Gavin takes some exception to my commentary on SC 112 and on his blog where I poked at him for “giving up hymns,” then scheduling them for his parish liturgy anyway. Gavin and his boss don’t like contemporary music in their parish’s liturgy. That’s a more or less reasonable judgment that can either be informed or less so.
Folk music is inherently the music of the people, of common life. It’s been said many times that worship is to be different from the ordinary. Of course, this can only be taken so far, otherwise we wouldn’t let people themselves into the church! But still, for my area at least, you want the music to be different from the local barn dance. Not to mention the MOST important point that this music is inherently harder for the untrained to sing. “You are Near” is a fine example. How many beats per each syllable in that one?
Perhaps in some locations post-conciliar music is like the local barn dance. I’ve usually lived in cities, so my proximity to barns has been limited. I’ve rarely heard a parish guitar group quite as musically skilled as the dance bands I have heard or danced to, so I’m not quite sure the comparison is apt.
Like the clarinet, the piano, and the organ, the guitar is a fairly nimble instrument. Good guitar players–and I count myself among them–can play in many different styles. I would hesitate to say that Segovia, for example, was a strummer. Or that the great lutanist Paul O’Dette, when he plays in early music ensembles, plays some pretty nifty hoedown material.
On one level, the musical discussion we’re having is about respect. Or the lack of it. Many years ago when I was somewhat in demand as a liturgical guitarist in my home diocese, many organists turned up their nose when I showed up. But many others had no problem playing with another musician who could read, knew the repertoire, and really wasn’t that much different from the Christmas trumpet player. Except I didn’t have to work valves. What, the psalm is Proulx? No guitar chords? No problem.
I’ve played a lot of good church music through the years. I didn’t go to conservatory, but I turned out pretty well. I can play dance music, but I prefer other styles, especially in church. I find the musical noses-in-the-air are usually not about Catholic tradition or appropriate music. Often it’s a sense of narcissism: “I’m a better musician that you. I play better music. I went to music school. I have a music degree.” I can hear the sneer.
Let me break off at this point and say I don’t think Gavin’s a snob. He confesses he’s not sure I’m a musician, so maybe that’s because I’m posting too much theology and astronomy.
This is what I think: there’s a lot more to sacred music than what the trads or the pseudo-folkies will tell you. There’s a lot more to music that what your conservatory professor tells you. I’ll pick up on this tomorrow when I write about style in the sense of genre and how much of the very best music, including sacred music, can be played in more than one style. If that were not true, we never would have made the step from plainsong to polyphony.