Tuesday, October 24, 2006


James McMillan's speech is posted here in the Catholic Herald. Hat Tip to Jeffrey Tucker.

This speech in excerpts with my commentary in blue.

In recent times the Church has developed uneasy relations with its musicians. Growing up in the 1960s and 70s I was aware of a creeping separation between my serious engagement with the study of music, the application and practice of assiduously honed skills, and what the Church seemed to need and want for its liturgy. Mr. McMillan must be about my age, then.
I soon discovered that most serious Catholic musicians were being repulsed by an increasingly rigid misinterpretation of the Second Vatican Council’s reforms on music. "Misinterpretations" is the word I try to tell the Tridentine folk - that it wasn't Vatican II that gave us the mess we have, but the blatant convenient misinterpretations created by the progressive front. Clergy and “liturgists” began expressing a scarcely veiled disdain for the very expertise and learning that musicians had sought to acquire. "Liturgists" - blech! "LiturGEISTS" maybe. And why would a parish want to hire a seperate liturgist to begin with? The priest is your liturgist. You want me to be your parish liturgist for thirty or forty grand a year? Sure. I'll just tell you to read the black and do the red, then eliminate my own position. Serious musicians were more and more caricatured as elitists, reactionaries and Tridentinists by a new philistinism in the Church. That still happens today in message boards run by certain big-wig organizations.
Many of those who were not subdued into a state of quietism defected to Anglican and Lutheran parishes where their skills as organists, choral directors and singers were greatly appreciated. I had considered it a couple of decades ago, but then realized that victory will come soon enough for real liturgical music.
There is also great potential for new forms to suit the vernacular liturgies. Gelineau and Taizé are the most obvious examples of how the modern church can respond to its great musical calling. Both are very good, but instead, we get Haugen, Haas, Landry, and the St. Louis Jesuits. And before that, it was MotherRat Thy Feet and Good Night Sweet Jesus.

But don't take my word for it. Read the whole speech. And check out all the document citations Mr. McMillan points out at the end - all of which often get either ignored or deliberately misconceived by progressive clergy and liturgeists.



Gavin said...

See, I grew up LONG after any saber-rattling of V2 was over. As I said in my "young fogey" post, guitar mass and Fr. Friendly were just what being Catholic was, no exception to the rule. That's kind of why the "reform of the reform" is picking up steam, is because people in my generation are again rebelling against the norm.

Mr. C said...

Brian, I have posted on this elsewhere a couple of weeks ago. Dr. McMillen is a highly esteemed choral composer and conductor not only in his native Scotland and the whole of the Isles, but internationally. I even downloaded some of his compositions this very day from a Christophers "The Sixteen" recording called "IKON." Basically what I've expressed some difficulty with this recent very public outburst on his part (particularly after a detailed feature article about his Scots heritage influencing his compositional ouveur in ACDA Choral Journal) is that Dr. McMillen has no consistent involvement or ongoing relationship with the development or evolution of RC worship music in the UK; his circles have been based in the academic and artistic communities. That is all well and fine, but I believe that his comments are receiving credence and attention because of his artistic achievements OUTSIDE of matters "church." Like any choral composer, his sacred settings have worthily found their way into usage in churches that have the resources and personnel to render them successfully. But that does not elevate him to a loftier position as a critic of church culture. My point basically is that respect for his opinion should also be tempered by the realization that his criticism has a "Johnny come lately" taint which doesn't lessen its validity; but should not be given any more merit due to his renown and status among contemporary composers.
And I've been to Masses in Scotland and know it's more desolate there than over here. I'm Scots m'self. But he can't be regarded as having spent his life in our fields; he is not a dilletante, but he is not an expert either on the intricasies of post-conciliar music evolution in the RC Church internationally either.