Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Spiritual Music

After mass on Saturday, a woman thanked our schola group and said the music was "very spiritual". It was funny seeing so many heads turn (I mean turn around, we were in the back where musicians should be) and you could just see the looks on their faces "what the hell is that? it sounds like ... like church music!"

These days, hearing "spiritual music" in church is like seeing beauty in an art gallery. Nevermind the fact that you ought to find those things there, we simply don't. There is such a thing as "spiritual music" - music which is spiritual in nature not just accidentally.

Contrary to the juvenile opinions of many ecclesial-music directors around the world, you can't baptize Metallica by adding churchly lyrics, bring it in Sunday morning and expect it to work. Don't get excited contemporary fans, you can't baptize Matchbox 20 either. Certain music inherently belongs in certain places. Hint: "Here I Am Lord" is not "spiritual music" and it doesn't belong at church. For the mass, what belongs is Gregorian chant & traditional polyphony. Period.

Now I know many of the old Protestant hymns were pub songs and this might evoke some protest (and I have been strongly on that end of the protest before). But for starters, the pub songs had certain qualities which made them ideal for what Protestants intended to do with their music. The melodies were simple and easy to follow, catchy & memorable and the timing was straightforward. This is ideal for congregational music - but that's not what the Catholic Church ever intended her songs to be; at least not primarily. (Incidentally I'm usually delighted to hear an old Protestant hymn being played at mass because at least then I know the song won't be about me and what I bring to the table - not to mention that it will be well written for the congregation... it's funny, Catholics sing loudest and most confident when its a Protestant tune).

There are no musical intervals which are inherently evil and that's not what I'm saying but there is such a thing as objective difference in musical style and performance intent. That's what we need to be aware of.

Incidentally, this "spiritual music" I'm talking about happens to be far more beautiful than the 70s sitcom music we're accustomed to at church. One can only wonder why there is such animosity towards revival of traditional Catholic music. When it finally happens, we can stop making fun of ourselves for being bad singers and go back to leading the way.


Silvanus said...

Well, shouldn't choirs actually be at the front?

Tim A. Troutman said...

No, I don't think so. It gives the wrong impression that the choir is performing - that they are singing for the congregation. If they are singing for the congregation, it is for as in "on behalf" and not for as in "to". The choir sings to God with and on behalf of the congregation and should therefore face liturgical East along with the congregation.

Andrew Preslar said...

Amen. And Amen. Readers of this blog should know that:

(1) Tim's schola sings beautifully

(2) Gregorian chant is objectively beautiful, it is not particularly difficult to do, and, as the highest authorities have so often said (speaking to deaf ears, apparently), it is the most suitable music for the Mass in the Roman Rite (ordinary or extraordinary form)

(3) Tim and Co. are all real people with families and day jobs and everything. And they manage to make a difference in the Diocese of Charlotte. The reform of the reform is happening, and it is Catholic folk who make it happen. So make it happen.

(4) You will experience resistance, and may even be made to feel uncomfortable. The "liturgical experts" are alive and powerful. Yet, as Frodo said upon seeing a small star shine through the man-made (or demon-spawned) blackness of Mordor: "They cannot conquer forever!"

The Catholic Journeyman said...

Oy, thats, ahem, quite the posture you've got there Tim.

What do you define exactly as "traditional polyphony" if I may ask?


Silvanus said...

I was under the impression that the best arrangement of a choir is to make it face north at the Choir.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Andrew - thanks for the kind words. Yes - viva la reform!

Catholic Journeyman - polyphony just means harmony - more than one note at a time. Gregorian chant is typically monophonic (one note at a time).

Here's an example of what I'm talking about. When I started the schola, I got my cousin who is a Presbyterian music major to train us. He didn't have to learn the latin mass parts. Why not? He was a music major! Hint: they don't study "Shine Jesus Shine" in music theory. They studied the great mass propers from the greats like Mozart & Haydn.

Silvanus - it could depend on the situation and I know the East has different traditions than the West. At any rate, what is important is that the orientation of the choir reflect what the orientation of the congregation ought to be. Whatever the arrangement, it should clearly facilitate the message that this is not a mere performance.

Don't you agree?

The Catholic Journeyman said...

While I am fully aware of the definition of polyphony, I dont intend to fill your combox with drivel about it...you have better things to do. My request for you to clarify your definition of Traditional Polyphony was asking for an example, a musical piece example, so I understood the context of your initial blogpost.

I am a Catholic Musician, and play in multiple Mass settings each week(Trad Robe Choir, Lifeteen CCM, Etc.)

So if you attended one of these particular Masses where I am participating, and say, where my 800 Watt Bass Rig lays a foundation to sing praise from, I would like to be prepared for your revolt (or not) in advance.

Secondly, your references to Chant and the word traditional clue me a bit to your "objective" judgement of what is good music to a degree, but not fully.

While I agree with your vertical vs. horizontal orientation preference for Praise music in specific, I can say in the dozen local Catholic churches we have down here, none of it is horizontal. Our Praise Bands in the area have a uniform Liturgical playlist on rotation which takes that out of play. We are fortunate in that sense.

Tim A. Troutman said...

CJ - ok I gotcha. I misunderstood the question.

I certainly can't pass judgment on your outfit not having been there and I'm sure it's great. So, I don't mean to be too sweeping in my statements.

I go to the contemporary mass if I can at my parish even though I like contemporary music about as much as I like drug free root canals and I do it because their music is more vertical than the "traditional choir" )which is about as traditional as Madonna is).

All that said, the part about Gregorian chant being the most appropriate music for mass isn't just my opinion, its the official Catholic opinion per Vatican 2 and reiterated several times by Pope Benedict. We have an incredibly rich musical heritage which is all but lost and forgotten these days and I say we should return to it.

Per Sacrosanctum Concilium : "The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman Liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services."

As for traditional mass music, I'd say anything written before the early 20th century would be an excellent example of music done right. Anything written before 1960 would be a huge improvement over most of what we have today IMHO.

The Catholic Journeyman said...

10-4 Tim. I am aware of the Vat II declaration on Chant, and thats a good thing.

I guess what I would like to offer as meaningful here is that, as a Parish musician, we are called to play pieces that are not on our personal ipod favorites, but, we must produce the sound as if it were our number one choice at that time. And then, add to that elevating your technical ability to play to a level that inspires the tone deaf congregation to praise God in a musical way.

So thats my bumper sticker for the day....please respect the Praise Musician for his talent is but a tool for Worship.

Now I go rant on Stellman......ha

Tim A. Troutman said...

I don't mean to bash praise music and certainly not praise musicians. I like some of it and usually they're excellent musicians up there doing it. Hope I didn't come across too negatively.

And good luck at Stellman's blog. I haven't the patience to deal with Bugay & company.

Silvanus said...

Tim, I agree with you. When the altar is not freely standing but against the wall, I would object to "versus populum choirs", but if the altar is free-standing and the Mass is offered versus populum, then I don't see a problem with the choir orienting also towards west. But when offered ad orientem, I'd like to see the choir in the front, facing north and/or south.

George Weis said...

Musicians at the back... agreed.

Should "spiritual" music be limited to Gregorian/Polyphonic? I'm afraid I disagree, although I get your drift. I happen to love that music, and it is in form uplifting and calming. It must be stated that God desires the heart. Therefore someone can participate in singing "sacred" music, but the heart be miles from God... that won't do. I think about certain African tribes who convert to Christianity. They have a jubilant approach to music... they wouldn't even know what to do with Gregorian Chants etc. Instead, they beat drums with big grins and praise the Lord for all He has done. If there hearts are vertical, giving God what He is due, they are better than us singing our uppity songs fit for Cathedrals with hearts that are distant from Christ. I know, that's not your point :)

Anyway, what I agree with is, worship and praise should be heaven bound and alot less "Lord Bless Us" kinda stuff. I agree that Metal doesn't really have its place in worship either, so the "Form" issue does have some bearing. I could do for a lot less of the "Hey, let's be oh so modern" junk that many Parishes and Churches are full of. Yet, the number one focus should be our own hearts... which mind you, as a musician, there is a real stumbling block that I experience during musical worship.

Love you lots brother!