Talk With The Publishers

This should be an interesting series (“Other publishers will be appearing in this space …”) over at PrayTell. The usual conservative blogosphere sentiments (or is it envy?) have already surfaced in the first installment, in praise of music publishers:

Their influence, lo these “fifty” years, has been (putting it gently) deleterious to Catholic worship.

Say mold…say mold. (This one deleted.)

It gives a window on the reform2 movement, that for some (not all, I know) its about indulging that most catholic of all institutions, the Culture of Complaint.

I’m aware this is deeper than two comments. This is a complex dynamic. Some scattered commentary:

– I look forward to this series. The publishers have been pretty mum when it comes to dealing with their serious consumers. In part, they’re in the dark with all the rest of us. They probably don’t have much to say without watching more hymnal profit margins circle the drain. Hmph.

– Reform2 sites can plaster their e-presence on the web with all sorts of pretty pictures. But they lack catholicity because of their unwillingness to engage the whole of Catholicism–yes, even the publishers. And they seem to align with Archbishop Chaput’s well-worn observations that the Right is often downright mean.

– Interesting that hymnals are outpaced by disposable missals:

For (2005), of the combined income from GIA hymnals sales, and OCP and WLP subscription missal sales, GIA’s share of the market was approximately 10% of the dollar amount.

I would have thought hymnals were making more inroads than ten percent. Given that GIA touts the hymnal as a more economical (long-term) alternative to annuals, that market share might reflect a slightly smaller percentage. On the other hand, some parishes like mine, do use “missalettes” along with our hardbound books. Not much; maybe just a 10% market share.

– I don’t get the criticism of Big Business here. Most conservatives are all over entrepreneurship, except when their sense of conspiracy is tickled. Except for … Big Business. I have no doubt that many traditionalists would like to put these publishers out of business and one or two actually lick their chops at the prospect.

– Having been turned down in the publishing industry as both a writer and a composer, my reaction–after being slightly steamed–is to go back and polish my craft. Sometimes it’s about other people, and when it is, I have no control over it. And sometimes it’s about me.

– Lest I let the hermeneutic of subtraction get the better of me, let me say I do favor certain positive developments. It’s good that copyright policies are evolving and that publishers will have to adapt. It’s good that church musicians continue to compose and use their own work in their parishes–a tradition that predates publishing. I like the discussions at PrayTell–a refreshing change from the rest of the blogosphere.

Any thoughts of your own?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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9 Responses to Talk With The Publishers

  1. Sam Schmitt says:

    I wouldn’t call this a “window” on the “Reform 2” movement. Every group has its cranks, but it’s unfair to characterize the people at the Church Music Association of America and the New Liturgical Movement, for example, as mean complainers.

  2. Todd says:

    Unfortunately, this post:, especially in the bloggers’ treatment of a dissenting voice, would seem to be a counterexample.

    For the record, I’m careful to distinguish in my mind and in print between “all” and “some.” And even those “some” reform2 folks who are unfair in their criticism of a 50-employee outfit as “big business monopolies,” do have valid points that should be made.

    But NLM and Fr Z and others don’t bother to actually talk to these people, do they? With their track record, would any sensible person even want to be interviewed by such bloggers?

    You look in a window and see a messy floor and maybe the nice furniture gets overlooked.

    That said, Liam’s take was good: this “interview” was pretty soft. I would have asked questions about the Grail, about creative commons, and about the editorial inattention given to non-keyboard editions.

  3. Liam says:


    I appreciated your comments about editorial problems, which as we have discussed before are rife with certain publishers (I think GIA vulnerable in this regard). That’s the category of question I was getting at with my reference to layout (which more narrowly targeted to the issue of converting octavo/folio-type songs with differing verse rhythms into hymn-like layout – I personally think any piece that is intended for congregational singing of such differences needs to be very studiously edited to make the differences plausible for a Catholic congregation to sing).

  4. Sam Schmitt says:

    Not sure that’s a great example since the “dissenting voice” was all over the place, suggesting that the post thought Bob Batastini was a “nut job” and a “greedy corporate mogul/pig” without really addressing the points made. I thought Jeffrey Tucker’s repsonse rather measured, all things considered . . . .

    I must have missed the part where he calls GIA a “big business monopoly.” In Mr. Tucker’s opinion GIA has not been serving the Church well in this country, though they may be nice people and mean well. Yes, Mr. Batastini is “representational” of where we’re at in terms of liturgical music, but that’s exactly the problem.

    You may be right that Fr. Z and NLM don’t talk to “these people.” And I think that the response to the announcement of the new blog “Pray Tell” on the NLM was appalling.

    But then I strain my brain to think of when I have ever seen an interview or even a fair book review of any “conservative” book on the lturgy in the “big” liturgy journals. One thing I have read was devotees of the Latin mass being called psychologically unbalanced by a world-renowned liturgist from Rome. Or how about Paul Inwood, one of the leading “progressive” lights, at the Pray Tell blog, calling Pope Benedict a dotering old man who is imposing his personal liturgical views on the Church. (Huh?)

    Fact is, “conservatives” have been left out the conversation lo these many years, so I find it a tad ironic to see you complain so much about their supposed “culture of complaint,” and how they’re just not that interested in talking to those who had a virtual monolpoly on defining the overwhelming paradigm of liturgy since Vatican II.

    Perhaps they think this viewpoint has had its say and that voices such as Pope Benedict XVI’s need to be heard more clearly.

    So the lack of communication goes both ways. I’m not defending the “conservatives” wholesale here, nor do I think that all “progressives” think Benedict XVI is a loon. I’m just saying that their attitude is understandable.

    • Todd says:

      Thanks for the comment, Sam.

      For my part, I’m happy to engage conservatives both as friends and as parishioners more or less active in parish ministry. Long before I got on the internet, I found them no different from progressives in that they are, as a group, charming, friendly, devoted, holy, thoughtful, academic, and tenacious. Pretty much like everybody else. It was only online that I have found them in my personal experience to be mean, petty, vicious, and incharitable. Pretty much like everybody else online.

      While I obviously come from a different stance philosophically and theologically, the truth is that we share a deep reverence for Catholicism. Once two people are ready to acknowledge that in each other, I think the conversation moves forward.

      I myself have felt somewhat “left out” of many discussions from progressives, so I have to wonder if the parallel feeling among traditionalists isn’t more a matter of a caste system, clergy, theologians, parish ministers denying just plain lay people the opportunity to get a foot in the door.

      So yes, I do understand their attitude, but perhaps less so in their dealings with me personally.

    • Liam says:

      Consider also Abp Weakland’s opinion, expressed in his recent memoir, that he regrets his failure to resist Cardinal Dearden’s decision to leave Catholic liturgical music in the US to the forces of the marketplace; Weakland wanted a national hymnal (after a considerable period of testing, as it were) but deferred to Dearden. Weakland believes this resulted in a failure that has not served the faithful well, and that almost all of the music written for the liturgy after the Council will prove ephemeral. It’s a short but sharp passage, which should not surprise people familiar with Weakland’s overall love of the musical patrimony of the Church (as opposed to folks who simply caricature him as the man who foisted the hootenanny Mass and folk music on the faithful and paid hush money to a lover, et cet.)

      • Neil says:

        Here’s the relevant passage from Weakland’s A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church:

        “In 1965 Cardinal Dearden, archbishop of Detroit and president of the US Conference of Bishops, asked me to chair a subcommittee on liturgical music. We held a fruitful first meeting in Detroit in May of 1965. Archbishop Paul Hallinan of Atlanta, chair of the committee on the liturgy for the bishops, attended and briefed us on what the bishops were looking for. The member of the subcommittee seemed to have no difficulty in describing what they in turn wanted, namely, music of good quality, but disagreed on how that related to the pastoral needs of the people. Some of us were naive enough to hope that we could do as well as the Anglican Church had done under Queen Elizabeth I. She brought together the finest English composers of her day; we had hopes that we could bring about a renaissance of church music in English for Catholics.

        “The advice we gave composers was good – that it be music of good quality and well suited to expressing the texts. We emphasized the need to respect the different roles as pointed out in the conciliar documents, namely, music for celebrant, cantor, choir, and congregation. To ensure this quality I suggested we move, as had the Episcopalians and Lutherans, toward a national service book approved by the bishops and controlled by them. I proposed that at first it should be a loose-leaf binder so that music could be added and removed till we were sure that the best had surfaced. I felt it would take some time for this to happen and before a costly hymnal and service book could be published. Cardinal Dearden opposed this idea and felt the American way was to leave the matter to the open market and the publishers. I regret now that I had not been more insistent then, for the music that emerged lacked quality and became more and more banal. Being market driven began to mean, through the years, that quality was put aside for what would sell.

        “This division among church musicians, apparent at the time, has persisted. But it was more than a division among people: I felt the division within me, as did many church musicians. On the one hand, I wanted good music, well-composed and aesthetically pleasing, but I also understood the pastoral needs of the people; they needed music they could sing. In good Catholic fashion, I thought we could have a both/and position and not an either/or. For me this did not mean a search to preserve the old as much as a stimulus to create good new music. Experience has shown that both sides lost. I am afraid that most of the music composed for the liturgy over the last decades, unlike the music composed in previous centuries going back as far as the Gregorian chant, will be consigned to oblivion.”

      • Liam says:

        Thanks, Neil: I had borrowed the book from the public library in the fall, and did not have the means to quote it verbatim.

      • Sam Schmitt says:

        Thanks for your reply. Yes, I have certainly worked with “progressives” at parishes and they were all lovely people, and we got along fine. Then again, I kept away from what I would call a substantive conversation about the liturgy. I know it’s a commonplace, but there is something about the internet (the anonymity, etc.) that brings out the worst in people sometimes.

        I see Weakland as a tragic and enigmatic figure – on the one hand he promoted “quality” music in the liturgy but on the other dismissed most music of the past as unsuitable. His desire to be pastoral and to include “both/and” – both laudable in themselves – somehow excluded practically all music written for the liturgy before the Council.

        In my mind, the only way any music of quality was going to be produced and be successful if it was grounded firmly in the music of the past. At the very least he should have recognized how impractical it was to expect composers to produce durable music for the liturgy on such short notice – there had to be more reliance on previous genres for there to be a viable transition, however this transition was going to turn out in the end.

        You can say that Microsoft Windows is bad and needs to be replaced – but it’s not that difficult to see that expecting everyone to change to a Mac overnight is a recipe for disaster.

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