Thursday, May 10, 2007

Music and Mass


I know this may be considered heresy by some in the traditionalist world, considering their (and my) love for sung high masses, etc. However, the fact is that the music in most Catholic churches is as weak as circus lemonade - and I'm not talking about insipid lyrics here. This is coming from someone who LOVES to sing, in church and otherwise, and does so pretty well, having been complimented on my voice many times. I much prefer the semi-silent, spoken "low" mass to the far more common four-hymn semi-sung variety. Not that I don't love chant and singing in mass. In fact, during lent, the other church I attend had the usual four hymns, plus chanted kyrie, sanctus, and agnus dei, and I loved it.

That may seem somewhat bi-polar, but I think it's the right way. If you are going to be silent, prayerful, reverent, then be so, if you are going to sing, then sing it all!! Don't try to compromise, because then all you get is a mess -- enough singing to intrude upon and prevent a reverent-silent atmosphere, but not enough to create a glorious uplifting one.


The other issue, apart from the format, is the quality of the hymns themselves. Some years ago, I noticed that, if a hymn was poorly written and bland, I could look down to the bottom of the page in the hymnal and see the name Schutte. I hear a lot of people on the blogs talk about Haugen & Hass, but I don't seem to hear a lot of their product (though what I do hear is bland).

I am no music theorist, but it seems to me that, if you begin to sing a hymn and it is pleasant, flows well, and is both easy and rewarding to sing, it was written proir to the last century. Those hymns sing like they were meant to be sung. On the other hand, the newer hymns seem to be stilted and lame. There are many odd, uncomfortable changes in tone and cadence, making them awkward and clumsy. It's as if the writers couldn't write a normal, good song, so they had to throw in a few "twists" to make it "interesting". My lack of musical "literacy" makes me a mere civilian in these matters, but I have common sense and a pretty good ear. I am also observant enough to notice that the older hymns tend to have people singing along joyflly - lots of participation. While the newer ones are almost left unsung save for the choir. With some hymns, it's as if the hymn itself almost makes you sing it in a balls-out from-the-heart fashion. Imaging, for instance, trying to sing Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee softly and with no emation - it's almost impossible. Or Amazing Grace in a cold, lifeless way - it can't be done.

Sing like you mean it, that's the idea. I understand that some people are uncomfortable singing in public, and that's okay, but even hymns sung softly, and with feeling, get to God's ears just fine. Not everybody was given the gift of a beautiful voice, but we were all given souls. A hymn should not be a hindrance to bearing your that soul to God in song.

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