Peter Nixon posts at dotCommonweal about the late Aidan Kavanagh’s views on the error of reviving the Tridentine Missal as well as the faults of the post-conciliar reform. The image in my mind is of a motorist getting a little turned around on unfamiliar roads. Some reformers want to head in the right direction even if it means plowing through a corn field. Some traditionalists want to put the car in reverse (not even bothering to turn around) and retrace all the way back to journey’s start.
Not the point of this post. Really.
One of Peter’s commenters notes public connections between prominent progressive liturgists and the Big Three liturgical music publishers. She asks some questions:
What potential do corporate interests have to shape our liturgies?
How involved are corporate publishers in other liturgical think tanks or apostolates?
Has Commonweal ever looked into how much influence corporate publishers have had on liturgical development and practice in the USA since 1970 and how that may relate to our present liturgical difficulties?
If any Catholic publishing employee wants to weigh in on this one, feel free. Meanwhile, I’m taking a shot at the Big Three (GIA, OCP, WLP) from the consumer’s eye view.
First, let’s keep corporate Catholic publishing in perspective. Compared to our corporate masters in the secular world, these outfits are small potatoes. They don’t trade on stock exchanges. Their executives don’t raid employee pension funds to line their golden parachutes. They don’t get ballparks and tv shows named after them.
I’ll say that customer service is a priority with the three publishers, all of whom I’ve done business with for twenty years or more. One publisher returned my call personally when I complained about a product. I’m talking the publisher himself, not some public relations lackey. Calling to place an order is always a pleasant experience, even if I’m trying to hunt down a piece of music with the most minimal knowledge imaginable because a bride or a cantor wants something special. In the best of the missalette options, an annual survey gets sent every year to ensure only the best music (granted, in the eyes of parish music directors) continues to be printed.
Though these Catholic publishers are relatively small businesses, they seem to have succeeded by giving people what they want. That itself might be a problem, in the eyes of some. But let’s be honest: Latin, chant, and traditional liturgy aren’t anchoring a 21st century market. I’d be curious to compare the businesses of OCP with Adoremus.
How about a history lesson?
When I became a Catholic in 1970, I heard folk music from FEL (long-since out of business) and saw missalettes from JS Paluch. When I went to college in the late 70’s, I was exposed to music from NALR (absorbed mostly into OCP) and a few small outfits like Weston Priory and PAA.
By the 80’s, missalette publishers like OCP and WLP were making a move into contemporary music, and GIA was looking to compete in the same market. All three publishers continued to put out reams of choral music. And plainsong and polyphony: some more than others. And gospel and teen music and Taize-style thing and Latin, and all sorts of stuff. I think they all succeeded because of good business decisions: making connections with consumers and what they want, and striving for quality in all products.
In other words, good ol’ American values.
What the Church might lack is a more widespread generation of liturgical musicians to discern the best of what’s available. And a better-formed guild (for the lack of a better word) of musicians who can take things to the next level. Are publishers to blame that we don’t have this? As much as I might like to rail against the cult of personality in liturgical music gurus, I don’t think it’s their responsibility. The bishops have dropped the ball on this one, folks, and dropped it big time.
Maybe they can blame the culture: Americans don’t have a very high opinion of the arts.
Maybe they can blame sports: How many parishes employ more music leaders (paid or volunteer) than ahtletic coaches (paid or volunteer)?
Maybe they can blame pastors: let’s compare parish budgets for liturgy and children’s education.
Maybe they can blame seminaries: How many of these schools have courses in art, music, and architecture?
Am I worried about too much influence on parishes? I admit I’m sort of a lone wolf when it comes to the liberal liturgy establishment. I don’t read ads for the latest LifeTeen cd or the latest “Mass of Creation” wannabe. I don’t go to music conventions. So I don’t worry about my parish.
But I know that “Father” will sometimes put someone in charge of parish music who might be a little green. The rookies want to make good judgments and “Father” and the bishop have little or nothing to offer. So they’ll look at the Sunday planning pages in the magazine the parish gets. And if they get some advice from somebody’s who’s willing to give it to them, why should the bishop or pastor complain?
Many traditional musicians are just now emerging to take up sword and shield against the four-hymn sandwich, disposable missalettes, and trite devotional hymnody. Like this is some new cause or something. Sorry, I was in the trenches on those tussles since I was in college. The publishers have moved on the first and last of those dragons ages ago. And pastors keep coming back for disposable missalettes, even though it costs more money in the long run.
If a parish is in liturgical difficulty, I think we can single out the pastor as the number one cause in most places. And if a diocese isn’t turning out church musicians to staff its parishes, then we need look no further than the bishop.