Finding Joy

From a few facebook friends, I know an NPM conference is occurring this week. I skipped through some of a reading session on YouTube, and I’ve also noticed a discussion here about said session and others. Sometimes the discussion devolves along the lines of a twofold question, “Why is their (bad) music so popular and my (good) music never seems to get a foothold?”

It’s not really as simple as that.

But I do think there are tendencies at play generally across North American parishes. It’s more than untrained musicians waiting for the next issue of a publisher’s print organ to tell then what to program for the 15th, 16th, 17th, etc. Sundays in Ordinary Time. Or corporations with a stranglehold on parish music choices.

Most parishes lack a full-time music director. That has consequences. Working people without a lot of time on their hands want music choices to be easy. It can be hard enough to play music on inadequate instruments, accompanying untrained singers, and dodging problems with chirpy parishioners, clergy who care little for liturgy, and such. Though I’ve met some excellent church musicians in the rural Midwest who could (and do) choose their own music well. And give the big suburban parishes a tussle with their singing congregations and effective ministry.

And let’s face it: some full-time music directors do music only. No liturgy. No Scripture. No theology. They like and do special music well. They might be happy to have somebody else choose the hymnody.

I do think that the generation that suffered with subpar chant and traditional music is dying. The fresh slate bodes well for the possibility of a revival of chant. The problem working against that is the cattiness that surfaces in places like CMAA. It happens in NPM, too. But commentary, not only uninformed, but needlessly personal in tone: it will get fellow forty-somethings in a froth about how the heritage of music was “stolen” after Vatican II. But today’s generation may not be buying it. Consumers can trend toward skepticism, and that’s a good thing.

One commentator, Tim, on the CMAA thread had these interesting observations:

This was a joyful convention. Front-loading the week with the Gospel concert and the energy and enthusiasm …

There was also a great openness to chant/polyphony, including by folks you might not expect … Folks, a lot of people here are open to what the CMAA does—but you simply have to make a positive case for it.

It’s not an uncommon problem to many of us music directors: we’re on duty on home turf almost every Sunday, so our horizons can get limited. When I was welcomed in the traditional music/liturgy forums a decade ago, people were surprised at my experience with and approval of plainchant, and that I suggested others in the opposition court were open to it as well. I got the sense I wasn’t taken seriously then, and I expect in another decade there will still be some chant-holdout that see themselves as the sole carriers of that banner. Life will pass them by.

Tim has the measure of something in those observations above. Joy. It’s simply that. People who fight wars are not joyful, attractive, or positive.

I know my friend Charles was disappointed when I’ve mentioned I would not encourage my young music people to check out CMAA. If Charles ran a workshop, certainly. He communicates joy. As do the people behind the work done at places like St John’s in Minnesota or St Meinrad’s in Indiana.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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