Are Catholics uncaring of organ repertoire as suggested here? Katharine Harmon speculates:

I was asked by a student today, “I just don’t understand why we need to have organ repertoire.  When would you ever use it?”  I stared at the student, confounded, dumbfounded.  And then I had an intense moment of Catholic soul-searching.

(T)his student did not care, and could not fathom why anyone might care about liturgical organ repertoire.  But I say, how could anyone say that liturgical music didn’t matter?

Such questions conjure up for many of us Thomas Day’s classic text, Why Catholics Can’t Sing (Crossroad, 1992).  But, in the case of organ repertoire, I feel our title should be: Why Catholics Don’t Care.  This absolute lack of “care” or understanding as to why music might elevate and complement a liturgical experience is deeply troubling to me.

The matter is complicated by a dizzying array of local practices and reasons behind them.

  • Most American parishes do not have a music director with a personal history of performing instrumental repertoire.
  • Most of today’s music leaders came into service during a time when the emphasis was on expanding the sung repertoire of people in the pews.
  • In one parish I served, I inherited a “tradition” of the music ministry singing a prelude. That might be rare, but it is not unheard of.
  • Some communities insist on silence before Mass–no distractions.
  • Many contemporary groups are unaware of the possibilities for playing an instrumental piece before Mass.

There is a repertoire out there. And interestingly, a lot of instrumentalists in contemporary ensembles are at least as prepared to improvise as church organists are. What’s the deal? Maybe it’s just one more thing for a group of musicians to worry about. Or maybe a single organist has an easier time getting ready three minutes before Mass.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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2 Responses to Preludes

  1. Liam says:

    Your last sentence may hold a clue to something else: a paid church organist is very likely to have privileges to rehearse at certain times in the church, and logistically that’s much easier than for ensembles, particularly because there’s much less likely to be conversation in the situation of a lone organist than in an ensemble. Consequently, *if* there are people present for prayer in the same place (some parishes might limit rehearsal time to times when church is not open for public prayer, others don’t so limit), an aware organist can be less disruptive (an unaware organist can be as or more disruptive, of course).

    • Todd says:

      The flip side of that is that an instrumental ensemble minus the organ can rehearse anywhere they can bring their instruments. They are not bound by prayer decorum like an organist might be. The biggest constraint might be access to the piano in the practice room, if one exists.

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