Sing a Lost Song

Wednesday, September 16, AD 2015

I like to return to the subject of bad music in the Church periodically.  I think it is a symptom of the post Vatican II “identity crisis” of the human portion of the Church.  We no longer know who we are, what we should do or where we are going, and our music reflects this lost, aimless attitude by endlessly playing the most banal music in the history of the Church, as if to make certain that we receive no hint of inspiration to lead us out of our spiritual morass.

What is the Catholic hymn you hate the most?  (I know, I know there are so many choices!)  For me it is hands down Sing a New Song by ex-Jesuit Dan Schutte, a founding member of the Saint Louis Jesuits, the group responsible for writing more truly wretched music than any other organization in the history of Man.  A miserable piece of doggerel that has been played to death at Masses since it fell from Schutte’s pen in 1972.  Ah the seventies!  One more crime for that kidney stone of a decade!

Why is Catholic music at Mass so bad when we have such a magnificent musical heritage?


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28 Responses to Sing a Lost Song

  • Although our diocese does love the works of Schutte et al, at least the parishes I’ve been to prefer pianos and pipe organs. I can only recall two times my family has had to endure “the band.”
    I did once try to have my children (boys) listen to a Gregorian chant CD published by a popular homeschool business. It went over very, very badly, as it was, well, not exactly Chanticleer:

  • Ack! Premature post. I love Chanticleer. I don’t like the Song of the Body of Christ.

  • “Hosea” by Gregory Norbet. How on earth the Benedictine composer managed to distill that cringe-filled bit of passive relationship yearning from a book of prophecy where God compares Israel to a faithless whore is one of the great mysteries of our time.

  • Why is Catholic music at Mass so bad when we have such a magnificent musical heritage?

    Because that tripe is what your parish priest wants to hear, as do the aspirant divas, guitar hobbyists, hand holders, and music directors. The Diocese of Rochester commissioned a survey a number of years back on musical preferences. The results were as follows: 24% wanted just traditional music; 18% wanted modern music all the time: 29% wanted a mix; 29% did not care or did not like music. The usual proportion in parishes in the Diocese of Syracuse is 85% post 1965, 15% other (and the other presented no better than the tripe). The only variation I’ve seen is that if there’s a second Mass, one might be without music.

  • My most hated hymns are any and all that refer to the “people of God” in a context that implies how lucky God is to have them as His flock.
    Inverse worship sets my passions ablaze.

  • “Cry of the Poor” gives me headaches and nausea. “Bread of Life to Eat” destroys countless brain cells. “Gather Us In” makes me want to scatter.
    The Traditional Latin Mass avoids these tunes that belong in the Barack Hussein Obama National Landfill. The Missa Sancta (I think that’s what it is) of the Gloria and the Kyrie are awe-inspiring. Bad music does not belong in any Catholic Church.

  • All Are Welcome was entrance hymn Sunday mass this week. ?toxic to me.

    Plus the Council is reworking parish mission statement – “we are a welcoming parish”. Whether we are Faithful or not is not discussed
    TheSunday evening mass to be one that teens/ young adults will come to, with music that they like ….

  • It is quite literally true that, when I see Bob Hurd’s or Dan Schutte’s name beside a hymn, I close the hymnal and focus on the cross. Similarly, when I see that “God,” “He,” “His,” or “Brothers” or any other person or persons in a song have been replaced by an intentionally “innoffensive substitute,” I don’t sing it.

  • and then they clap for themselves…in the House of God. Nothing less than a barn raising. The cow and the sheep had more respect and reverence.

  • There is one about leaving your boat at the seashore or something. It comes across as a nauseating whine. But like you say, there are so many bad ones regularly featured, it is difficult to single one out as the worst.

  • Although I think it is a toss-up between bad hymns, and truly modernist butchering of regular prayers like the Gloria or Our Father set to pop or elevator music. I especially hate it when they do that repeat lyric thing like kindergarteners singing row your boat.

  • Beth Nielson Chapman has a CD named Hymns. It contains a lot of songs that have been relegated to the dustbin since Vatican II. This was my review on Amazon:

    Joni Mitchell sang “Don’t it always seem to go, you don’t know what you got till it’s gone.” That is what occurred to me when I listened to this disc. Sometime after Vatican II these classic melodies were shelved in favor of music that was considered more… accessible. The beauty of these hymns is timeless and sung by the bell-like voice of Beth Nielsen Chapman evokes a time when the Catholic Church and its rituals held a sense of mystery and awe.

    Additionally, Chapman contributes a new song of her own, “Hymn to Mary” that is so beautiful and reverent that one might conclude she was born a few centuries too late.

    Here is Tantum Ergo

  • “Gentle as Silence” is pretty cringe-worthy.

    Fortunately, many of our young priests coming through for our diocese are more conservative. They are actually being taught the Extraordinary Form of the Mass in their last years at the seminary to balance the Novus Ordo. That is a turn up for the books in our barbarian culture out in the fringes of civilisation, where back in the 70’s the NZ bishops decided, “Well we are so far away from Romeswe can pretty much do what we want” – and they did.
    Many abuses itroduced by our bishops then, are slowly being removed/reversed.

    Roll on “The Warning”.

  • I hate the elevator music as much as I do the insipid effeminate homilies.

  • Paul we do not have effeminate ones- we have pep rallies! “In the Name of the Fsther and the Son and the Holy Spitit…” Amen.. Well that was weak… Amen.
    “I can’t HEAR you! .. AMEN!

  • First, there is no EF in this diocese. Once, a few years ago the FSSP paid a visit fifty miles north serving to alleviate a forty year dry spell. There was standing room only. Truly holy and fulfilling. I remembered school days (Latin study) and my grandparents’ church before the wreckovations began.
    Daily masses offer the opportunity to say the prayers; but, on Sundays, with the repetitiously phrased arrangements, a wrench gets thrown, as happens with, among others, “One bread, one body”.

  • Now All We Praise Our God – especially when the tempo is plodding. Actually any hymn that sounds Protestant. The old Negro Spirituals are excepted. When even an English boys choir can’t make a hymn sound good, then it really is bad.
    Most of us attend the early Mass because it is the “silent” Mass. Only the Sanctus and Agnus Dei in Latin are occasionally sung and we do a good job of it.

  • Why is Catholic music at Mass so bad when we have such a magnificent musical heritage?

    Perhaps because so little of the “magnificent musical heritage” is used at Mass because so little of it is arranged for piano, guitar, bass guitar, cello, oboe, tambourine, and drum set.

  • Call me a heretic or a CINO but I actually like many of the hymns that traditionalists constantly deride as bad (though I can see where some of them have a Broadway show tune quality). Nor do I see anything wrong with hymns that “sound Protestant” as long as they don’t contain lyrics that are impossible to harmonize with Catholic teaching (and I can’t think of any that do.) That said, I draw the line at “Ashes” due to its blatantly Pelagian theology — we do not “create OURSELVES anew” — and at “City of God” for similar reasons and because I associate it with far-leftist Catholic gatherings.

  • I, not God, am the bread of life. Sing a new song, since all the old ones were wrong. Here we are, all togehter as we sing our – not God’s-song; and join we now as friends to worship each other, whom we can now watch across the arena churches. Kumbayah. Our lives are flowing like a river, but not towared Heaven. Guy McClung, San Antonio, Texas

  • “On Eagles’ Wings” and “Here I Am Lord.” “City of God.”

  • All the above plus “Amazing Grace”. It isn’t Catholic.

  • 3 All Are Welcome, Sing to The Mountains, Rain Down, City of God.

  • Are you ALL in my parish??

  • A rare afternoon today with a dear friend….who expressed the same concerns about the music and also the “attitude ” at church, a lack of basic reverence, tradiion being dropped. A Missouri Synod member who wonders if that is what people want – they don t just go down the street to any available rockin church.

  • Ditto Patricia’s selections. I would add Table of Plenty and Give Thanks to the Lord (Also by Dan Schutte I believe?) . Ugh……

  • Wow. Fr. Resen … Hear I Am Lord is on your bad list? Hard to image that.
    I’ll take a slightly different angle on this subject and evaluate music during mass which includes a choir and that during masses which do not. I for one love to sing, but don’t read music well. I find it hard to carry many of the traditional hymns when the choir is not present. The deeper spiritual text are very welcome …. like to have a more balanced approach.

  • Thank you Patricia of reminding me of “Rain Down.” That is an awful song. When I first heard it, I turned to my wife and said “Sounds like a bar song.” I can just imagine an inebriated crowd swaying back and forth with mugs lifted singing this.

Give Me That Old Time Religion

Saturday, May 11, AD 2013

Something for the weekend. Give Me That Old Time Religion.  This sequence from Sergeant York (1941) demonstrates the power of this traditional hymn first published in 1873.  It was originally a hymn sung by Black congregations, and was introduced to White congregations in 1891 by Charles Davis Tillman.  It began the convergence of Black gospel singing with White gospel singing to form Southern Gospel singing.

Here is a version sung by The Caravans in 1954.

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Narcissism in Music (or, “How Gregorian Chant can Save the World”)

Friday, May 6, AD 2011

Last week National Public Radio ran a story called “Narcissism on Rise in Pop Music Lyrics.” It opened up with,

On this very day in 1985, the number one song on the Billboard Top 100 was…”We Are the World” (“We are the world. We are the children.”)  Fast-forward to 2007 when Timbaland’s “Give It to Me” featuring Nelly Furtado topped the charts: “…love my a$$ and my abs in the video for ‘Promiscuous.’ My style is ridiculous.”

So more than two decades ago, we were holding hands and swaying to a song of unity, and these days, we’re bouncing to pop stars singing about how fabulous they are.  Psychologist Nathan DeWall has had the pleasure of listening to it all for research, and he found that lyrics in pop music from 1980 to 2007 reflect increasing narcissism in society. And DeWall is an associate psychology professor at the University of Kentucky.

Dr. DeWall proceeded to explain:

I was listening to a song that, really, one of my favorite bands, Weezer, had on one of their albums recently, and it’s called “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived,” and I kept wondering, who would actually say that out loud?  “I am the greatest man that ever lived. I was born to give and give and give.”

The ironic thing is it’s a song about how I’m the greatest person in the world, but it’s to the tune of “‘Tis A Gift To Be Simple,” which is a song about humility. And so what I wanted to do, instead of relying on self-report measures of personality like narcissism, I wanted to actually go into our culture, our cultural products, which are tangible artifacts of our cultural environment. And so, for that, I thought maybe song lyrics would be a very good jumping-off spot.

What we found over time is that there’s an increasing focus on me and my instead of we and our and us. So, for example, instead of talking about love being between we and us and us finding new things together, it’s mostly about how, you know, for example, Justin Timberlake in 2006 said, “I’m bringing sexy back. Yeah. Them other boys don’t know how to act. Yeah.”

There is no doubt that DeWall is correct.  Pop music is becoming more narcissistic.  The broader, age old question is: Does art imitate life, or does life imitate art?  The answer is probably some of both.  Our culture is increasingly narcissistic.  In the spirit of the NPR article, which was about music, I wish to propose a possible antidote for narcissism: the liturgy, specifically liturgical music.

Unfortunately, we must first distinguish between music that might be heard in any given liturgy and liturgical music, properly speaking.  While the Catholic Church has been plagued with bad versions of the four-hymn sandwich for decades, the fact remains that Holy Mother Church has given us a liturgical hymnbook: The Graduale Romanum,  In this book, one will find the ancient Gregorian chants.  But what many will be surprised to find is that the Church has given us specific chants for every Sunday of the year in the places that we currently sing “hymns.”  For any given Mass, there are prescribed chants for the Introit (think here of the “Opening Hymn” you are used to hearing), the Gradual (“Responsorial Psalm”), the Offertorio (“Offertory”), and the Communio (“Communion Song”).  Most of these date back more than a thousand years.  Of course, in the Graduale Romanum, one will find the chant written in Latin.  However, vernacular versions of these exist.  What is key is that the liturgical rubrics, while they permit hymns, call for a preference given to these chants.  Vatican II itself held that the Gregorian chant tradition should enjoy a “pride of place” in our liturgies.

Why do I see this as an antidote for narcissism?  The surest way to deal with this problem is to give people the sense that they are not the center of reality, nor are they the source.  The Cartesian turn to the subject has flipped classical metaphysics on its head so that people come to view reality as what is in their own minds rather than what their minds encounter on the outside.  The liturgy is a reality that is given to us, not one that is created by us.  In fact, it is in the liturgy itself that we find our own fulfillment.  When we go to Mass, we participate in reality itself, something that is much bigger than us.  If we see the Liturgy as something that we fit into rather than something that fits into our lives, we can come to understand that we are not the center of reality: God is.

The problem is, as has been observed on several observations over the past decade, there is an increasing narcissism even within the liturgy itself: both priests and people come to think that the liturgy is something that can be created and recreated with the fickle winds of changing culture.  In fact, the lack of narcissistic language in the new translation of the Roman Missal has been pointed out in comparison with the current, defective translation.  Currently, there are several places in the texts that seem to order God to do certain things and to give a primacy to the people over the divine.  The new translation, being more faithful to the Latin, has sought to correct many of these errors.  What remains to be fixed is the same problem in the hymns that are often chosen for Sunday worship.  Many of the modern hymns focus on man rather than God (think here of “Gather Us In,” or the ever-elusive “Sing a New Church Into Being”).  Quite simply, these hymns are self-centered rather than God-centered.

Contrast this with the use of the Graduale Romanum.  These chants have been given to us by the Church, each carefully constructed around sacred texts in order to serve as a sort of lectio divina for the readings of the day.  Indeed, when Gregorian chant is properly performed, it seems as if it is not of this world.  Part of that is due to the inherent structure of the music, for chant lacks a strict meter (though it has an internal rhythm of its own).  Unlike a hymn, which marches forward towards a climactic conclusion, chant allows the listener to rest in contemplation, a mirror of the eternity which we, God willing, will experience someday.  But another part is due to the words, which become primary (unlike modern pop music, where the words are often a later add-on to an already existing rhythm/chord structure).

Perhaps the most important point, however, is the fact that the music of the Mass inevitably (forgive the pun) sets the tone of the entire celebration.  It stands to reason, then, if we employ a music that is provided for us by the Church (not to mention encouraged by the rubrics), then the people will better understand that the liturgy itself is given and not created.  If they come to understand the liturgy, which is the objective center of reality, in this manner, then they will come to see that they are not the center of reality.  Thus, my rapid fire, probably incomplete, but hopefully coherent, argument that an antidote for the rise in narcissism is Gregorian Chant.  Save the liturgy, save the world.

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