Monday, January 29, 2007

New Times, New Means of Training

Among the priests you know who can say the Mass in Latin, how many were trained in seminary as versus themselves? I would venture a guess that it is most. Many, in fact, will admit in private that they learned theology through private reading as well. So it is: our times require new means of education. Would anyone really recommend that if you want to learn about Catholicism that the local RCIA program is best means? Or if parents want their kids to be educated in the faith, the best means is the local CCD (or CCF) program? There are good programs out there to be sure, and yet...I'll stop there.

These thoughts are prompted by this interesting piece on the training of a Church musician, by Msgr. Richard Schuler from 1990. He makes excellent points, such as the reality that good training begins at home and that total dedication to the ideal is a prerequisite. And yet when he comes to college years, he seems to be speaking of a different time and place from our own.

I know many PhDd musicians who know next to nothing about sacred music, and what they do know is wrong. Most of them are trained to think of chant and Renaissance music as undeveloped predecessors to more modern music (whereas the reality is that they are wholly developed versions of more ancient music). Most music schools don't even bother with the subject. And it is worse in programs that do specialize in religious music.

Well, let me make the point this way. If your parish were looking for a good Church musician to serve full time, and advertised for a college or graduate-school trained Church musician, particularly one with liturgical credentials, what do you suppose you would get? The question alone makes me shudder. There is only one thing worse than a musician who arrives with the power to impose all praise music, all that time, and that's a musician with credentials who arrives with the power to impose all praise music all the time.

Yes, there are exceptions, but I'm speaking of a general trends. And yes, there are some good trends right now, such as the new degree programs at Steubenville and Ave Maria. But they are few and far between. Most training in sacred music these days is taking place outside the university, in the form of colloquia and workshops. It is the institutions who are sponsoring these that are on the real cutting edge.

I've wondered whether one reason that "our side" lost in the 60s and 70s was that our organizers and specialists were so wedded to established institutions with prestige and power, whereas the "other side" worked from the grass roots, parish by parish, through unconventional channels. They won and they took over. Now, of course "they" are the establishment and "we" are the outsiders. It seems, then, that new realities call for new approaches.

Of course I'm not arguing that people eschew the academy or otherwise avoid professional training. But so far as I can tell, the real momentum for sacred music is occurring among enthusiastic non-professionals, as led and inspired by the example of only a handful of trained, credentialed experts that are out there.

So while I hope that Rev. Schuler's vision of graduate schools that teach the art of sacred music can again come to pass, there is still an intervening stage in which musicians from all walks of life get busy and apply themselves in every conceivable way to do what is right--and certainly not let "them" intimidate you into not acting.

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