Saturday, February 8, 2020

Musings on music

“Musings on Music at St. Mary’s”

Today’s “Liturgical Note” dishes dirt and talks smack. It diverts from my usual tack: writing about the scripture of the day, the liturgical feast and season, and how these inform the musical choices I make. For example how the recurring image of light influences recent musical selections.  (Had to sneak that in. :)

My thoughts have been prompted by a weekly editorial in the current Today’s Liturgy Quarterly Planning Guide.   It is written by Dr. Elaine Rendler-McQueeney, a composer, organist, Director of music, college professor and leading voice in the field of liturgical music for nearly 50 years.

Dr. Rendler describes an online podcast where a “youngish Catholic priest and two young men...thought it was quite humorous to make fun of Catholic Church music and the composers of the past 50 years.”  She laments the ridicule of songs cherished by a generation as they “celebrated the sacraments, buried their beloved dead, baptized their children, received their first Eucharists, and ordained their priests”.

Similar things pop-up regularly on Facebook. A church musician feels the need to assert that their style of music (and they themselves?) is superior to another style. The “other” style is deemed as inappropriate, worthless and deserving of ridicule.

It may not surprise you that (fueled by coffee and the Holy Spirit) I sometimes jump into the fray to voice my displeasure and “unlike” these non-constructive and polarizing posts.

The silver lining of these negative posts is that they challenge me to refine my position on liturgical music and reform my vision of music at St. Mary’s. 

Rendler’s quoting of Joseph Gelineau the Jesuit Priest, music scholar and composer best known for translating the psalms into the vernacular articulates this quite clearly:

“All judgment concerning suitability needs to be set in the context of the people who are celebrating together, not starting from the aesthetic and cultural criteria imposed by people who are speaking from outside the liturgical action. In order to receive a true impression, you have to be inside as an active participant of the rites and open to the dimension of faith within the church.” 
Liturgical Assembly, Liturgical Song
Copyright 2002 Pastoral Press, Portland OR, p 61

Blessed to be in ministry with you, at St. Mary’s,


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