Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Liturgical Music and Cultural Association

At this blog, we find the following comment.

Music evokes a particular response in people depending on the kind of music it is. For example, rock music is designed to excite the passions. Dr Mahrt spoke about music types that are inappropriate to Mass. In general, these would be forms of music that make you think of some other place. An example would be parlor music. When you hear this type of music, thoughts of church do not enter your head. The same would be true about rock music. Certain instruments likewise evoke thoughts other than of church. That is why Gregorian chant has the highest place among music at Mass. Similarly, the pipe organ has pride of place among instruments. To hear either of these things naturally causes one to associate them with being at church.

The commentary is based on some remarks that William Mahrt gave this week at a seminary in St. Louis. And the point here is extremely important. Some of the music of the music one hears in parishes today makes me think of 1970s sitcoms. Other associations include the children's movie "Land Before Time." Or maybe Veggie Tales' "Silly Songs with Larry." If I were going to put a single-word description on much of the "new" music I've seen published by the mainstream in the last 10-15 years it would be: infantilizing. Now, please don't write, oh, but what about this piece and that piece? I'm speaking of a general tendency.

And there is a valid point here made by Dr. Mahrt, and he has made it many times. Many of the objections to chant that I've heard gravitate toward the observation that it just sounds too churchy for people, that it draws one into issues at the core of the economy of salvation and all its extraordinary drama, and not everyone longs to be part of that. But that is an objection that should carry no weight since it is really objection to the entire project of liturgy itself, which is inseparable from the longing touch eternity.

Now, another objection to Mahrt's point might be that Gregorian chant has other associations besides church. For example, I only learned yesterday that the video game Halo seems to have set off yet another round of popular interest in chant. You can see that the theme song of the game employs the sound of Mode I:

But what is interesting here is that the use of chant-like passages here have sent people out looking for the real thing, and several companies are already preparing releases of chant in this mode. It has pointed to Catholic music, through a very circuitous route. In the same way, the use of popular music at Church points where? To popular and secular culture. Why settle for the phony version at liturgy when you can get the real thing outside of church? In the same way, why settle for the phony version in video games when you can get the real thing at Church?

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