Fixing this fixes nearly everything.
There are two errors to correct in the news that Bishop Alexander K. Sample is headed to Portland, Oregon. The first is that it means nothing. The second is that it means everything. As is often the case, the reality will be something in between.
The reality is always to be found between two expected extremes. If you believe the reform2 camp, it was all vocal cords and roses before Vatican II, and all guitar chords and crap afterward. That might not be as gross a caricature as it might seem. Jeffrey does talk about 1968-2010 as if it were a monolithic age of impoverishment. I found a 1983 Music Issue from OCP at the bottom of a box a few years ago. Not much similarity between that and the 2011 on my office bookshelf. It’s been a significant and steady upward crawl from there. Oh, wait: Jeffrey is already talking about that today:
The change won’t happen immediately. It might not even be detectable by anyone but the closest observers. It might takes several years. But it will come. And the Church and her liturgy will be much better off as a result. Making this change in Portland will spread change to the whole of the American Church and then to the whole of the English speaking world and then to the whole rest of the world. This is the center, the core, the spot from which a major problem that exists in the Catholic world can be rectified.
This is typical of my excitable friend. He starts off with a dose of reason. Change is incremental. Change happens slowly, and often with great resistance. Our life experiences in the Church and outside of us inform us of this.
Of course, the kind of change he’s been speaking of has been taking place in the Catholic Church over the past fifty years. OCP included. Comparing Music Issues twenty-eight years apart makes it seem like night and day. Anybody want to check on how many of the Hymnal for Young Christians are still in pews? Those red, sky blue, or orange Glory & Praise books? Tens of millions? Are you sure? Are all those Protestants still laughing at “Here We Are”? Really?
Jeffrey dreams big. Portland to all of America to the English speaking world to the whole planet. Suddenly Bishop Sample seems to be at the spiritual epicenter of “everything.” Oops.
There are a lot of false assumptions running up the spine of reform2. It’s one reason why the movement borders on dangerous–a lack of respect for history. You heard that right.
Jeffrey and his young CMAA turks think that we’ve all been languishing with Pete Seeger for the past two generations. The truth is that Ray Repp was exploring plainchant before most of these guys were born, and before Jeffrey could define “anarchism.” He concedes Bishop Sample’s approach of gratitude and gentle urging forward is wise and effective. And he’s right. Too bad many of his buddies don’t emulate it.
As for me, don’t criticize me because I choose not to fly in your flock. Just thank me for learning to read chant notation (1984) for improving my abilities as a singer and conductor (since 1983) for a theological education, for teaching plainchant hymns, propers, and antiphons to my choirs for the past two decades. Acknowledge that your contemporaries in American church music don’t betray chant by not programming it 100% of the time.
And here’s the thing: everyone knows that things must change. The problem with Catholic music is famous. I’ve never spoken to a group of Catholics where the problems are not well known and understood widely. You only need to raise a slight eyebrow on the subject to garner laughter. Everyone knows. More importantly, everyone at OCP knows too.
Of course things must change. That’s the whole point of reform. Of liturgical renewal. It was bad and worse in 1950. I don’t think the problem with Catholic music is “famous” so much as it galls a number of people who care. People have laughed at me for being Catholic for a lot more than their possible perception of poor church music. I was asked to play guitar at a friend’s wedding in a Protestant church many many years ago. “That was actually quite … good,” their music director said. I said thanks and I packed my instrument and left. I know I work on my musicianship, and even three years into playing, I was a far better than average guitarist. But I don’t need the regard of snobs to keep me afloat.
“Everyone” at OCP indeed knows. That’s why they offer a substantially better set of options today than they did ten, or thirty years ago. Perhaps if Jeffrey really talked with his “friends” at OCP and less with the bitter voices of resentment in CMAA, he might learn a thing or two. I suspect that if Bishop Sample is as described today, he’ll learn a thing or two in Portland too. Somewhere between nothing and everything.