Thursday, June 22, 2006
Catholics at Mass: Don't They Sing?In my experience they do. I've always been amused by Thomas Day's premise--which implies nobody sings. I find myself scratching my head over the notion that people don't sing because the music is so bad compared to the good old days. First, nobody was singing chant in parishes outside the very occasional choir loft prior to 1960. Second, most Catholics, even young Catholics, have no idea what musical treasures are in existence and lie scattered around, unused. I still get more requests for "Let It Be" and Three Dog Night's "Joy to the World" than for plainsong. And the suggestion for Marian hymns usually does not mean the Gregorian antiphons, but Schubert for meditation or something familiar like "Immaculate Mary," so they can sing along. Even at the noon Masses in my parishes, some people are singing. What do they sing? The Mass parts rather lustily, their favorite hymns both contemporary and pre-conciliar. Stuff they know, and know well, in other words. My subjective experience is naturally biased. Not only do I consider myself a better then average music director (therefore my congregations are better than average in singing ability and willingness), but the parishes that have hired me have largely done so to build on existing good music programs. Sure, I've had to resurrect one or two parishes from rudderless interregna, but the pieces were well in place. This past Sunday, we visited my brother's in-law's parish a few miles from where I grew up. The music was pretty mainstream, though they did program the Haas setting of Psalm 116 and "Halle Halle Halle." The people sang those, too. They sang all three verses of my 1970-72 favrotie Communion hymn for entrance. (Guess it if you can.) And three verses of a chestnut for closing. Not too much singing of "Pan de Vida" for Communion, but unlike my parish, they didn't start the singing till after the cantor went to Communion. A missed opportunity for them. A few suggestions (some of which are repeated from prior posts) on what could be working in US Catholic parishes: - Average music can be done well, and the people will generally sing it. Corollary: without good musicians, even great music can get trashed in the making. - Very few parishes out there will raise the bar on chant and the classics without a well-paid music director who knows her or his stuff. There exists only rare amateur competence in such things. Even more scarce is the pastor willing to send his amateurs to classes and conferences to get the key to the Classical Treasure Box. - Good music programs take time. One new song a month is close to the maximum limit. You do the math: If it takes 25-35 songs to do a core repertoire (I'll post my thoughts on that after vacation) of a new style such as plainsong, you're looking at a year for ordinary Sundays, and a few more for Lent, Advent, and Easter.