Friday, May 25, 2007

Sacred Music

An excerpt from the original essay by Fr. Jay Scott Newman

Worship the LORD in the Beauty of Holiness

For the sacred music

1. Stop balkanizing the Mass schedule with different types of music. This trick comes from Protestant church growth strategies, and it teaches our people that divine worship is just a matter of personal taste. Yes, progressive solemnity can distinguish one Mass from another in a large parish (low Mass, sung Mass, solemn Mass, etc.), but the basic approach to matters musical should remain essentially the same.

2. If the choir is visible to the congregation, move them to a place where they will not be. This is absolutely essential to celebrating liturgy as worship rather than liturgy as entertainment. Yes, Anglicans more or less successfully replaced priests with lay choirs in the chancel, but for several different reasons, that simply does not work in the contemporary Roman Rite. The ideal place, of course, is a loft for organ and choir at the rear of the church. Failing that, at least move them to the back of the church.

3. Sing only sacred music. Much of what is now marketed as “liturgical music” is not sacred at all, and congregations addicted to that pablum are not capable of entering the liturgy as a participation in the worship of the Heavenly Jerusalem. Sacred music is a happy marriage of text and music, and both halves are necessary to re-enchant the liturgy.

4. If you sing hymns, sing the whole hymn. Stopping after the second verse because Father is at his chair makes as little sense as reciting half the Creed. And no “closing hymn” is needed. “The Mass is ended, go in peace” means what it says. Where possible, the priest and ministers should depart the sanctuary to an organ postlude or something comparable.

5. The Anglican, Methodist, and Lutheran traditions have given us an extraordinary treasury of hymnody, most of which can be used in the Catholic liturgy with little or no adaption. This music has proven itself to be durable, effective, and sacred. Do not be afraid of using hymns from this patrimony because they are “Protestant”. In truth, these texts are far more orthodox and “Catholic” than most of the tripe published by Catholics in the past two generations.

6. Plainchant was, is, and ever shall be the music best suited to the Roman Rite. Teach your musicians and your people some simple chants, and sing them well. Even those who struggle with Latin grammar will not need to be taught that this is sacred music.

For the congregation

1. Silence is indispensable. No talking before Mass. Teach the people to be comfortable with prolonged sacred silences during the liturgy by explaining that we’re not just waiting for the next thing to happen; we’re waiting together for the LORD.

2. Teach the people all the gestures proper to them, e.g. profound bow in the Creed, striking the breast at the Confiteor, kneeling at all appropriate times, etc. If the liturgy is just talking, talking, talking, then half the human person is left out of worship.

3. Emphasize coming early and stigmatize leaving early. Being casual about being on time renders the entire activity casual. Ditto for clothing. Same for the eucharistic fast.

4. Give constant, clear, and firm instruction about who should and who should not receive Holy Communion. Nothing desacralizes the sacred liturgy more than sacrilegious Communions, and the people need to be told this regularly. If you are not in full communion with the Church, if you are married outside of the Church, if you are in serious sin (including missing Mass on a Sunday or a Holy Day) and have not yet been to Confession: DO NOT EAT AND DRINK YOUR OWN CONDEMNATION. Reasserting that the Most Holy Eucharist is the most sacred reality on earth and not to be profaned by unclean lips will go a long way towards sorting out the McChurch atmosphere that poisons our souls.

Sacred Liturgy (and music)

The following is an excerpt from a circular of the Archdiocese of Bombay and makes for interesting reading:

A VADEMECUM for Priests - Archdiocese of Bombay


The Liturgy is a visible sign that the Church is a community of praise and worship. At every liturgical celebration - be it in private or in public, in word or in song, in the performance of the Sacraments and sacramentals or in the recitation of the Breviary - a priest must lead the members of his assembly into Jesus’ intimate Abba-experience and make them aware of the “communion of saints” in the Church Universal, so as to mingle their worship with the Magnificat of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Hallelujah and Hosanna of the Angels and Saints in heaven, with the Kyrie eleison of the Holy Souls in Purgatory, and with the Maranatha and Benedictus of all the faithful on earth.

Liturgical ceremonies must therefore “exude and instil a sense of the sacred, be awe-inspiring and Spirit-filled, something similar to what Moses felt in the presence of the Burning Bush (Ex 3:1-17). They must not be just a protocol of rituals done out of routine, like a body without a soul. Hence, they should be well prepared and well animated” (from the 2001 Archdiocesan Post-Synodal Letter).

The Parish Priest is responsible for the worship, prayer and the spiritual formation of the people of his parish. It is he who will co-ordinate the schedule for the Eucharistic celebrations, funerals, marriages, homilies, etc., or he may delegate these duties to one of the Assistants. He must necessarily give particular attention to the celebration of the sacred mysteries enshrined in the Sacraments. He will see that the Sacraments are performed according to the approved liturgical texts, with dignity and decorum and, above all, with a sense of the sacred.

Together with the parish team, the Parish Priest will plan the homilies on Sundays and days of obligation, taking care to make them Scripture-based, relevant to the daily life of his parishioners, and completely devoid of party politics or centred on canvassing for funds.

Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.
The Eucharist is the source and summit of the life and mission of the Church. This divine and ineffable Sacrifice is a manifestation of the great mystery of love which is renewed every day on our altars at Holy Mass: through the ordained ministers, Christ gives up His Body and Blood for humanity. And many indeed are they who nourish themselves at His table. Through the Eucharist, the ecclesial community is built up like a new Jerusalem, and brings unity in Christ among different persons and peoples. Hence, one of the most important duties of a Parish Priest is to ensure that the Eucharist is celebrated with every respect, decorum and the honour it deserves. He will plan liturgical celebrations with the Parish Liturgy Committee and will oversee the training of liturgical ministers: these duties may be delegated to one of the Assistants. In particular:

10. The Parish choir too should receive special attention. “Church music is a necessary and integral part of solemn liturgy.... Music and song are not, in fact, a simple decoration or ornament on top of the liturgical action. On the contrary, they are a single reality with the celebration, allowing the faithful to enter into and to interiorise the divine mysteries” (Pope John Paul II’s address to the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music, January 19, 2001). Church music should therefore be conducive to prayerful, communitarian and personal recollection and meditation, and not lead to distraction or dissipation. The hymns chosen at the religious functions must enhance the awe and respect due to the sacred mystery being enacted. The accompaniment to choral and community singing should be sober, without drowning the singing itself. All music, lyrics and accompaniment with a mundane flavour or beat should be eliminated.

11. Gregorian chant in Latin is to be encouraged: it binds the faithful to the Church Universal. At least the Missa de Angelis, the Credo III and the Salve Regina should be known in the Archdiocese.

12. Priests could, for example on Sundays and Feast-days, render the celebration of the Holy Eucharist more solemn by singing parts of the Liturgy, e.g. Initial greeting, Orations, Gospel, Preface and introduction to the Our Father, the Final salutation, etc.: the tones of the Gregorian chant could be used for this purpose.

© Archdiocese of Bombay 2000 - 2005. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Sacred Music and the Vatican

Hi, the following article copied and edited from the original author's contibution have sparked off a raging debate and a fight in the choir I sing. This is given below for you to read and arrive at your own conclusions (it would help if you are aware of the situation).

I could call this article as "What ails The Lukeharmonix?" but this is the general state of many Catholic church choirs today.

"...Musicians fulfill an important and necessary function in the sacred liturgy. But whether fully trained professionals or ardent amateurs (amateur: translation: one who does it for love), all must remember that the purpose of the music is to implement the liturgy, not to entertain the faithful or glorify themselves. The motto of all ought to be: Non nobis Domine, sed nomini tuo da gloriam! (Not to us, Lord, but to your Name be all glory!)

The Second Vatican Council mandated that the choir be an integral part of the liturgy team: "Choirs must be diligently promoted" (Constitution on the Liturgy,
Sacrosanctum Concilium, §114).

Too many of today's pop-style hymns are now appearing in their true format: solo songs with back-up group accompaniment. That is, the keyboard -- and the intended instrument is the electric keyboard, not pipe organ -- is given an accompaniment that has nothing to do with the melody. The part fits in nicely with strummed guitar, drums, etc. The part, however, can not lead a congregation; it is a back-up part for a soloist, the style in pop or commercial music.
Here we discover the true nature of the musical accompaniment: it is suited for back-up groups behind crooning solo singers in supper clubs and lounges, and not for congregations at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. This further allows the soloist up front to, well, to be a soloist. Slurring and scooping, ornamenting and excessive stylings are common. In our area, many soloist cantors sing in that throaty style that is just under the pitch, sliding into notes and taking liberties that absolutely mitigate against the congregation being able to keep up. And of course the microphone is turned up almost to feedback level.

Music in most Catholic parishes today has strayed from the original intent of the Council Fathers, who stressed "active participation" of all the faithful. If the goal of music at Mass were to have a soloist or an entertainment group, we have succeeded rather well. If, however, the goal is the participation of the people in the pew in authentic worship through sacred music, we are failing.

Part of the problem stems from the fact that music in Catholic parishes is seldom in the hands of well-trained liturgical musicians. Committees, liturgy directors, or priests usually select music for the Mass according to their own taste, or worse still, following recommendations of "liturgy aid" publishers on "what is popular" (i.e., their own stable of composers and performers). The result has been banal music. And this has led many professional musicians with expertise in sacred music to seek employment elsewhere.

In many such churches, the organ sits mute. It does so by choice of the back-up group performers, as it is unsuitable for the pop-style secular music thrown at us by so many publishers today. This has helped lead to a shortage of organists.

The pipe organ is the instrument named by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council as the traditional instrument for our worship.
Vocal soloists were not envisioned by the Council; choirs were. And the choirs were to be led by the most suitable instrument to lead a congregation:
... the pipe organ is to be held in high esteem, for it is the traditional musical instrument which adds a wonderful splendor to the Church's ceremonies and powerfully lifts up man's mind to God and to higher things. (
Sacrosanctum Concilium, 1963, chapter VI, #120).

Pope Paul VI's 1967 Instruction Musicam Sacram repeats this. And in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), once again the pipe organ is reaffirmed as the instrument to be afforded first place. And "it is appropriate that.... the organ be blessed according to the Roman Rituale" (GIRM §313). So important a part of the church is the organ that the instrument has its own special blessing rite!

So why do we have electric keyboards, jazz and rock groups and an abundance of guitars instead of the pipe organ or a good pipe organ facsimile?

Protestant churches have rightfully held title to strongest congregational singing. These churches have known for centuries -- as have Catholics -- that the organ is the best way to lead a congregation in song.

Instruments are mentioned in the Old Testament, particularly in the psalms. In the temple's Holy of Holies, however, music was provided by specially trained priests. When the temple of Jerusalem was destroyed, and synagogues became the only center of worship, the human voice alone was retained for praise. While this is still true of Orthodox Jewry, today the organ can be found in Reform and some Conservative synagogues.

In Christianity, too, only the unaccompanied voice was used in worship for several centuries. Early gatherings were, by necessity, small. But as Christianity grew and emerged into society, larger houses of worship were built. The larger congregations did not stay together well when it came time to sing.

Sometime between 600 and 800 AD the pipe organ was introduced into a monastic house. The immediate response of the brothers was... revolt! The early instrument was a noisy, wheezy thing: the keys were large and had to be struck with the fist, and in the absence of electricity, the bellows had to be pumped by hand. The brothers felt it covered the sound of their singing. Well, it did, but it also gave a strong lead for the congregation, who could hear it in all corners of the larger churches, and a tradition was born.The organ is still the very best way to lead a congregation. It can be powerful and authoritative in a way no other instrument can. It can play all the voice parts simultaneously from soprano through bass, thus encouraging all voice parts to sing.

The pipe organ is not only powerful and authoritative because of its depth and volume, but because it mimics the human voice, a fact alluded to by Pope Saint Pius X. That is, air is pumped through pipes (organ pipe/human windpipe) via a wind chest (lungs and diaphragm) and follows a nice straight path out the round opening (pipe opening/human mouth). This means that, like a singer, a pipe organ can actually breathe.

A well-trained organist will lift his or her hands at the end of each phrase, resulting in an obvious silence and a clear indication to the congregation that they can all breathe together at that spot. Strummed guitars, drums, and other percussive instruments cannot do that. And again, the organ can provide several lines of music simultaneously: melody, harmony, descant, etc. While playing, an organist is a whirl of hand and foot activity.

The Three-Way Training of an OrganistAn organist is trained for three situations: to be a soloist, to be an accompanist, and to lead a congregation.
As a soloist, the organist is free to interpret. Preludes, postludes, meditative pieces at Communion: these are individual, solo pieces. While the organ is a difficult instrument -- not for the timid -- there are many fine pieces by well-known composers that can be played successfully by beginning organists. Composers have given us no end of suitable pieces for this instrument, pieces that are sacred in nature, pieces that can draw us to meditation, and thus, to God. Of course, we speak here of the traditional pipe organ, not the theater organ, with its bells and whistles, an instrument designed to entertain.
An organist is trained to be an accompanist. This involves an empathy with the soloist, for the accompanist is trained to follow. The organist shifts into this mode when accompanying a choir and following a director, or when accompanying a soloist. Of course, the very term "soloist" means no one else is singing, unlike the soloistic cantors. If a soloist pulls tempo, skips a phrase, or does anything else, the accompanist must follow, and must play softer than the soloist is singing. Now, in a situation in most Catholic churches where the keyboardist is trained and the cantor is not, this results in a disastrous tug-of-war. If the soloist (cantor) is followed by the accompanist, and the cantor as soloist is untrained, then the soloist is probably going to be wrong sometimes, perhaps often. The organ, playing softly to accompany the solo cantor, cannot steer the congregation. The congregation will be led astray.
The physical distances between cantors and organists are also a concern: communication is impossible, and can lead to stressful situations. We have all heard cantors begin a third verse after the organist has decided that two was enough -- or the other way around. Or the cantor may sing the wrong verse, further confusing the people in the pews. Or change tempo. Or skip beats. There can only be one person in charge in a solo-accompaniment situation. This is another reason why the cantor should not be a soloist during congregational music.
The third part of organist training is as leader. Here the organist is trained to set the tempo, give the breaths, etc. By strong, authoritative playing, the organist will pull the congregation along -- and the average singer in the pew is less likely to be intimidated by sound of his own voice, hence more likely to sing out.

A good organist knows that the introduction to a hymn should sound like the hymn, not a creative improvisation that has nothing to do with what the people will sing. The introduction -- sometimes an entire verse -- must be played in the same tempo in which the people are to sing. This cues the congregation: "Here is the music you are going to sing, and this is how fast you will sing it".
The organist as leader will determine breathing points, and will signal this by lifting his hands very briefly from the keyboard at the end of phrases, while keeping the tempo. This helps to keep everyone together.

There is an old saying about organists that says: the better the training, the louder one plays! This may come as a shock, even evoke a few complaints, but it is a proven way to get the congregation to sing!

To restore the use of the pipe organ (or a good equivalent) in our churches, we must also restore chant, polyphony, and traditional hymns -- as mandated by the Councils and popes. This is a priority. Songs that sound like secular pop tunes naturally employ the keyboards and back-up groups. The result may be entertaining (if it is skillful); but it does not inspire worship.
Music that is entertaining is, by its nature and style, appealing and popular; but it is not sacred music. Mariachi bands, kazoo groups, rock bands, and the like are definitely not "suited to the grandeur of the act being celebrated".

What about Guitars?In my own parish, a guitarist is hired for one of the weekend Masses. He sits in the sanctuary and plays his guitar as he sings. The gentleman has a nice singing voice, but the congregation, usually a good singing congregation, muffles itself when he performs. They try not to out-sing the soloist, or drown out the guitar.

The guitar can be a beautiful solo instrument. It can blend nicely into an accompaniment ensemble behind a soloist or choir. But is is not a good instrument for leading congregational singing, as most musicians observe: "What is it with you Catholics and guitars?" an Episcopalian friend asked. And a Methodist colleague added, "we only bring in the guitar for the children's group. It just doesn't work for a congregation". Indeed!
Lest I be accused of being anti-guitar, I have a large collection of recordings of Paco Peña, Carlos Montoya, Andrés Segovia. To me, this is guitar. But most people who play the guitar in our churches today are not well trained musicians. So we get nothing but a rhythmic strum-strum-strum (and not always in tune). When the untrained lead the untrained, how can we present the best to God? How can we give God -- the source of all truth, beauty, and goodness -- music that is true, beautiful, and good?

While some liturgists may try to tell us that music becomes sacred by being used for worship, the notion that function (or use) creates form (or meaning) is hardly self-evident. Most musicians, musicologists and music therapists would strongly disagree -- not to mention Cardinal Ratzinger, the popes, and Vatican directives! The nature of the thing will determine its use, not vice versa.
So what does this mean?
If it sounds like a Broadway ballad, it belongs on Broadway, not the altar. If it sounds like a "golden oldie", sing it at home. If it stirs feelings of a non-sacred nature, it does not belong in a sacred place. If sounds like a rock group or a mariachi band, then it may be fine for entertainment at the parish picnic or in the gym, but not at Mass, and not in the temple wherein the Sacrifice of Calvary is re-presented.

If the instruments used to accompany congregational singing do not lead the faithful into fuller participation in the Sacrifice of the Mass, or a deeper sense of the sacred; if instead they entertain us, or bring our hearts and minds into the world -- the mundane, secular, and sensual -- then how can they be suitable (or "made apt") for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass?
Exactly a century ago, Pope Saint Pius X's Instruction on liturgical music observed that "there is a general tendency to deviate from the right rule" that erodes a sense of the sacred at Mass. He succinctly described his objective concerning Church music:

We deem it necessary to provide before anything else for the sanctity and dignity of the temple, in which the faithful assemble for no other object than that of acquiring this spirit from its foremost and indispensable fount, which is the active participation in the most holy mysteries and in the public and solemn prayer of the Church.

In our churches in 2003, no less than in 1903, we need to banish whatever is unsuitable -- whether instruments, or styles -- and work to restore the sacred sound of music in our churches, so that we may experience the full truth and beauty of the sacred Liturgy.

Lucy E. Carroll, D.M.A., is organist and music director at the public chapel of the Carmelite monastery in Philadelphia, and is adjunct associate professor at Westminster Choir College, Princeton."

The reactions that this article among other similar ones provoked ranged from bizarre to plain stupid.

1) The opposers of the pipe organ have not seen or heard one and even worse would sound terrible singing to it (so I suppose their opposition is justified). The fact that we do not have a pipe organ or the resources to get one never struck these geniuses.

2) The most vocal exponents of change are those who cannot make out one musical note from another and have no clue about scales, tone, rythm, voice modulation and every little thing that a simple choir would deem essential. Their claim to fame is to mouth the latest pop song with the same hideous fake accents, nasal twang, slur and all.

3) Then the unmusical decide what good music is all about. People who have not been trained in church music or for that matter any music whatsoever deem that what is old is to be scorned. True Beethoven or Mozart may not have done their grade schools like our current musicians from Trinity college but that does not equate a rock and a diamond.

4) The blind lead the blind, we are lead by a shepherd whose ignorance of music is overshadowed by his fear to rock the boat

5) I was told that EGO = Exit God! And it is ego that is preventing change, the fear of frontline musicians being relegated to their rightful place behind the congregation, the fear of screamers getting overshadowed by good music that will be not popular but holy.

6) It is prescribed as the prime duty of the choir is to lead the congregation in worship and yet the argument that musicians have spent theirmoney on getting the latest instruments and this expense must be justified in turning out the kind of music that goes against all papal instructions is very hard to digest.

6) What really hurt me was the allegation that good sacred music puts people to sleep! Now if the choir is supposed to be a wake up service for people who choose to sleep when the divine sacrifice is being relived before them then I beg to be relieved from this sacrilegious duty.

My take on this is simple :

If I want to buy a gift for my beloved and I have only 5 rupees with me (for that is what I have been given) I will buy a rose for 5 rupees and give it to my beloved. But I will buy the best rose that my 5 rupees will get and just because I will get a withered rose for free, I will not get the withered rose and use the 5 rupees for something else. I love my beloevd and for my beloved I will give nothing less than the best of what my ability will permit.

Replace 5 rupees with your musical talent and beloved with God and ask yourself are you giving a beautiful rose or a withered one?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Random ramblings of the jobless

534, 535, 536 its just me counting the number of screws in the furniture in my office. I know you may be jealous when you hear that I’M JOBLESS!!!

Let me first clarify, I have not joined the millions of unemployed Indians as yet, I have submitted my resignation to ABN AMRO and am serving out the mandatory 30 days notice period. I have one offer letter on hand as of today and am expecting one more. Now the offer on hand is from a typical “Marwari” company and has all the usual “frills and flounces”. The expected offer is an unknown from a startup, so it holds a lot of promise.

Anyway coming back to the cause for this post, I have been so bored doing absolutely nothing in office that I read 4 business newspapers, check 3 email accounts, scrap friends and strangers alike on orkut, make a few long phone calls and still find that despite blowing up lots of office money I just don’t seem to kill enough time and so you will understand the screws. At number 536 I suddenly remembered the wonderful world of blogging and here we are.

It has been awhile since my last post and this was due to various problems that culminated in my resignation letter and I was also a victim of the dreaded disease called “sloth”. Since I have exhausted the screws I think that I will start blogging again.