship...
...ELAINE J. RENDLER Georgetown Center for Liturgy, Spirituality and the Arts The need for thoroughly singable hymns Chicago, 111...
...by the same token he knows that liturgy is not a showcase for talents of the ivorytower, classically-trained musician...
...He writes as if from a tower, and snobbery is no substitute for objective assessment...
...my heart is melting away like wax," he is not promoting personalistic devotion...
...they loved it and sang it well, sans soloiste...
...To my mind, Day makes light of music which has been, overall, a positive and enhancing factor to Catholic worship in recent years regardless of its "subjective" or "objective" character...
...The wisdom of my God to teach, His hand to guide, his shield to ward...
...I found Mr...
...What should on principle not be included are the "songs" Day calls kitsch, or what we Protestants call "camp songs...
...There are three excellent Catholic hymnals on the market in the United States and you will not find this crooning music in any of them...
...others do not...
...An easy place to see the unresearched quality of Day's complaints is in his gratuitous assertion that "St...
...The Jesuit repertoire is included, but it is not solely their collection nor do ' 'all tell of a very intimate love story'' as stated in the article...

Vol. 112 • May 1985 • No. 9


 
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