The chant comeback

The chant comeback

This article looks at the trend to bring back Gregorian chant and asks what does sacred music sound like? I’d give the writer more credit if he didn’t offer up whoppers like this:

It’s a debate that has raged since 1963, when Vatican II reforms brought contemporary music to Catholic churches. Just as the Latin Mass almost immediately disappeared amid attempts to modernize, chants gave way to guitars and snappy folk tunes. The new music helped fill pews, but it left church conservatives and formally trained musicians reeling.

What? Didn’t it do exactly the opposite? The pews were full before Vatican II and have emptied ever since. While the reasons for the decline in attendance are vigorously debated, no one can deny that it happened. To claim that new music put people in the pews is to deny reality.

In any case, apart from that flub, he does get some good responses from proponents of chant and polyphony as well as those who favor the new stuff. One of the St. Louis Jesuits claims that chant is eurocentric and requires trained singers that most parishes can afford. That’s bunk. In fact, chant was designed for non-professional voices, for monks of varying abilities to be able to pray together and have it sound good. It’s this new stuff that requires professional musicians and cantors and we can’t sing it anyway because it’s always an octave or register or something too high. (I’m not a singer so I don’t know the terminology.)

Learning to sing Gregorian chant is difficult, maybe, but not impossible, says William Mahrt, a Stanford University music professor. “It may not be immediately sing-along-able; it may take some practice,” he says. A parish should be able to pick up most chants over the course of three or four Sundays. Music is like anything else, he says; you get out of it what you put into it.

It’s only difficult because we’re not familiar with it. Besides, no one says we have to do only Gregorian chant. There’s a lot of good sacred music that pre-dates the St. Louis Jesuits/Haugen/Haas/Schutte that isn’t chant. We could even sing that. Please, can we sing that?

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  • ”…they go[sic] on occasion get it right.”

    I know what you meant, but actually, on occasion they get SOME of it right.  Which is like saying that the Unitarians on occasion get SOME of it right (like, there is such a thing as “worship,” even if they disagree with its nature).

    IMHO, Haugen/Haas et. al. made a shrewd financial decision, one that’s paid off handsomely.  The decision was to make music that was inoffensive to a number of Christian denominations, thereby ensuring a larger potential sales demographic than if they had written authentically Catholic, or authentically Presbyterian hymns.

    What has happened (via the principle of lex orandi, lex credendi) is that everybody who’s listened to and sang this pablum for the past twenty years now believes along the same lines.  That’s why, as a college chaplain now, I’m not at all surprised to find young folks who think that “all roads are to the same Good,” and nonsense of that sort.

    We need to reclaim CATHOLIC music!

  • Father Clark, “on occasion they get it right” was to mean that some of their hymns (well, not Haugen, but his crowd) are Catholic and suitable for worship.  I can think of only a few from their genre but its mostly things based on the Psalms, which Protestants have ALWAYS been alright singing.