Friday, July 29, 2016

Trucks, Trees, and Missalettes

Infographics from
The suburban parish where I serve has just received renewal notices in the mail for our hymnal-missalette subscription. Would we like to renew for next year, with a 10% early-bird special? Other letters come around the same time, showing trucks, trees, and pollution counts associated with renewables, and suggesting printed hymnals, which feel more solid and convey a message of permanence and respectability in the pews. It’s pretty much the same every year.

In the past few decades, publishers of Catholic hymnals and missalettes in the United States have operated much like land-line telephone companies of yesteryear. There are few choices, and the products are updated slowly and gradually to reflect market interests broadly understood. Bishops, musical experts, liturgists, and other interested parties exercise minimal influence or authority, because the market naturally determines which resources will be the most popular. In other words, market capitalism is the main organizing principle for these products. This is why some really second-rate materials persist, because there is still a strong market for second-rate music. Money talks, and to a certain extent, you’re going to get what you’re going to get.

I’d like to think that the New Liturgical Movement, with its sister site and many other similar sites, is like the cell phone. The cell phone is a totally new way of doing phone communication, one which shook traditional copper communication to its roots. Similarly, through the influence of Jeffrey Tucker from this blog and many others elsewhere, the CMAA has embraced online open-source distribution. It's a totally new way of distributing sacred music for the parish. The stuff we create is usually available for free, and all you need is a printer and Internet connection. For those who would like the convenience of a book in hand, most products are also available in printed versions for minimal cost.

We do things differently because we understand how high quality sacred music is integral to the liturgy. We follow a different organizing principle: as St. Pope Pius X would remind us, “don’t sing at Mass, sing the Mass; don’t pray at Mass, pray the Mass.” These sentiments have been echoed by anyone with common sense for the past century. The printed hymnals and online materials developed through the "reform of the reform" reflect a strong commitment to this goal. Having attended the CMAA Colloquium in St. Louis this past year, I can attest to the curb appeal of these materials and the immediate appeal of the beauty of this sort of liturgy. When you’ve seen and heard what is possible, what in fact ought to be in every parish, you would never want to settle for less. Bravo to the brave entrepreneurs who are developing these materials, and kudos to the brave musicians and pastors who invest the effort to make it happen in real time!

Now that it’s missalette renewal season, I would like to propose a few ways the CMAA and the wider "reform of the reform" might grow its influence and break into the wider market:

1. We still need books. Develop “package deals” for liturgy and music materials, simple enough that a pastor of a small- or medium-sized parish can click once, online, and receive comprehensive printed liturgy and music materials for the year, for the entire parish, at reasonable cost. This means developing printed pew hymnals, cantor and choir resources, accompaniment copies, and--dare I say it!--missalettes (or at least something which has daily and weekly readings) which all fit together into a seamless product. If you know of projects of this sort underway or already available, please share in the comments. 
2. Educate always. If you maintain that the basis of authentic liturgy is not popularity or principles of the market—if your music selections are not based on your parish's “top 40," which, by the way, might just be 1960s and 1970s oldies at this point—you will need to carry on regular and ongoing education within your parish, in a way that is understandable for an outsider. Why are you doing what you’re doing? What does it mean, and why is it valuable? How does it help you and me to have a deeper faith? Without this sort of teaching, the response will be “there’s no disputing of taste.” There’s no need to be stuffy or pedantic. Rather, be cheerful and ready to give an account in simple and ordinary language. 
3. Invite, invite, invite! the wider community to workshops, concerts, and parish feast-day masses, and offer ways for them to participate in their own way. You never know when the local Presbyterian minister’s wife will have a hankering to learn more about Gregorian Chant. You never know when the local plant nursery would be interested to donate the last of this year’s annuals to your parish for the Feast of the Assumption; the owners might even come to Mass to see the flowers if you invite them. From my experience, only ten percent of people I invite to events actually come. If you would like twenty-five people at your workshop, you need to invite 250. Don’t be discouraged: these numbers are normal in any profession. Our mission is not to ourselves, but to the world. Don’t be shy. 
4. Offer something unique and refreshing, and be proud of it. I know little to nothing about game theory or market economics, but what I do know is that both attempt to account for “winning.” And so we might ask, what unique advantages does your product offer? What is your parish’s unique “charism”? What unique gift can you bring? The CMAA and its various resources for sacred music are breaking out of an otherwise stagnant market. Be proud of the unique thing you’re doing, and do it well. Maybe the market is ready for something new, and you are the one offering it.

I’m off to renew our parish’s subscription, and I expect you’re eager to know what we picked. Well, the pastor and I haven’t decided yet. If you have any suggestions, please let me know!

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