Wednesday, March 8, 2006


I have in front of me the Summer 1959 issue of CAECILIA. And here on page 4 is an editorial called Oh, Bash the Choirs! Sounds familiar. After all, weren't many parishes doing just that? Scrapping the choir in favor of the cantor (er, Prof. Day's nemesis, "Mr. Caruso") or (worse) the folk group?

Snippet 1:
Events have in some ways given substance to our fears. For a long time now, liturgical dust-throwers have been crying, in effect, "Let's get rid of these ridiculous choirs and all stand up and holler!" No papal directive ever said this, but scores of underlings have. One may submit with little fear that you bash the choirs and you bash whatever chance there is (it grows smaller) of rescuing the music of the church. One may submit that you bash the choir and you bash whatever chance you really have of congregational singing.

So, yes, even as early as 1959 you have the "liturgist" in the progressive sense who wants to destroy the sacred for the sake of "what's hip".

Snippet 2:
Well meaning attempts by professionals were scuttled in favor of amateurish attempts to sing all of the chant. When the chant became significantly complicated, adults were scuttled for children's choirs, which were not, and are not now, intended or prepared to reach musical adulthood. Now the chant is in the process of being scuttled by things like the highly over-rated Gelineau Psalms.
Thus, the "dumbing down" process. It still wasn't half as bad 45 years ago as it was now. In the words of a singer known as Meat Loaf, it was long ago and it was far away; it was so much better than it is today. You see, back then the Gelineau Psalms were considered "over-rated." A couple of decades later, though chant is still to be considered supreme in Catholic music, I would take the Gelineau Psalms long before anything from the Singing the Psalms series or the Celebration Series.

Snippet 3:
There is precious little interest in the professional Catholic Church Musician, who many decades before the liturgical enlightenment, was responsible for such decency in the solemn worship of the Church as there was. We now hear about the self styled "experts". And one is reminded of Chesterton's remark that the world is ruined by the ignorance of experts.

And today, the self-styled "experts" have all sorts of job titles. You have the liturgist (who I like to call the "litter-geist"), the folk group leader, the "pastoral assistant" (now, there's an oxymoron - I worked with ONE, just enough to turn me off - very arrogant woman), the CCD director who still thinks the kiddies should get a taste of HI GOD at every Mass, the school principal (with similar agenda), and even a misguided pastor (remember the post about the pastor who wanted to sack O Lord, I Am Not Worthy, but Good Night, Sweet Jesus was ok?).

But now, on the next breath, the editor writes:

Snippet #4:
To face the question: there are indeed ridiculous choirs, and more than once, in well-known churches of Europe, where one had expected more, I have with real anguish placed my head in my hands and asked: "Is all of this really worth defending?"

What I'm wondering is this: is the editor referring as "ridiculous" those choirs that sound like crap, as a result of being almost talentless, or perhaps talented, but misguided by a bad director? Or is this a choir that is "too good" to a point where you'd never get a congregation to sing what's theirs because the choir is so good the congregation just wants to listen? I'd think the former. Here's why:

Snippet #5:
But even more ridiculous are the situations where the choir has been removed and congregations and children are asked to lift themselves by their boot straps. One tires, with an overwhelming tiredness, of hearing well-meaning souls say: "Now the important thing is not to worry about how we sound when we sing -- remember what Msgr. so-and-so said"...when the good Msgr.'s congregational Mass is a mess and a mockery of the singing splendor of the liturgy.

Well, the congregation shouldn't really worry about their sound. But a choir should be trained to get a decent sound, decent enough so maybe they might not have to worry either, but either way, the choir should be the "example".

Snippet #6:
The writer made a not too scientific survey when he was preparing his congregation for the Holy Week Services last Spring....He found particularly that more people could sing a tune than could match a tone. He found, for example, that while 36 out of 51 could sing a very simple tune in a key of the subject's choice, only 26 of 51 could sing the tune in a given key. The result could well be described as congregational, but hardly as singing. Still, in the area of responses, litanies, and hymns it is still possible to manage something robust and ringing (discount cork ceilings and other architectural gobbledgooks)--but only because possibly 300 of 500 tested were under some form of fairly intensive musical training.

Recruit those 300 for the choir. Recruit them now! But don't use the 200 for an excuse to "dumb down" (ah, the common practice today).

Snippet #7:
Trouble is, we have always sought the easy, not to say the cheap way out, and after fifty years we have arrived nowhere. It will be interesting to hear what the Liturgists (at Notre Dame) and the Educators (at Purchase, NY) come up with.

I can't say much for 1959, as I wasn't born until 1964 (just months after Vatican II), and learned the Mass Ordinary in 1970 (Novus Ordo) as a requirement to make my First Communion in first grade (Catholic school - predominantly Polish parish). So I have no clue what Notre Dame or Purchase came up with. But, thanks to an army of "litter-geists", we have a mess on our hands now that is finally getting cleaned up, poco a poco (little by little).


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