Monday, February 16, 2009

Peter Phillips writes of spiritual awakening

It is quite striking that the secular scholar and choirmaster
Peter Phillips would take note of dramatic changes in the Catholic Church:

People make assumptions about how other people think, and then influence the zeitgeist by broadcasting their findings. There is a circularity to this rule of thumb which is ultimately sterile, but which takes some deconstructing. One of the current such verities is that sacred music in worship is of no wide cultural relevance, either because it’s too clever and boring (polyphony), or too stupid and boring (folk masses); anyway it can be of no interest to anyone except fanatics.

This is not a thought about the secular achievements of groups like the Tallis Scholars, but of the gradual revival of good singing in the Catholic Church in recent years. Two events have shown the way: the music which accompanied Pope Benedict’s recent visit to Australia; and the remarkable, if largely unnoticed, push in France to found choir-schools (or maîtrises).

The music list for the Pope’s visit to Sydney was an eye-opener. Apparently the local clergy had proposed the usual dog’s dinner of ecumenically safe big-hearted tunes, sung by one community choir after another, until the Vatican intervened. When the Pope’s choice was known, one commentator (Noel Debien of St Francis, Paddington) wrote: ‘There were gasps of horrified surprise from 1970s Catholic liturgy-lovers (who prefer “Kumbayah, My Lord” and “Leaving On A Jet Plane”)’ as Victoria’s Missa Vidi speciosam and Palestrina’s motet Tu es Petrus (‘a look of bliss’ escaped the pontiff as it began) were sung liturgically. Also performed by papal command were the Gregorian Propers for the day, including ‘Introibo ad altar Dei’ as the procession reached the sanctuary. The motet at the procession of gifts (sung by a massed youth choir) was Mendelssohn’s ‘Sehet, welch eine Liebe’, sung in German, a fact which further inconvenienced the Seventies radicals. There are those who pray that Obama will not be shot; and there are those who pray that the Pope will not die of old age any time soon.

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