A few disconnected thoughts, because it’s late and I need to get to sleep…

At first, the composer in me thought “thank God” when I read this. I’ve long hated guitar music in the Mass, especially since most of the hymns played on it are really bad music. What we bring to the Mass and the liturgy should be our best, and frankly much of the music written after 1970 really sucks.

But…it makes me wonder what a modernization of the older polyphonic and chant really is. Granted, it’s a crappy news article with a few choice blurbs, but when people mean “classical” music, they don’t usually mean that which was written in living memory. Somehow I don’t think we’ll be hearing Lou Harrison’s setting of the Mass anytime soon, either. Or Penderecki’s.

If one looks at the early history of music in the Church and advancements in music, up until the rise of secular and instrumental music, they happened in liturgical music. Settings of the Mass, for instance, mimicked what was going on in other areas of western art music. (One can debate whether or not they were concert pieces or liturgical pieces, however.) Then in the early 20th century (around 1903), things got a bit more conservative under Pius X. I see the liturgical reforms of Vatican II as they affected music to be still under this influence. The music itself hasn’t kept pace with what’s been going on in the western art music scene.

When’s the last time you heard of a big-name composer, who had a commission to set the Mass? How often do you hear calls for scores for music with a liturgical theme? Not half as often as for secular ensembles. That’s where the money is, and I can’t blame composers for wanting to eat and pay rent.

For those who might not be familiar with canon law (and Roman law), the things set down in the GIRM (the General Instruction to the Roman Missal, which provides the rubrics for liturgy), are the best-case scenario, something to aspire to. Even if guitar music was made inappropriate for liturgy tomorrow, odds are not everyone would follow it, or it would take years to phase out.

Even though I hate guitar Masses with a burning passion, if I’m not serving at that particular Mass, I can avoid it. And even when I am an altar server, odds are I’m not focusing on the music. But for the 200 people or so who go to that Mass faithfully, it’s music that gives their worship meaning. Rather than ruin their fun, I can go to a different Mass, or offer my discomfort up. (In theory…the ABD doctoral student in me normally grumbles about it first.)

But I think the whole snarking at guitar music is really a symbol of a larger problem: there has been no innovation in liturgical music for the past 100 years. I think that’s a more dire problem, than whether or not the current Pope prefers Mozart to Marty Haugen.

Edit: Yes, I realize there have been settings of the Mass from Faure, Stravinsky, Durufle, and others. But if you go to Mass any given Sunday, you won’t hear it. That’s what I’m talking about, everyday liturgical music–once riddled with good music from composers who did stuff in both sacred and secular realms–is devoid of any innovation. If you’re lucky, you might get a Mozart setting on Christmas or Easter.


~ by Jen on June 28, 2006.

%d bloggers like this: