Sunday, August 02, 2009

The "greedy cartel of guitar-strumming copyright hawks"

No, that phrase is not mine. It is Damian Thompson's description of those he believes have had Catholic music "sewn up for so long," giving examples of two Mass settings he knows all too well. He draws attention to the sea-change that could occur with the new texts from ICEL.

An expectation, or suspicion, depending on your perspective, is growing that ICEL actually intends that the new texts not be set to Broadway-style music but plainsong in the tradition of Gregorian chant, i.e. that Vatican II not be a dead letter as regards music in the Roman Rite. This is why these settings are being published immediately with the new texts, says The Tablet. Further, ICEL specifically mentions in his documentation that the new texts are intended to "preserve and recover the tradition of unaccompanied singing in the Roman Rite."

Thompson notes that many publishers are unhappy about ICEL's direction. Certainly ICEL should be defended against the publishers in this case. If ICEL wanted to go even further to push plainchant and sacred music, it would issue the new texts into the Commons so that anyone could publish them and distribute good music, not just those who have done it during the great 40-year parenthesis from 1970 to 2010.

If you want more plainchant, you can right now go to and receive a full package of plainchant in English using the new texts. Tell your director of music and your pastor to do this before they consider spending even one dime on something new.

As a final note, it is the most common thing to sniff at Thompsons's rhetoric and to tut-tut him for his impolite and impolitic ways, as if "we all know" that we are not to speak this way about those who so selflessly and generously do their best to lift us up in song week after week at Mass. To me, this prevailing attitude toward Thompson is a denial of reality, and that reality is that the Catholic world has been dealing with the imposition of a musical ethos that has nothing to do with the whole history of the Roman Rite, and this ethos has offended and driven away millions of people from their own parishes. All he is really doing is calling attention to what others are too afraid to mention or whose careers are somehow dependent on not mentioning. He has been out front on this, saying things in ways that many others would not say them, and not always in ways I would say them either (for example, I have no strong interest in the hymn wars) but he is at least willing to take on the challenge of breaking the great taboo.

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