Critic on Critics

Every so often I visit the Musica Sacra Forum. More often in the past when one friend or another invited me to check on a topic. (One late friend always held out hope I would join, but …) More often these days I notice another thread on the mistreatment of a musician. These are difficult to read, no matter the musical genres involved. Recently, one person related being praised for polyphony not long ago was later criticized semi-publicly by the same mouth for Latin. Hand-wringing ensued with thoughts of quitting sooner rather than after Triduum.

It seems to me none of the members of CMAA would willingly attend the LA Religious Ed Congress. Yet, one of the longest threads of 2021 is devoted to criticism of it. Why bother, I wonder. I do suppose if the attacks outside the wagons keep up, nobody will be b/eating each other within them.

A serious question: why does this sort of awful, objectively unappealing music still have a foothold in influential Catholic liturgical circles? So much so that in 2021 a liturgy committee in the most populous archdiocese in the United States believed this song is good music and appropriate for liturgy?

Answer: Possibly because “this sort” of music isn’t really unappealing. Theme songs come, but mostly go. Somebody on a committee is asked to write one. Or has a friend who can write one. Such songs have a context within a larger event. But then the event is over and the song disappears. Likewise a priest complains to his beleaguered music director that a particular set of Sunday music didn’t facilitate his prayer. Good music could have been poorly performed. Or the cleric ate a breakfast that bothers his digestion or some other distraction. Or he doesn’t like the employee and is just setting the table for a bad performance review and an excuse to fire the person.

Disclaimer here: I’ve never attended either the Colloquium or the LAREC, and I don’t ever plan to do so. When I attended conferences in the 1980s, I looked forward to them. By 1988, my eyes started hurting–dry air in hotels and all that. I have been on planning teams or hired to do conference liturgy or a breakout session a few times since. Emphasis on “few.” Committee work is fun–really. It’s been about seven or eight years since my last conference. I don’t miss them.

I do understand that gathering in the dozens or the few tens of thousands gives many of my ministry colleagues a big lift heading into the next stretch of months dealing with pastors, parishioners, shrinking church economies, and other misadventures in dismay. I prefer a quiet retreat. I struggle mightily maintaining my relationship with God and my prayer life these days. And I confess I always have. I’m not that extreme on the introvert wing, so it’s not really about being eremitic for a week. Possibly in my new location, I’ll darken a conference door sometime soon. My new parish has a budget for that for its staff. My colleagues speak of these things, and it’s written into my job description. I won’t need to be dragged kicking to a registration table in a light, airy, dry-aired hotel lobby. But I also feel no need to be a critic. Except to criticize and question the other critics.

Image credits: top, the logo for this year’s LAREC, and above, right, the Abbey of Monte Cassino.

About catholicsensibility

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