Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Musical Shape of the Liturgy

Over the week, I was on the faculty at another parish workshop on music, this one for what I think of as a conventional parish. The singers are all volunteers. There is someone paid (too little) to play piano. The guitar players are attached to "Praise and Worship." All the music they do but for a few additional popular songs are from the song book published by one of the "big three." Everyone sings in unison. But there is an underlying frustration that something isn't right. No one seems to know what it is.

I've learned that in these cases, the most important work I need to do is present an introduction to the musical structure of the Roman Rite. It doesn't matter how long the musicians have been at it. It doesn't matter how good the pianist is. It doesn't matter how much time they spend in rehearsal. It is almost a universal fact that the musicians who perform at Mass today do not really understand what it is they are being asked to do. It is not their fault. No one ever explained this to them. There is a massive loss of knowledge out there.

After explaining, and after Arlene Oost-Zinner taught them all how to read square notes and sing the propers, everything changed. The musicians were thrilled and excited. They were shown the north star of Catholic music. They were fired up to get going singing the liturgy rather than merely singing songs as Mass. A few hours of instruction and conversation changed everything.

Sadly, I did not yet have in my hand the great work that accomplishes what I think should be the central goal of our time as regards Catholic music: raising consciousness that the Roman Rite has its own inherent music that is integral to the rite itself. It is the most appropriate music. It is also a wonderful world of art and theology. This is the most exciting discovery any musician can make.

Fortunately, I can now say that this book is now available: The Musical Shape of the Liturgy by William Mahrt. It is a 467-page hardback for $25. It covers everything that needs to be known in our time, whether the music pertains to the ordinary or extraordinary form. The next seminar I gave I will now have the key resource to underscore what I'm saying.

For decades, I've wanted this book to exist. Now it does. Nothing else in print comes close in its scholarship, seriousness, passion, and practicality. Every priest needs a copy. Certainly every musician needs one. I dare say that many liturgy offices need to pick up a copy so that they can discover the world of liturgical music for the first time.