Monday, March 14, 2005

OCP is NOT the only hidden hand behind bad music

I've taken the liberty of checking out this old article in CRISIS magazine, dated January 2002.

Yes, I agree that OCP (Oregon Catholic Press) has had a big hand in keeping the not-so-sacred styles of music in its worship aids since the late 1970's. And after a beef with Bari Columbari, the senior editor, over something I posted in one of the message boards, I sent him one heck of a review (nine pages) of their 2005 "Music Issue". He listened. He may not agree, but he listened.
However, OCP is NOT the only hidden hand behind bad music. Yes, OCP has infested the music issue with schlock by the St. Louis Jesuits, the Monks of Weston Priory, the Dameans, and (worst of all) Carey Landry. Two publishers already had them beat.

FEL Publications had a good share of garbage that dates to the mid to late '60's, with Ray Repp being its main ringmaster. World Library Publications was the first to publish the music of Joe Wise and Jack Miffleton (remember "Monday mornings, Lord, and Sunday papers", from "All I Am, I Give to You"?).

In the mid '70's, two other publishers were taking in junk, but on a smaller scale. GIA Publications was doing really well with Worship II, which was an excellent hymnal, and a really good effort to bring hardcover hymnals to Roman Catholics here in the States. Most popular of the little bit of junk was "I Am the Bread of Life". Although it had hit big with a number of folk groups in my area, it was written with a not-too-shabby organ accompaniment. I guess my fault against it is that we're singing to be Jesus in the first person - a problem with much of the contemporary fare. The other publisher in mind is the Liturgical Press, maker of the famous "Our Parish Prays and Sings" hymnal of the 60's, and the missalette "Celebrating the Eucharist". In the mid 70's, Liturgical Press released "Book of Sacred Song", which, although primarily traditional, did print some pieces that would be completely strange to Catholic worship, like "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands", and "More than Nineteen Hundred Years Ago."

However, GIA took a turn for the worse in the early '80's. Though "Worship II" was doing really good, they started out with a small book called "Gather to Remember", a book about the size of one of the original "Glory and Praise" volumes, which consisted of all folk music. They published "Worship, Third Edition" (affectionately known as "Worship III"). Though still an excellent hymnal in terms of repertoire, this new edition of Worship caught on with that poor practice of using a modern language in many of the standard hymns - that is - a language that eliminates the so-called "sexism" ("mankind", "man", etc., which is assumed, "humanity") and older poetic English ("thee", "thou", and "thy" becoming "you" and "your"). Had many of these authors of hymns be still alive, would they allow such revisions to their texts? Much of the change in text resulted in a whole new meaning of the hymn, often poor poetry, and sometimes even bad theology. Worse is the mass publishing of music by Marty Haugen and David Haas - songs (I refuse to refer to these types as hymns) which are either poor music (unsingable, too high for the average congregation, etc.) or bad theology ("A banquet hall on holy ground"). In 1987, GIA teamed up with North American Liturgy Resources (makers of the infamous "Glory and Praise") to introduce "Gather", a hardcover hymnal (and I use that term loosely) whose repertoire is the total opposite of "Worship". And look at all that Haugen and Haas! What gets me is how so many can go ga-ga over the music of Marty Haugen, who's just as Lutheran as Martin Luther himself, despite Luther's own music being of higher quality.

Another problem, even bigger than bad hymns, is when the Ordinary of the Mass is altered by composers, and of course accepted by their publishers. Let's explore:
St. Louis Jesuits Mass
The famed "Gloria" of John Foley which seems to be more the "Dona Gloria" - Give glory to God in the highest.
The Sanctus - Hosanna on high - that's it??? on high??? The Lord's not good enough to have his Hosannas raised to him in the highest???
The Mysterium Fidei - The settings for Memorial Acclamations A, B, and D are textually fine. However, Memorial Acclamation C goes: When we eat this bread of life, when we drink of this holy cup, we proclaim your death, O Lord, till you come again.
The Per Ipsum - "Amen" is plenty sufficient. The "for ever and ever" is part of the celebrant's part. The "Alleluia" doesn't belong there.
The Agnus Dei - does not need all these extra verses.
Mass of Creation
The Gloria is textually unaltered.
The Sanctus - God of power, God of might???
The Agnus Dei - Jesus, Lamb of God??? "Jesus, Agnus Dei???"; Grant us your peace??? "Dona nobis pacem tuum???"

These are just two examples. I could go on, but to save space, I went with the two most "popular" settings, or should I say, the two "biggest hits". Now, let me ask you --- Who on earth gave these composers and publishers the right to alter the Ordinary of the Mass??? It sure wasn't Rome. It sure wasn't the USCCB. But yet the "Nihil Obstat" and "Imprimatur" gets fixed on all these dang publications. Pastors allow this junk to fly. And God forbid - if you phase out "Mass of Creation", you might just lose your job. I did, but rebounded by going to a parish who (thank God) doesn't allow such abuse.

But this is living proof, however, that OCP is not alone in being this "hidden hand behind bad music".

+ In Christ,


Anonymous said...

Way cool...I'm wondering how long it'll take the NPM folks to start staking you out. We can always stave them off from the battlements by lighting copies of the Music Issue on fire and throwing them down upon them. This would serve a dual purpose: disposal of the disposables, and eradication of the idiots.


Anonymous said...

Sorry, I posted without signing my name. I am Joachim the Rabid, eradicator of NPM trash and general publication garbage. Matches were invented for Music Issues.

Brian Michael Page said...

Joachim, you rabid one you (hehehehe):
Man, you and I are pretty much on the same wavelength here. Check out (in my archives) the post I wrote on "HYMNALS vs. DISPOSABLES". It's based on a letter I wrote to RITE magazine that got published. The pastor of the parish I worked for at the time wrote me back in full agreement, saying, "Disposable worship aids make for Disposable Liturgy". It's so true.

+ Peace

Brian Michael Page said...

Oh, and matches were also invented for Gather, and Glory and Praise, and Spirit and Song.


Jeffrey Tucker said...

You know what is great? Since that article appeared, which was something like shock therapy for many, OCP has taken some great strides in the right direction. They do offer a pretty good chant supplement now, and, most importantly, they are now selling many Solesmes titles, including the enormously valuable Gregorian Missal. Their service tends to be better and faster than others, so ordering from them is what I recommend. As the editor of Liturgy Today explained when asked about the chant supplement, OCP is ready to carry what sells. Liturgical theory bends according to the people's wishes. That's the reality of Catholic music today, which is regrettable, but at least points the way to what the musically minded laity need to do: bolster support for chant, polyphony, and our musical heritage within our own parishes. Under the right conditions, OCP could easily become the hidden hand behind genuine liturgical renewal.

Anonymous said...

Jeffrey is right.

Todd said...

I don't buy pinning the "hidden hand" on music publishers. In a market economy, why would we expect something that doesn't sell to float?

Except in the best and most visionary parishes, adequate to poor leadership (read pastors) wanted to save a buck or two (plus maybe a bit of ego) and employ adequate to poor musicians (paying them only if necesary). It wasn't any different for painted plaster statues; why would we expect the clueless to invest in organs, pianos, acoustics, and heaven forbid, build churches before schools?

Musicians can easily pick apart people and pieces that don't match our standards, which is why we probably find 90% of the internet commentary on sacred music to be of the critical sort. More challenging would be if these same critics listed their ideal music. And even more telling, if they provided sound clips of themselves and their choirs performing.

Brian Michael Page said...

Point well taken. But think about this - how can the publishers be let off the hook when such garbage, maybe good for listening to at revivals and concerts at best, but at Mass, garbage - appears right at a congregant's lap in their hymnals? There's a separation line to be drawn between the sacred and the secular - and that goes equal for music.
You do reveal a very valid point in your second paragraph. Mediocre leadership hiring mediocre musicians - inadequate training of same while on the job - yes, these DO play a role, to an extent. However, being supplied with garbage on their laps is no help either. Publishers perhaps should write up training aids and present workshops that not so much cater to the "yuppie culture's wants", but to what the Church (namely Vatican II) really intended. Then, the mediocre musicians, hired by their mediocre pastors, have a chance to get good.

A lot of it rides with repertoire, my friend.

Other suggested articles: on this blog, try "Let's Put the HOLY Back into HOLY MASS", and try the article where I listed links to other good blogs and musings sites - the three key sites being Adoremus, CanticaNOVA, and The Confessions of a Recovering Choir Director.

+Peace, and a blessed and happy Easter - in the Risen Christ!

Todd said...

Peace, Brian.

No denying repertoire is a big item. I think trained and good musicians have the competence to make good judgments. There's always the option of producing your own hymnal or weekly worship sheets. Or giving in to laziness.

I suspect you and I might draw slightly different lines in the sand dividing the sacred and secular. Such a line might be pushed one way or the other by good or poor performance. I have a devilish doo-wop version of Schubert's Ave Maria--not even appropriate for a revival. And I've recast some of St Blog's favorite whipping boys--I mean songs--and easily net them in the sacred hoop.

I guess my bottom line is just because they peddle it doesn't mean we have to buy it. And just because something's printed on the page doesn't mean it has to be sung or played that way.

Happy Easter also, and I hope your family is settling in well after your tragedy.

Anonymous said...

In conversation with a colleague this week about the poor quality of musicianship as well as music in liturgy at the Catholic school where we both teach, an interesting point of view arose. The choir director firmly believes that music must be "fun" and the students must "enjoy themselves" so that they want to participate first and foremost, and that the imposition of rigid standards for excellence and quality would run counter to those aims.

I think that the community, whether it's a parish or a school, generally knows when it's getting crapola. And I would respectfully disagree with my colleague that high standards and expectations are detrimental to enjoyment -- my albeit limited experience has shown me that people really do live up or down to expectations!

The problem is not necessarily the proliferation of gosh-awful music; it's the mindset that we musicians must cater to preference in order to serve the community well.

If we depended on preferences in order to feed children well, kids would eat nothing but ice cream and cookies!

Brian Michael Page said...

Your last two paragraphs hit it on the mark. And it's not only musicians.
In my previous job situation, it was not the congregation, but the senior choir, the youth director, and the pastor that was the trouble.
Therefore, it could lie in the hands of musicians, but it could lie also (or instead) in the hands of the youth director, the CCD director/DRE (whatever you want to call that position these days), the pastor, or what I tend to call the LOUDMOUTH VOCAL MINORITY crying foul even when they're wrong. (caps intended to illustrate those three words and not to yell at you)

Someday, in a dream, there will be a church where EVERYONE is at the same page.