Greedy Cartels

I saw the headline on the PewSitter news service, and I might have guessed it was from those revisionists at NLM. Still upset that ICEL won’t trust them to distribute free settings of the commons:

If ICEL wanted to go even further to push plainchant and sacred music, it would issue the new texts into the Commons so that anyone could publish them and distribute good music, not just those who have done it during the great 40-year parenthesis from 1970 to 2010.

The “great 40-year parenthesis.”


Damian Thompson and Jeffrey Tucker might be too young to remember the 70’s. I sure don’t remember “strummers” at the top of the heap in those days. Parishes that had music programs were usually directed by an organist or choir director. I remember hymns like “Holy God” and “Immaculate Mary” and “At That First Eucharist.” I remember tussles between organ and guitar: chant wasn’t even in the picture. I don’t remember running into the St Louis Jesuits until I was in college. By the eighties a whole alphabet soup of publishers had come and gone out of business: FEL, PAA, NALR, etc., and whole series of songbooks, Hymnal For Young Christians, Songs of Praise, Glory and Praise, etc. likewise bit the dust.

Last word from Mr Tucker:

As a final note, it is the most common thing to sniff at Thompsons’s (sic) rhetoric and to tut-tut him for his impolite and impolitic ways, as if “we all know” that we are not to speak this way about those who so selflessly and generously do their best to lift us up in song week after week at Mass. To me, this prevailing attitude toward Thompson is a denial of reality, and that reality is that the Catholic world has been dealing with the imposition of a musical ethos that has nothing to do with the whole history of the Roman Rite, and this ethos has offended and driven away millions of people from their own parishes. All he is really doing is calling attention to what others are too afraid to mention or whose careers are somehow dependent on not mentioning. He has been out front on this, saying things in ways that many others would not say them, and not always in ways I would say them either (for example, I have no strong interest in the hymn wars) but he is at least willing to take on the challenge of breaking the great taboo.

We have taboos in Christianity for good reason. Lies, slander, and such are generally considered sinful. We don’t say millions of people were driven away by music when the real culprits are Humanae Vitae and more recently, bishops protecting sex offenders. Worst of all for the reform2 crew, a misdiagnosis is sure to result in incorrect action.

But, negative thoughts can be extremely comforting. Especially when embittered church musicians are in a minority, few enough clergy are listening … or even care. And congregations are full of people with their own personal taste.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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11 Responses to Greedy Cartels

  1. Gavin says:

    Damian Thompson is a boorish loudmouth who probably shouldn’t get as much attention as he does. There’s many like him. I recall an editorial in my home diocese newspaper by some group (forget the name) who said, in essence, that the music at Mass was terrible and we need to not have any music at Mass whatsoever. I think I literally saw red while reading it, and may have yelled some 4-letter words. Many people spout off about music, especially for a “return to the good ole days”, and they have no clue what they’re talking about.

    And they’re all right.

    Uneducated people, who know nothing of propers or Gallican chant or Monteverdi, know there’s something wrong with the music in Catholic parishes. The Thompson types just mouth off about it, some want a return to Low Mass material, others have even worse solutions, but all of them know the current situation is not what Mass should be.

    I sense this post is reactionary. Since Jeff, Damian, and myself are “too young” to remember the 70s, we should just shut up and let the old folks tell us what to do. It’s perhaps a bit scared too. The songs that the 80s generation gave us are falling out of use. But, with respect, this doesn’t strike me as a substantial critique of anything Jeff or Damian wrote.

    One tool I picked up as a leader is to listen to those who have input to give, and if their style or articulation is faulty, determine what’s at the heart of their complaint. Many people are ham-handedly assaulting the common musical practice in American Catholicism. They may be wrong in their specific criticisms, but we can’t ignore that they see something wrong.

  2. Todd says:

    Thanks for commenting, Gavin. There’s a lot to your post, and a response should probably worthy of something more substantive than a combox reply, but here’s a start.

    First, I see dissatisfaction as a spiritual virtue. We shouldn’t be happy with the way things are. Incompetence, or even worse, sin is with us and colors our best intentions a dark gray.

    Next, I don’t have a problem with young people taking leadership on any sort of local or universal transformation of church music. My problem is when people, young or old, perpetuate myths in the name of offering subjective observation.

    Jeffrey and Damian seem to think folk groups took control in 1970, and the truth is as far from that as we are to the nearest galaxy. As far as I’m concerned, if people want to get serious, they need to start with their own fact-checking.

    That said, Jeffrey knows from experience I’m ready to discuss these things with him any time. Our previous meetings seem to net an amazing (for him) amount of congruence. The open question I offer is that sure, hanging out with bullies is fun, and sure, they’re only channeling the anger of their faulty upbringing, and sure, something wrong’s going on there … but why does he bother? You have the good sense not to, Gavin.

  3. Dear Todd:

    We have had this conversation before, and it looks as though as long as you write things of this tenor, we will continue to have this conversation. A pity, too, because you have lately been writing in such a charitable and eirinic vein.

    I AM old enough to remember the Seventies in the Roman Church in America. In fact, I was growing up in the sixties, and saw the change from the Tridentine to the modern Church. I even had the good fortune to spend my first eight years in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where the church that I was attending, Ss. Peter and Paul, had the good fortune to be run by German Catholics who had chant scholas and a decent choir.

    When I was in seventh and eighth grade, I was involved in a boy choir which basically did Gregorian Chant. I remember walking home with my friends and singing the simple Kyrie because it was just so beautiful.

    I also saw the changes which occurred in the Seventies. I was in the archdiocese of Los Angeles for much of that time. I went to a rich RC Church in Manhattan Beach, largely because of the prescience of my engineer father who bought a house there when it only cost $30K.

    As a mark of how rich that parish was, in the early 70s, we had the St. Louis Jesuits visit us. It was an inspiring performance, and it was replete with good singing and brilliant folk guitar on twelve-string. I admit to liking it then, and I confess that when I have listened to the St. Louis Jesuits, I think that their music is still competently done, just as I still like the music of John Michael Talbot.

    I wished then, and wish now, that the music that came in each and every Sunday for the time that I sojourned in the RC Church was anywhere NEAR as good as it was that Sunday. For the most part, it wasn’t.

    And then, when I started reading the Vatican II documents, I found that the ‘music of the people’ was only a part of what the Council Fathers had asked for. It seems that they also wanted Gregorian Chant and the whole treasury of church music to be used.

    With the exception of perhaps three or four churches in several hundred in Los Angeles, the fare that we got was “Sons of God, Hear His Holy Word”, “And They’ll Know They are Christians By Our Love”, and (I am not joking here, but am saying the truth) that old favorite, “Kumbaya”.

    As I reached a man’s estate, and became more mature both mentally and musically, I found that I wanted more. It wasn’t offered. I tried doing what I could to encourage others and to take part myself in seeing the rich patrimony of Church Music preserved and fostered. I was discouraged at every turn, by priests, by choir directors, and by fellow parishioners.

    Finally, nearly twenty-one years ago, I left, because I asked for something which I felt should be a part of Church life, and went to a Church where it was. I know a fair number of people who feel the same way, and have told me so. They unfortunately were unable to find the refuge that I have, and are basically unchurched.

    All these are not ‘Lies, slander, and such’, Todd: for the past forty years, they have been and are God’s honest truth.

    Todd, with all due respect, I think that your belittling those who say that there is a problem here is unworthy of you. Much of the reason why there is such rage among so many in the RC blogosphere is that there is such frustration with those who have been party to what has perhaps uncharitably, but accurately to my view, been called ‘The Forty-Year Parenthesis’, and such unwillingness on the part of those people even to admit that something might have gone even slightly amiss.

    In short, and in the words of Lord Cromwell, I say to you, “I beg you, in the bowels of Christ, to consider that you might just be wrong.”

    And now, instead of going off to snark on the Blogosphere, I am instead going to my spiritual home of St. Andrew’s Russian Catholic Church, where we are going to be celebrating the Feast of the Transfiguration with true musical and spiritual riches. I leave you with one of them, the Troparion of the Feast:

    Thou wast transfigured on the Mount, O Christ God,
    Revealing Thy Glory to Thy Disciples as far as they could bear it.
    Let Thine Ever-lasting Light shine upon us sinners
    Through the prayers of the Theotokos, O giver of Light: Glory to Thee.

  4. Todd says:

    Bernard, thanks for commenting, as always.

    My usual soapbox line: reading comprehension.

    “Todd, with all due respect, I think that your belittling those who say that there is a problem here is unworthy of you.”

    I’m belittling those who seem content to play the victim card, and scatter the blame anywhere they see it, thoroughly steeped in ignorance.

    It is not unworthy to defend people who are unfairly attacked and maligned, even if they happen to be an organization that makes money to pay its employees.

    I do appreciate your concern for me. But I’ve never denied that Catholic sacred music is not as good as it could or probably should be. To assume I think otherwise because I argue against the excesses of those who agree with me would be as silly as suggesting Jeffrey and the rest of the reform2 crowd dislike chant because I like it.

    I would urge you to spare me your concern now and then, and risk the ire of those who step a little too far into the uncharitable to make a point about poor church music.

    Blessings on your celebration of the Transfiguration.

  5. Dear Todd:

    With all due respect, I think that there are certain facts which are not “lies, slander, and such”. They are the following:

    1. With the exception of the ICEL, most religious groups who provide their own liturgical translation permit free or inexpensive copying of their texts, permit those texts to be printed online, and either do not charge or charge minimal amounts for permission to use those texts in musical settings. ICEL’s procedures appear to follow more the practices of The Disney Company than those religious groups.

    2. A reading of ICEL’s contract for the collection of royalties shows that their practices greatly hamper those who would actually wish to use those texts in musical settings from doing so. For evidence, see my essay:

    3. Although the ICEL has recently permitted those NOT wishing to seek profit to publish settings using ICEL texts, it is greatly delaying free publication of those settings.

    4. One definition of the word ‘simony’ is ‘the buying or selling of sacred or spiritual things, such as sacraments or benefices’. I think that the behaviour of the ICEL in charging so much, for texts which are in fact the property of the whole church, and are entrusted to the ICEL’s care, rates the application of that word.

    5. Code of Canon Law section 1171 states: Sacred objects, which are designated for divine worship by dedication or blessing, are to be treated reverently and are not to be employed for profane or inappropriate use even if they are owned by private persons.. I do not think it an exaggeration to think that the sacred texts of the Divine Liturgy are such objects for purposes of the canon, or that the charge of high rates for their use is an inappropriate use by the ICEL, and thus a violation of canon law.

    6. The business of the moneychangers in the Temple of Solomon arose from the fact that one could only use the coin of the Temple in purchasing sacrificial animals. The moneychangers, who were in league with the priests of the temple, had a monopoly on possession of Temple coin, and used that monopoly to charge high rates to all who attempted to purchase animals for sacrifice. I’m told that Our Lord was rather displeased with this business practice.

    I do not think it a false analogy, or an exaggeration, to think that Our Lord looks upon ICEL’s monopoly on sacred texts in English, and its use of that monopoly, in much the same light.

    7. All that said, I think that someone who prefers the interests of the incomes of the tens of faceless bureaucrats who administer ICEL to the interests of the tens of millions of English worshipers who are dependent on ICEL, in the words of Ronald Weasley, ‘really needs to sort out [his or] her priorities’.

    That said, it is always a pleasure to read your website, even if I may sometimes disagree with a few of the thoughts or opinions in it.

    5. Code of Canon Law

  6. P.S. It looks like I was guilty of an exaggeration in the course of my writing #7 above. It seems that ICEL was incorporated in the District of Columbia, marks its revenue as “unknown”, and the number of its staff as “five to nine”. I assumed that with all of the revenue that ICEL appears to be collecting, that its staff must be in the hundreds.

    Which leads to another question: If the ICEL is in fact so small, why does it need so large a revenue? Perhaps it might be reasonable at this point to follow the advice of Deep Throat, and to ‘follow the money’.

    P.P.S. It appears that I inadvertently had some surplussage of words at the end of the previous comment. I would very much appreciate it if you could tidy that part up. Thanks in advance, Todd.

  7. Gavin says:

    Bernard, that was an incredible comment. Thanks for your fair and clear criticism of the ICEL monopoly!

  8. Todd says:

    Bernard, thanks as always for commenting.

    You’ve switched the target of discussion from music publishers to ICEL. I’m fine with that. I have no great love for the reconstituted ICEL, and I don’t think much for their over-protection of copyrights. I think they would do well to open up Catholic liturgical texts for use, probably even free.

    I note your amazement that ICEL staffs less than ten people. I suspect others who criticize the Big Three US publishers are likewise misinformed about goings on.

    As for applying capitalism terminology to the Roman Catholic governance bodies, well, interesting. We also have one pope: monopoly. College of cardinals: monopoly. Maybe there are two choices for a missal. But why not three, four, or more. Then set everybody loose and see who scoops up the most heathens.

    “If the ICEL is in fact so small, why does it need so large a revenue?”

    It doesn’t “need” revenue. It works for the bishops of sixteen nations. It’s part of the income line item.

    Seriously, have you and the reform2 crew ever thought ICEL just doesn’t trust the people who have been asking to write new settings? Heck, if I went to the NLM, Fr Z and other sites and read some of the “truthy” stuff they print without the years of knowing them, I’m not sure I would trust them either.

  9. Dear Gavin:

    Thank you for your kind words about one of my earlier comments. I appreciate them.

    Dear Todd:

    Comments about ‘reading comprehension’ aside, I wrote my first comment in response to your apparent statement that the Reform x 2 bunch didn’t have the experience to know all of what had gone on in the last 40 years, and that those folk had engaged in ‘Lies, Slander and such’.

    I wrote my second comment because it appeared to me that you wanted comments directed to the original subject of your post, that is, the ICEL. Do please reread at least the first few paragraphs of your post.

    I believe that both of my comments were responsive to those comments. I am sorry if you appear to find them in some measure to be inappropriate.

    As regards the word ‘monopoly’, I believe that it is appropriately used in terms, not of the RC Hierarchy, but in terms of the production of some good, namely, the disposable missalettes and hymnals that seem to litter most RC Churches.

    As regards my question, “If the ICEL is so small, then why does it need so large a revenue?” I will happily rephrase it: “If ICEL is getting between $2.5 and $5 million in royalties per year, does it really need that amount for a staff of at most ten people?” I have another one: “Where and to whom is that money actually going?” Thank you for prompting me to be a bit more precise.

    As a matter of fact, though I am not myself a member of the ‘Reform2 crew’, I have frequently thought that the ICEL doesn’t trust the people who have been asking to write new settings. It would be consistent with their behavior. I have but two questions in this context: “Why do you think that is so?” and “And do you think that it is a good thing that the ICEL should thus act at a watchdog, or more to the point, as a dog in the manger?”

    It is always a pleasure to converse with you, Todd.

  10. Todd says:

    Bernard, I think the term “monopoly” does not apply. There are three major publishers who have most of the market for permanent and disposable worship aids, and there are at least three or four others I’ve seen.

    If you want to make a case that the most popular publishers produce an inferior product, offer a point of comparison and make the case. I’d be concerned you yourself not get caught up in the regular slander offered to publishers, composers, and others I hear from much of the reform2 crew.

    If ICEL royalties go in turn to CCHD in this country or its equivalents in others, I don’t have a problem with ICEL being a moneymaker for the bishops.

    As for your questions, I think the more conservative makeup of ICEL seems to be more dismissive of what it perceives to be amateur efforts. Back in the 80’s, I used ICEL material for self-published efforts that, quite frankly, were mostly not good music, but ICEL didn’t seem to mind. Even when I said I would be earning a small profit from sales, they didn’t require royalties. I conclude that either I was far more polite than the reform2 musicians who want to compose and make it all available over the web, or that today’s ICEL is far more cautious than the ICEL of twenty years ago.

    Second answer: no. I would prefer that the various micro-markets of the internet compete directly against the big publishers. In a way, we would return tot he mimeograph days of the late 60’s, which was a pretty creative time. Except most of us have great publishing software and could make things look really nice for our pew people and choirs.

  11. Copernicus says:

    Gavin –

    “Boorish loudmouth” is too polite a description of the unpleasant Mr Thompson. The boorishness and loudness, after all, could be forgiven if they were deployed in the service of conveying truth. His real problem, however, on the subject of liturgy and music at least, is his own ignorance, coupled with a crass obstinacy when it comes to actually noting what the church asks for. (A trawl through his blog archives will show that (i) he doesn’t like chant, (ii) he likes evangelical worship choruses, (iii) he believes a few muscular hymns are all that’s needed when it comes to providing music for a celebration of the Mass.)

    Thompson’s a cheap shock-jock, is all. He’ll insult anyone, making claims as far removed from the truth as need be, as long as it presses someone’s indignation button and increases the hit count for his blog.

    If he knew more about the subject, he’d have had his fire trained on Kevin Mayhew from the start. (Mayhew is, it has to be said, responsible for some of the most execrably inappropriate and outdated music currently to be found in the English church.) But Mayhew’s a new target for Thompson – until now he’s reserved his goading for the St Society of St Gregory, and for composers in the Paul Inwood mould. A bit like trying to hold the NPM responsible for Kumbaya. And not worth wasting time arguing with.

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