Saturday, October 13, 2007

In the name of all that is Holy, this is not music

Count me as a defender of the recent series of Damian Thompson in the Telegraph, the recent one of which is notably severe. "The main reason for breaking up the composer-liturgist-diocesan cartel is that it produces music that, unlike a lot of evangelical Christian choruses, is as painful to hear as it is to sing, and therefore undermines the worship of the Church.... So here's my suggestion to the clergy. At the beginning of tomorrow's service, announce a complete ban on guitars in church – and listen to a great cheer go up from the pews."

It is easy to say: oh we shouldn't speak this way, this is not productive, this is not the kind of thing that will convince anyone, and, well, it is just unsporting to speak this way about art. Yes, mainstream Catholic music has its problems, but does it really help give its composers and publishers such an all-out thrashing as this?

Let me offer a defense of Thompson's approach to writing here. A vast number of Catholics feel the same way as he does--perhaps even a majority--but they are tired and beaten down by the abuse they have suffered through the years and now suffer in silence. They need someone to speak for them. There are the millions of Catholics who have just stopped coming to Mass because they can't stand the music anymore. It is just too painful. Then there is the non-Catholic world itself, which has heaped scorn on mainstream Catholic music for decades. None of these latter types are afraid to speak their mind.

It just so happens, for example, that I was sitting on a plane for a nice fellow who was managing investments for some non-profits, among them churches, and he was the type who freely speaks on everything. He talked about which churches are growing and which are not. He said in passing that the Catholic Church has been devastated by a combination of clergy scandals and "horrible music" at their services. He said this as if no one would possibly dispute it! He was unguarded only because he had no idea that I was Catholic and no idea that I'm involved in music. Had he known, he wouldn't have stated such an obvious truth.

What struck me here is that he was only saying what everyone knows to be true--and for the most part, this is right. And in a similar ways, Thompson is doing the same. He is naming the names of the responsible parties and speaking bluntly about a subject that has become something of a taboo.

Does it do any good? I think so. We need to face the truth. We Catholics tend to be defensive. We think: it might be bad music, but it is our music. He is right that it is NOT our music and we have no reason to feel defensive toward it. We have reason to work to put a stop to it and put it its place the glorious music that is our true heritage.

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