The Liturgy Wars: More on Sacred Music

Not too long ago, I wrote a post on all the reasons why sacred music done right was so important.  There are good reasons why fluff is not right for the Mass, and “fluff” includes guitars, pianos, and anything written by Marty Haugen or David Haas.  I have already exhausted that subject, but I recommend you read my other post, too.

Today, I get to slap the other side of the argument upside the head.  Fluff is bad, but “art for art’s sake” is, too.  You can jump off the deep end in two completely different directions.

DeepEndThis whole thing started when Declan brought this link to my attention.  Basically, I had a momentary freak-out when I saw that the head of liturgical music for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia resigned because of “long-standing differences” with Archbishop Chaput.

As a picked-on organist, I was immediately on the side of the musician, who apparently was resigning after five years in that position because of “irreconcilable differences with Chaput over the role and style of music at the Mass.”Chaput

My mother is a big fan of Archbishop Chaput, who has always been on the side of Orthodoxy, standing up for the faith even when society hates us, and so on.  I think only Cardinal Burke surpasses him in her esteem.  So when I read the above article, I was deeply disappointed with the Archbishop for picking on his organist and music director.

I will admit that I was entirely wrong on that subject, and take back any criticisms of the Archbishop, now and forever.  He was right; I was wrong; and I am happy to say that.

The conclusion I made was because of the very last lines of the article:

Romeri is said to have more of a “high church” sensibility in liturgy than Chaput, who has expressed a preference for the newer Mass in English and simpler styles of worship.

While Chaput is often described as a doctrinal and cultural conservative, in the Catholic Church, that does not necessarily equate with liturgical traditionalism, which is its own distinct — and proud — brand.

I automatically concluded that Romeri’s “high church” tendencies were the same thing as having “orthodox” tendencies, which would mean that Archbishop Chaput was more in the modern praise-and-worship musical style camp, along with the fallacy of “simpler styles of worship” and the “newer Mass.”

This is bad reporting.  The link that the article sends you to does not support such a view of Chaput’s opinions, or the reasons why he had an issue with the director of liturgical music.  Actually, the presence of that link in the original article leads you to believe that it contains some proof of the Archbishop’s lack of orthodoxy in the Mass, which is utterly and completely false.

LiarI have to accuse this reporter of flagrant misrepresentation, and a shameless lack of research.  Archbishop Chaput is firmly orthodox, and that link proves it, rather than disproves it as the article would lead you to believe, and did lead me to believe, until I actually read the link, of course.

What the Archbishop actually said about the “newer Mass” was:

By the way, for the record, I’m also very grateful that the Holy Father has allowed wider use of the older Tridentine form, not because I personally prefer it, in fact I find the Novus Ordo , properly celebrated, a much richer expression of worship; but because we need access to all of the Church’s heritage of prayer and faith.

RNS, you are almost as deceptive as the New York Times.  Shame on you.  The Archbishop goes on to say:

Our worship is an icon of heavenly things, a window through which the reality and destiny of our lives is glimpsed. And the heavenly liturgy is the key to the universality of the Church’s mission. . . . This truth should transform the way we worship. It should move us with gratitude that our God would grant us the privilege of joining the angels and saints who worship before him. It should make us strive for liturgies that are reverent and beautiful, and that point our hearts and minds to things above.

If that’s not an argument for orthodoxy and tradition in the liturgy, I don’t know what is.  Read the whole thing; it’s beautiful, and not at all a support for a fluffy liturgy.  Seriously, RNS, you are either stupid, or maliciously false.

After reading the article, and sending it to my mom, and listening to her comments, I knew I had to find out what this Romeri guy was really doing that led to “irreconcilable differences” between him and the Archbishop.  The article says that the two “had clashed almost from the time Chaput was appointed to Philadelphia in 2011, a year after Romeri arrived.”

I went to YouTube and typed in Romeri’s name, just to see what was out there.  What I discovered led me to believe that Chaput was right the whole time, and that this guy, while an organist and choir director, is just as bad as the guitar-wielding, piano-playing, Fluffy Horde.

The first thing I found was this video on the Children’s Choir in St. Louis, directed by this guy.

The selection sung by the kids immediately made me wary.  Then, I found the video that made this post necessary: the installation of Archbishop Chaput as Archbishop of Philadelphia.

I did not watch the whole thing from beginning to end; I skipped around to listen to the music used at the installation, and the video needs to be fisked.

Just start at the beginning.  The procession alone is nearly forty minutes long, and the first thing I noticed at the beginning of the video was the presence of not just a beautiful pipe organ, but a brass and string instrument section in addition to that organ.

A badly played string section, and a barely adequate brass section, to be perfectly honest.  Now, according to what I have read (again, see my other post), strings and brass instruments are allowed, on solemn occasions, and certainly the installation of a new Archbishop would qualify as such (wind instruments with a reed, e.g., a clarinet, are not allowed, though).  It was not the instruments that made me raise an eyebrow; it was their performance, and their music selections.

You’re not supposed to go to Mass and wonder if you’re in the middle of a badly played John Williams soundtrack.  The organ was magnificently played — I only wish I had the skill to play half as well as that man — but it was way over the top.

Speaking of over the top, the soprano qualifies as well.  You can find her at 12:55 in the above video.  Not only is her voice piercing, she is down in front with the army of priests and bishops, dressed in what appears to be an imitation of priestly vestments, and frequently uses the “surfer pose” to indicate to the congregation when they are to sing.  Her voice is bad enough; she should be singing opera on a stage somewhere, and never set foot in a choir loft ever again.  The Mass is not about showcasing the talent of your young and pretty cantor, and her outfit is beyond inappropriate; it approaches the blasphemous.

Everything appears to be at least outwardly orthodox, with a few exceptions, like the cantor’s presence.  The instruments and styles of organ music can be objected to in an aesthetic sense by this point, not yet a liturgical one.  Sometimes, you just can’t escape the down-in-front cantor helping you to death; it’s another one of those bad habits that are hard to get out of if you’ve been doing them for a long time.  So, while I object to that, I can’t go out and volunteer to slap the choir director upside the head yet.

Don’t worry, that comes later.

The next musical installment is the Gloria, at 1:01:00.  This is wrong on so very many levels.  First: the cantor.  There is a world of difference between singing and chanting.  I’m an amateur, and even I know that.  Her voice is not suited to singing the Gloria from Mass VIII.  All on her own, she changed the Gloria from part of the Mass that the congregation participates in and uses to sing their loud praises to God, to a loud proclamation of only her own talent, and butchered a piece that was totally unsuited to her voice.

Second, the arrangement.  That echoing of the various phrases of the Gloria is beyond annoying.  It’s ugly, and if the intention was to help the Latin-illiterate congregation sing part of the Gloria, it didn’t work.  Not that I could really tell, because the choir and the cantor (especially her) were oppressing, not leading, the congregation, which is directly contrary to their role in the Mass.  Add in some badly-placed polyphony in the same piece, and it’s even worse.

The Responsorial Psalm is at 1:06:27.  Again, another instance of the voice being totally unsuited to the piece.  That man has a very powerful, highly trained voice, and he’s trying to pseudo-chant the psalm, which only makes him sound like an idiot.  Combine that with the choir taking over the responses, and singing them in at least four parts, with accompaniment, and the congregation once again is excluded from participating.  They have reduced the music of this Mass to a performance, not part of the liturgical celebration.  They might not have done it with guitars and pianos, but they still did it.

The Alleluia is at 1:09:24.  Once again, the cantor is horrible, the chosen arrangement is corny, and the combination of those two things, added to accompaniment from an organ and an ensemble, is enough to make your ears bleed.

At 1:40:03, we have the offertory.  Come on, if you’re going to do polyphony, do it right.  Pick a Palestrina, or a Tallis, or something, and let the Anglicans keep their music.  It sucks.  This reminds me of the “Hail Poetry!” sequence from The Pirates of Penzance, which Gilbert and Sullivan used solely to make fun of Anglican hymn styles.  That is not the mental image you want to give people during the Mass, let alone the Mass for the installation of the new Archbishop.

1:52:20 — the Sanctus.  They can’t help the fact that it’s during the days of the bad translation; they can help the bad arrangement and the bad soprano.  Why did the choir director choose a different arrangement for each of the different portions of the Ordinary?  It’s disjointed and distracting.  And badly done, don’t forget that.

The Amen is at 2:00:30.  Time to shoot the cantor. Surfer pose, seriously?

2:03:27 — the Agnus Dei.  She and the choir director should be b***h-slapped for that, her for singing it, and him for allowing it.  You should never ever sing a chanted piece.  Ever.  And certainly not with that powerful, apparently opera-wannabe voice.  If the Latin haters in the Fluffy Horde think that this is what singing Latin is like, then it’s no wonder they froth at the mouth any time someone suggests it.  I’m frothing at the mouth listening to it.

And now we come to Communion at 2:05:50.  Hey, listen to that!  Some real chant!  And not with the oppressive soprano!  Wow, that sounds pretty good . . . wait, what?  What the hell did you do to the Magnificat?  Not only is it a POS translation, that royally sucks.

And we’re back to the orchestra at 2:09:00 . . . dafuq?!?  You’re going to sing “Gift of Finest Wheat?  In the cathedral?  At the installation of the Archbishop?!?  Are you insane?!?  Singing that POS with a huge choir in four parts, with an organ and an ensemble accompaniment does not make it any less a POS.  It actually makes it worse.  This choir director must have a split personality or something.

By 2:16:10, we have another choir piece, Ave Verum Corups.  Who wrote that?  If you’re going to sing that, pick the Mozart or the Byrd version.  I don’t know who wrote that one, but it’s terrible.  Where’s the Phantom of the Opera with his throat-paralyzing stuff when you need him?

And another bad installment at 2:20:08.  Christendom used to do that version of Ave Maria, and they did it much much better than these guys.

And we finally make it to the recessional by 2:30:10.  Oh, yay!  I love O God Beyond All Praising! . . . nope, not anymore.  Once again, the bad cantor completely ruins it.  The piece is far too slow (and I’m beginning to think that they chose that tempo to allow the soprano to vibrato her audience to death), she is singing it badly, and oppressing the congregation.  The point is to lead, not to perform so obviously that they can’t participate.  For all the whining people do about “allowing the congregation to participate,” they never actually let them do so.

2:34:00 — and now for the postlude.  Gee, I wish I could play a tenth of that . . . whoa.  Enough with the dissonance, dude.  You’re not accompanying the newest installment of the Star Wars franchise.  This isn’t someone’s dramatic death scene.  It’s the end of a celebration, and we’re supposed to be happy about having a new Archbishop.  Stop it!  Seriously, stop!  Okay, that’s it, I’m done watching.

My conclusion:

ArchbishopChaputAnd he is absolutely right.

On the surface, everything I just said might appear to be just an objection on aesthetic grounds. I didn’t like it, and you certainly can tell.  But me not liking it isn’t the point.  The point is that everything about the music in this Mass is just as inappropriate for the Mass as guitars and pianos.

Pope St. Pius X said in Tra Le Sollecitudini:

Still, since modern music has risen mainly to serve profane uses, greater care must be taken with regard to it, in order that the musical compositions of modern style which are admitted in the Church may contain nothing profane, be free from reminisces of motifs adopted in the theaters, and not be fashioned even in their external forms after the manner of profane pieces.

Remember, “profane” here doesn’t mean that it has curse words in it.  It means anything that is not sacred.

An opera-style cantor is not sacred, no matter how powerful her voice is, or how pretty she is.

Among the different kinds of modern music, that which appears less suitable for accompanying the functions of public worship is in the theatrical style, which was in the greatest vogue, especially in Italy, during the last century.  This of its very nature is diametrically opposed to Gregorian Chant and classic polyphony, and therefore to the most important law of all good sacred music.  Besides the intrinsic structure, the rhythm and what is known to the conventionalism of this style adapt themselves but badly to the requirements of true liturgical music.

Guess what was popular in the 1850s and 1880s?  On the one hand, Gilbert and Sullivan.  On the more salacious end, burlesque.  There is nothing about either of those kinds of theater that should be anywhere close to the Mass.

We may not have real burlesque anymore, but the point remains valid.  Anything reminiscent of a Broadway musical or a theater performance or a high school play does not belong in the Mass.  At all.  Ever.  Period.

So, why does the cantor sound like an opera-wannabe?  Why is the organ music reminiscent of a bad movie soundtrack?  Why does the cantor stand in front like a performer, even wearing a costume?  Why does all the music, even the occasional examples of chant, sound like nothing more than a performance, and not something that encourages congregational participation?

There is nothing about this music that is appropriate for the Mass.  Even the good selections, like O God Beyond All Praising, are done in such a style that makes them completely unsuitable for the Mass.

I have no doubt that Romani and his choir are very talented.  I can hear that for myself (when the cantor shuts up, anyway).  But, had I been at that Mass at the time, I would not have been there to listen to the choir impress me with their talent.  I would be there to see my new Archbishop, on one hand, and to participate in the Mass, on the other (and more important) hand.  Now, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be impressed with liturgical music done well.  That is the best kind of liturgical music, the kind that is so very good that we don’t notice it in itself; we notice it when we find ourselves moved to something higher, when it assists us in contemplating the real reason we attend Mass — to worship God, and to receive him, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.

It’s like a good movie soundtrack, if you’ll forgive the comparison.  When you’re watching, say, The Fellowship of the Ring, you don’t notice the music in itself.  You notice that you’re suddenly very excited to see them fleeing from a horde of orcs in the Mines of Moria, or that you’re teary when Gandalf dies, or you’re almost awed by the sight of Lothlorien and Lady Galadriel.  If the music wasn’t there, the impact would be lessened, but you don’t actually stop watching the scene to think, “wow, I really like that tune,” at least, not unless you’ve seen the movie a few dozen times, and can take the scene apart to comment on the costumes, the acting, the music, et cetera.

Music at the Mass is supposed to be similar.  It’s so much a part of the structure of the Liturgy that we’re not supposed to stop and notice it for its own sake.  It is not an end in itself.  Ars gratia artis is a nice motto for MGM Studios, but has no place in the Mass.  Art there is not done for its own sake; it is done for His sake, and by extension, our own.

Everything about the music done at the installation Mass is wrong.  It might be well-performed (and that is debatable), but it has no more place in the liturgy than the guitars and pianos I discussed before.

There has to be a happy median between these two extremes, where the music does what it’s supposed to do.  We don’t sing at Mass; we sing the Mass.  We participate in it.  Come on, how many other times do we get to sing the same song that the choirs of angels sing without ceasing?  Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus Dominus Deus sabboth.

Why would we want to clutter such a thing with over-the-top accompaniment, or bad instruments?  Why would we want anything to distract us from those beautiful, glorious words?

We’re nuts if we want that.  If we try to reduce the Mass to a simple country fair, as I explained last time, we’re crazy.  If we try to change it into an operatic or Broadway performance, we’re just as crazy, but in a different way.

We need to love it enough to let it be what it is — the Mass.  We need nothing more than that.

lsbFollow the squirrel minion to get to Lori’s website, Little Squirrel Books.

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7 Responses to The Liturgy Wars: More on Sacred Music

  1. I listened to a little of the music. It seriously sounds like a casual Broadway musical version of what a Catholic Mass might sound like.


  2. Laura Lowder says:

    But to whom did Romani answer, with whom did he consult in anticipation of the Installation Mass? Someone ordained, the former bishop or a Master of Ceremonies, SOMEONE else besides Romano, approved that performance.


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