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September 08, 2008



Tres interesante, especialment your observation that "It's because it adds to and amplifies the sense that there is simply no escape from Pop Culture."

An interesting thought, though, is that all music was new and popular at some point AND that we're encouraged to sing a new song to God.

Is pop culture more prevalent in our media saturated society than, say, a culture of 150 years ago? I'd have to say yes, but even then there were new instruments and new songs and it probably griped the gray hairs in the pews just like it does today *wink*

My and my wife's gripes (and we're barely half way to gray-hairedness) about modern music are that it is 1) simplistic 2) redundant [as opposed to making use of valid repetition] and 3) me-focused instead of God focused. My wife has further noted that, if you troll through a protestant hymnal and look at which verses are marked to be sung, the ones that are left out almost always deal with the harder topics of personal sacrifice.

Tres interesante . . .


I agree.
I've been waiting for a cd entitled The Worse Hits of Vatican II" to be released. At least for me contemporary church music is a distraction because it draws from the contemporary. One partickarly vexing piece reminds me of a souondtrack off The Brave Little Toaster. Other music vaguely recalls Broadway musicals while IMHO worse offender---the Our Father of the 70's tends to make me think of the theme from Mickey Mouse Club series "Spin and Marty"

Contrary to all this, I find the compositions and performances of Matt Maher to be powerful and true. If we in fact need new liturgical music (I am more than satisfied with chant) I wish his talents could be moved in that direstion.
If you want to hear a teen concert that will blow every other teen concert into the weeds, go hear Matt Maher

The time change is coming and I personally enjoy morning Mass without music. Walking towards the church in the still cold darkness with the stained glass windows illuminated from the inside. The Divine Liturgy celebrated by a Priest in the quiet of a chapel with no distraction. The smell of incence and beeswax candles. And when the Mass is over, stepping outside into the bright new morning is a splendid way to start the day! The "soundtrack" effect is not required.

Tim J.

By golly, John, you're right.

It's about time I made a serious effort to get to daily morning Mass.

I'm going to check into it, though it may require more flexibility than my employer is willing to give. Please pray for me.

I think I got more out of the few a.m. Masses I have been to than I have most Sunday ones. Not that it's all about me and my needs, but...


I LOVE this post.

Do you or anyone else have any ideas for gently broaching the subject of encouraging more timeless music at Mass, with a priest? This has been on my mind a lot lately. Our parish has a couple of very orthodox priests (with the guts to stand up even to contraception!) but the music just puts me in an irritable state. I don't know how to bring up a request for some changes without sounding like an overly-critical crank.


@ Karen: "timeless" is a good word for it, but I believe well-written new music can be as timeless as proven tunage.

@ John: Silence is excruciatingly underrated in our culture, although since my ears started ringing constantly about 5 years ago (right after the sound at an Urbana conference went berserk for a few seconds) I have a hard time with complete silence, where I used to crave it.

And on a goofy and tangentially related note, I once attended a church service near the Lake of the Ozarks where every song was a 50's tune with the words tweaked to sound churchy. Ugh . . .

Clarke Fountain

pNielsen, you said we are "encouraged to sing a new song to God" however, I'm not at all sure that the meaning of that Biblical exhortation is consonant with the notion that you seemed to be expressing; it appears that you are saying that that text means we should continually be incorporating new music in the Mass...more or less regardless of its intrinsic qualities...

I hope that's not what you meant, because if so, I would have to state that I strongly disagree with that notion for a number of reasons....that I don't have time just now to go into.


@ Clarke

Mass I know not of, not being Catholic, but your reasonable concern is not applicable to my statement. I take the Psalmist's exhortation to "Sing to the Lord a new song" at face value, but I full expect that new songs are created by gifted composers in a manner that glorifies God to the utmost.

Tim J.

Cool! One of today's Mass readings happens to be Psalm 149;

"Sing to the LORD a new song of praise in the assembly of the faithful. Let Israel be glad in their maker, let the children of Zion rejoice in their king."

I think we have agreed before that good music can be old or new, and the same is true of bad music.

I'd love to see an Eastern Rite or Maronite Catholic Mass, but there are none in my area. Two hours away, at least.

I do think that different people respond to different kinds of worship, and so there may be some benefit to having some different "flavors". I just don't think "trite" is a flavor worth doing.

Face it, a lot of these things come about because doing things the right way - trying to create beauty - is hard.

Clarke Fountain

Thank you, pNielsen, for your clarification. I'm with you, then.

As a longtime chorister, I have incredibly strong opinions about music and how it should be performed in worship. I am also aware that not every choir is 100% up to the job of meeting my insanely high standards.

So I tend in practice to forgive a lot, such as an opera-trained woman singer trying to perform an old slave-era black spiritual as an anthem.

I was able to discern some reverence in her performance, though not any of the words (something most opera singers lose the ability to make us hear, somehow).

Probably the best music I've heard in a long time that I'd like to hear at a service (though not being a Baptist, I'm unlikely to) is from "Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou?" and starts out with the words, "...as I went down to the river to pray..." There are a couple of other strange things from that movie that I think would entirely appropriate at some service somewhere, though probably not at any church I'd be going to...

I am inordinately fond of plainchant, psalm-tones, Gibbons, Handel, Monteverdi, Mozart, and even that most Protestant of great composers, Bach. And even with such music as that in a service, the sense of transcendence may be missing, because the key, the ultimate key to the right kind of music in church is the manner of its performance.

In-your-face and Broadway stylings just won't do. It's always best IMNSHO, if the singers and musicians emulate the nameless builders of cathedrals, who created masterworks that are intended only for God (unless you are fearless in climbing up really high scaffolding)...very self-effacing.

I can't help but remember just how perfect the whole music situation was at a local Benedictine monastery that I had the good fortune to do a short retreat at. There, the chant and psalm-tone aren't done for performance value. It's what they do, I don't know, is it eight times a day, every day? It's their life, lived with effort and reverence. It gets into your bones...


@ Karen: "timeless" is a good word for it, but I believe well-written new music can be as timeless as proven tunage.

Yeah, but not the music I'm hearing at my Masses. Trust me, they're "ick" at worst and "meh" at best, and they make both my husband and I feel squirmy. Besides that, such music just doesn't mix well with organs, nevermind the fact that fidelity to the intended rhythm of the song is much worse for that type of music, due to its being accompanied by an organ in a three-story echo chamber. :-(

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