13 Responses to The Past Is Another Country…Music Edition

10 Responses to Downtown

  • Heh, the first thing that came to mind upon reading this post was the Seinfeld episode with the Downtown clue.

    I didn’t think that cover was bad, not sure I’d have a preference one way or another. Had never heard of Emma Bunton and didn’t get where you thought that version was spicy until google assisted in me in deciphering your clever quip. Duh…

  • Rick my kids often tell me that my humor is so subtle as to be non-existent, which is their subtle way of saying, “Not funny Dad!”!

  • Don’t let them fool ya, Don. They no doubt love it. Wait til you see how they become Dad x 2 when they have their own kids. My 13 yr old is quite gifted, a total bookworm and somewhat pedantic. She groans at my antics but beneath that steely veneer of teenage parental embarrassment syndrome, there’s a twinkle in the eye and an elevated corner of the lips that still makes the corny or subtle well worth it.

  • For some odd reason this song this P. Clark was piped over the sound system in Walgreens last week. It made my day. I love this song.

  • I liked both versions. Granted the cover was a mini-music video that enhanced the audio, so that may have been a bit unfair.

    Good taste in music Don.

  • Petula has the fuller voice (of course, it’s also a studio recording vs. live performance,) but Baby Spice does a fine job. I’m glad she stuck to the original orchestration and didn’t do anything offbeat with the song.

    I remember singing along to stuff like this, “Georgie Girl,” and (Heaven help me) “Boots” by Nancy Sinatra at four or five years of age!

  • Aah – YES!!
    Petula Clark – what a fabulous voice and a beautiful woman. She was top of the Hit Parade here when I was ninteen, and on transfer in my bank job to Wellington NZ – and that year was 1961. I was in love with her 😉

    But hey Don, we’re really dating ourselves now.
    Didn’t really like the bank job that much, and being a town boy, didn’t particularly like the city – even though I met some great guys – and gals – there.
    Left the bank six months later and joined my dad in his joinery business – but that was through no fault of Pet Clark. IIRC, she sang mainly Burt Bacharac numbers, followed a few years later by Dione Warwick.

    BTW – got the Spicey bit – the capitol ‘S’ gave it away. And my kids used to react to my humour the same as yours – I guess its a universal event. Funny thing is, my second boy who had the sharpest wit and was the most scathing of my “debased” humour, now at 36years old, is most like me. Even has his wife and 8 y/o old groaning at him. He reckoned I suffered from ARBD (alcohol related brain damage )

    Its a great life aint it? (to hell with the recession 🙂 )

  • “to hell with the recession”

    That’s my motto Don! Good times come and good times go, but the most important things, God and family, remain.

    In regard to Petula Clark she has always had a warm spot in my heart. I loved the musical version of Goodby Mr. Chips that she did with Peter O’Toole back in ’69.

    As to my kids, my most scathing critic is my 14 year old daughter who also possesses a sense of humor that is almost identical to my own. I point this out to her and she reacts with mock horror!

  • Thanks Don, I’ve had the Spicey version melody stuck in me since Sunday. It’s not bad, kinda of neat actually.

    It’s almost noon on Monday and it’s still going on inside my head!

  • Petula Clark was (and remains) a favourite of mine. I collected every one of her albums way back when as soon as they appeared in the record stores. Emma Bunton was OK, and cute, but Pet definitely still rocks! Thanks for posting this wonderful tune — one of many brilliantly arranged by the gifted Tony Hatch, who produced most Clark albums. BTW, next time you post a Clark video, how about “My Love”? It’s cheerful, catchy, and if it gets stuck in your head will drive you crazy — in a good way, though! Thanks again.

Easy on the Ears, Easy on the Eyes

Sunday, March 15, AD 2009

While we’re discussing classical music and objective beauty, it is perhaps time to address the phenomenon of the “babe violinist”. No, I’m not talking about some kind of Vanessa Mae type with an electric violin and a wet t-shirt. I’m talking about women with real God-given gifts, musical and otherwise.

My own personal favorite is Hilary Hahn, here playing Franz Schubert’s Der Erlkonig:

This is a perfect show-off piece, which allows you to hear just how good Ms. Hahn is. Her albums with Vaughn Williams’ The Lark Ascending and her various Bach performances are all worth hearing.

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24 Responses to Easy on the Ears, Easy on the Eyes

  • A welcome change from violinists who look, well who look somewhat like me actually! The appearance of the violinist of course has no impact on listening to the music, but it certainly has an impact on viewing the performance.

  • Beautiful! The fiddlin’ ain’t that bad either.

    😉

  • Don’t forget Viktoria Mullova:

  • When it comes to fiddle-playing babes, I’m partial to Allison Krauss and Natalie MacMaster.

  • And here’s Natalie MacMaster:

  • Jay,

    Sorry for the delay in your last post, our spam filter caught it. It’s a ‘smart’ filter, so it shouldn’t do it again whenever you yourself post any links from here on out.

  • Jay…Dude. Those two are really smokin’. I sort of feel guilty, or at least stupid, for having used to joke about the Band Camp girls. 😉

  • I suspect that in the years to come an increasing number of industries will come to be dominated by beautiful women.

  • I suspect that in the years to come an increasing number of industries will come to be dominated by beautiful women.

    It’s all about the value add?

  • “I suspect that in the years to come an increasing number of industries will come to be dominated by beautiful women.”

    Only if they have the brains and determination to deliver a profitable end of the year statement. Looks can only go so far for a CEO if the bottom line resembles the Titanic post iceberg.

  • I suspect that in the years to come an increasing number of industries will come to be dominated by beautiful women.

    They already have a lock on the lingerie modeling and nudie bar businesses, let’s hope they get a lock on the hardware, sports franchise and brew-pub businesses next.

    😉

  • I suspect that in the years to come an increasing number of industries will come to be dominated by beautiful women.

    Any particular reason why? Certainly, beauty is always helpful in entertainment, regardless of gender (although the standards are usually tougher on women as they age). And being good looking almost never hurts. But why would that be increasing?

  • One more…younger, so she may qualify as “babe.” She’s a Catholic and freshman at Juilliard: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLvsH_SxhuU (Full disclosure–she’s also my daughter).

  • You have much to be proud of MacBeth!

  • In a service based economy, an increasingly large number of jobs depend (in whole or in part) on either the ability of a person to be persuasive (think sales, or lawyering) or on the perceptions of other people (be it clients, customers, or employers). There is a growing body of literature that suggests physical attractiveness, particularly in women, is very helpful in this regard (see, for example, this study, finding that people tended to give larger amounts in charity when solicited for donations by attractive women).

    Even where physical attractiveness doesn’t improve job performance directly, it’s likely to function as a tie breaker in cases involving comparably talented (or even slightly less talented people). The Laura St. John case is one example of this. The fact that she is beautiful neither improves or degrades the quality of her music. Nevertheless, it would seem that she sells a lot more CDs when she puts a provocative picture of herself on the cover than otherwise. Similarly, both Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin are obviously very intelligent individuals. But it would be naive not to think that at least part of the reason they have been so successful is that they are so good looking. This doesn’t mean that Coulter would still be popular if she were a no brained bimbo. But given her talent in other areas, the fact that she is gorgeous is a big advantage.

    As for why this is happening now, I think part of it has to do with the move to a service based economy, but mainly I think it’s due to the increased prevalence of women in the workforce.

  • MacBeth: a lovely girl playing a lovely piece! Thank you for posting that!

    I am not in good health these days and that cheered me up greatly!

  • My prayers for the recovery of your health Donna.

  • Thank you, Donald. And I have to say that a debate over whether or not Holst belongs in the top 10 is much more elevating than the still-memorable war I got into on the playground of St. Frederick’s grade school circa 1966 or so. The topic was “Who is better, the Beatles or the Rolling Stones?” I got into serious trouble for throwing a rock at a classmate who said the Stones were dirty boys. (My classmate was a better critic than I was at 7.)

  • Of course, I’m referring to the thread about Holst. You gentlemen seem to be in perfect agreement here about the “babetitude” and genuine talent of the lady violinists. 🙂

  • On my playground in the Sixties Donna I was noted for my utter indifference to anything having to do with Rock. Of course I was a marked boy for various reasons, most especially my habit of reading a book, so one more oddity was hardly worth talking about.

    In regard to the female violinists, they are a welcome change from the elderly maestros who tended to dominate that field of endeavor up until fairly recently.

  • My Dad relays a story of himself in grade school confidently telling his classmates that the Beatles were a fad when they first came out, and that no one would remember them in 10 years. He had read that in Time or Life or some similar organ of respectable middle-brow opinion. Conventional wisdom can be very, very wrong.

  • Black Adder,

    Somehow our spam filter caught your comment (must have been the link).

    We didn’t catch it until early this morning. I pulled it out and posted it for you. There wasn’t anything wrong with your comment, our spam filter sometimes is a little bit to sensitive.

  • Wow, what an impressive young lady. Her musical talents are quite impressive. She was home-schooled and could have graduated from College at the age of SIXTEEN! She deferred graduation taking several more years of elective courses in foreign languages, art, and history in addition to continuous training with masters.

    Phew!

10 Responses to Jupiter and Jollity

  • Bach, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Schumann, Dvorak, Bruckner, Tchaikovsky,and Mahler are clearly above Holst.

    That’s saying nothing about Shostakovich, Elgar, Wagner, Rossini, Verdi, Grieg, Sibelius, Rachmoninov and many others.

  • Personal taste Mr. DeFrancisis. Arguing the relative worth of musical compositions, especially when the music being compared is of a high order, is as fruitless as trying to determine which actor has given the best performance of Hamlet over the centuries.

  • Cows have taste.

    I’d say there are objective criteria here– albeit, elusive ones.

  • Mars is better than Jupiter.

    That’s why it is the Quatermass theme.

  • Actually Mr. DeFrancisis I once had the task of picking best cow in show at a county fair. There were criteria to use in judging, but once all but the three best cows in show had been eliminated I felt choosing the best one was a fairly subjective process on my part, since all three of the cows were prime specimens. The owner of the winning cow disagreed with me and thought the process by which I chose her cow was completely objective. The owners of the other two cows did think the process had been subjective and were quite ready to share with me their subjective opinions of the quality of the decision I had made.

  • I’m not sure I’ll “go there” on whether Holst is a ‘top ten’ composer, though without question I really enjoy The Planets, but just to keep the apple of discord rolling I’ll note that I read a while back that Holst actually got really tired of The Planets’ popularity, thinking it wasn’t his best work.

    Whether he was right on this I can’t judge, because the only Holst music I have is The Planets. So from his point of view, I’m clearly part of the problem.

  • I am just contented that my old record player and my newer, yet apparently becoming more obsolete by the day, CD player, are willing to accept and play a variety of types of music, especially classical music, which has moved to near the top oof my favorites.

    My favorite will always remain good old Rock and Roll from the 50s-early 60s and Buddy Holly will always be my most hallowed musician, although Mozart is right behind him. In my advancing years I have come to better appreciate a wider variety of musical styles.

    Now I will have to listen to the various planet, pieces, to see if I have a preference. Most likely I will simply enjoy them, all, as they play.

    Thanks for this post.

  • I love this piece of music, I failed to mention.

    Thanks for the post.

  • Deciding which is better, Mars or Jupiter, is a rather apples to oranges comparison..

    “Mine’s the SUN. I like it because it’s like the King of Planets!”

  • Ah…the Planets. Great music, played it in high school. Though I think Saturn and Mercury are underrated pieces.

    Congrats, Don. What you lack in taste when it comes to presidents you make up for in music. 🙂

Serious Musicians

Tuesday, March 10, AD 2009

Since the blog has, of late, become the site of intense discussions on the quality of rock versus classical music, I think it’s important that I as a classical music partisan take a music appreciation moment and recognize that while rock may in some ways be a limited genre compared to classical music, it is none the less capable of evoking deep and powerful human emotions, and many rock musicians are in fact very talented and deeply influenced by the classical masters:

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9 Responses to Serious Musicians

  • I have been disappointed by Spinal Tap’s infrequent use of the cowbell. That said, if you want to crank the music up to 11, these guys are the best.

  • Cowbell lovers rejoice!

    Mahler knows its virtues and expressive potential (Symphony 4, 1st movement):

  • It’s good to see Spinal Tap get the recognition they deserve. They should also be taken seriously as philosophers:

    “Well, I don’t really think that the end can be assessed as of itself as being the end because what does the end feel like? It’s like saying when you try to extrapolate the end of the universe, you say, if the universe is indeed infinite, then how – what does that mean? How far is all the way, and then if it stops, what’s stopping it, and what’s behind what’s stopping it? So, what’s the end, you know, is my question to you.”

    If you didn’t know any better you would think you were reading Saint Thomas Aquinas. Well, at least if the Angelic Doctor had been drunk and a member of a rock band.

  • And of course, they deserve credit for recognizing that, “There’s a very fine line between clever and… and stupid. A very fine line.”

  • Not to mention the awareness that Boston really isn’t a college town.

    While all of those songs are important, I really think you are missing the significance of the agrarian themes in “Sex Farm Woman.” It adds a dimension to their work that is often overlooked.

  • Any discussion of Spinal Tap must include the political commentary of their “Smell the Glove” album. Clearly it was meant to be an indictment of the rampant misogyny within the musical industry. Their original album cover design was meant to be a critique – not a celebration – of the objectification of women.

    While it is unfortunate that their record label did not appreciate Spinal Tap’s progressive ideals, at the very least they did inspire Metallica’s Black Album cover, and helped launch the latter into the mainstream.

191 Responses to It's. Only. A. Rock. Band.

  • Indeed. They are musicians, albeit with talent. Enough is enough.

  • There are more theologically significant bands than U2. Definitely.

    Bonnie Prince Billy
    Radiohead
    Nick Cave

  • Ask Hans Urs von Balthasar. Aesthetics + poetry lead to theological reflection, and show something of the soul.

  • I’m not disputing Balthasar’s essential point.

    Sometimes I do, however, wonder if some of these fans imbue U2’s lyrics — or every jot and tittle from Bono’s lips, for that matter — with greater theological weight than they can carry. =)

  • I would suspect, for the most part, they don’t go far enough with the theological possibilities involved with U2 (or any other band; U2 being the one which gets the most, granted, but perhaps it is because others are not given sufficient treatment that U2 seems to be given too much). I expect one of the reasons why U2 is the one which is taken seriously on this matter is because of Bono’s intentions, which is clearly religious, and I think similar to many of the playwrites Balthasar DID write about (such as Reinhold Schneider). Clearly, I think U2’s lyrics are the kinds which Balthasar would pick up and use if he could do an “Apocalypse of the English Soul” today. But I also think Nirvana would be there, too.

  • Clearly, I think U2’s lyrics are the kinds which Balthasar would pick up and use if he could do an “Apocalypse of the English Soul” today. But I also think Nirvana would be there, too.

    Perhaps, but despite all your rage I suspect that you are rather more than a rat in a cage.

    De gustibus non disputandum but more and more as I move on in life it strikes me that rock is only actually good at conveying a certain and rather limited range of thought and emotion. It’s a range one spends most of adolescence and one’s early 20s in, so it can seem rather all consuming at that point. It seems natural, as one grows older, to mostly transition to real music.

    Not that I don’t still enjoy turning on the Beatles or Metallica or Coldplay or occasionally even U2 (from the October – Atchung Baby era), but for a magazine like America to be writing Deeply Serious commentary on a rock band is, frankly, a bit embarrassing.

  • I have often thought that much of the commentary at America was written by drunken rock fans.

  • Darwin

    Your comments remind me of the silliness that one finds with some critics of Tolkien, who said all fantasy is “fit for children only.” Indeed, it just reminds me of someone who wants to desperately pretend they are grown up by giving away what they consider to be the “chidlish things in life,” proving they lack real maturity.

  • I am both a fanatic of classical music (I own about 3000 classical music discs ( I worked in a record store and got tons of promos) and listen to such music about 25 hours a week) an absolute apologist for U2.

    One simply cannot say enough about No Line On the Horizon. Bravo to America Magazine.

  • Well, I certainly can’t dispute that my comments remind you of something, since that is, after all, something only you can know. Still, that some things are wrongly described as being only for the young does not mean that nothing is best suited to the more angst ridden periods of one’s life, but not to maturity.

    Be that as it may, my own experience (and hardly, I gather, a unique one) is that from my current vantage point in life rock music (not just in particular, but in its musical structure) is able to reflect only a small portion of what the human experience has to offer — and not necessarily the best or more interested parts.

    It now strikes me as rather thin broth compared to orchestral on choral music (or in the standard rather than technical usage of the term: classical music). Very suitable to certain moods, but generally not worth taking too seriously.

  • Mark

    Right, I love so many styles of music (though my favorite is world folk, and of them, Vartinna is one of the best). I’m still adjusting to the new U2 CD, so I can’t interpret it yet; I do like the tunes but it takes me a month or so before I absorb the rest of the content. Anyone who would say this isn’t “real music” to be taken seriously is absurd, to say the least.

  • I love U2. I love Beethoven. Heck I love Metallica. One can appreciate all sorts of music, appreciate the deeper meanings where they are to be found, and still believe that some forms of music (even amongst the kinds of music that one likes) are simply better and much more provocative.

  • At the risk playing the prosaic neanderthal, I think the article is a little silly. Much as I love U2 and ‘Beautiful Day,’ the lyric ‘You love this town, even if that doesn’t ring true, you’ve been all over, and it’s been all over you’ is not exactly Tolkienish in its depth and complexity.

    And, while U2 is serious about their work, they don’t wax this pretentiously about their music either. I remember watching an interview with them several years back after HTDAAB came out, and they were asked about the creation of a song I liked on the album. Bono laughed and said, actually, we were drunk that night and I don’t really remember what we were thinking when we wrote that one.

  • Much as I love U2 and ‘Beautiful Day,’ the lyric ‘You love this town, even if that doesn’t ring true, you’ve been all over, and it’s been all over you’ is not exactly Tolkienish in its depth and complexity.

    Actually, now that you mention it, John Henry, perhaps there’s much more in this than I though. If we could get our boy Origen on the topic, we could probably start off with three to four pages on “You love” before moving on this “this town” for the following chapter. It’d be like Commentary on The Song of Songs all over again. Good times…

  • Did I mention I like the new album?

    I don’t doubt that Bono put some thought into his lyrics (he always does); I have to wonder, however, at the enthusiasm among some fans for detecting allusions to the thought of Edward Schillebeeckx or David Tracy or Bonhoeffer’s “cheap grace.”

    America‘s are reminiscent of a student my father knew who tried to submit a paper on the philosophical implications of Trent Reznor (something I might have done impishly … two decades ago).

    If I put effort into it I can detect (imbue?) Balthasarian themes in a few lines from the hazy ramblings of Lungfish — but I wonder if my effort wouldn’t be better spent reading Balthasar instead.

    Here’s a related example of a theologian who deems U2’s album “the most overtly Christian album they’ve done YET” (clap hands in resounding joy):

    The basic message of No Line is that earth is not yet heaven, and therefore the album summons us to “Get On Your Boots” and work toward the day when things will fully be on earth as they are in heaven — when heaven and earth will be indistinguishable, and there will at last be no line on the horizon.

    Moving in that direction requires the triumph “of vision over visibility” (“Moment of Surrender”), an echo of an earlier formulation of the same insight: that the things that last and that come at the last constitute “a place that has to be believed to be seen” (“Walk On” from 2000’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind). It also requires an inner transformation wrought by a receptive hearing of the voice of God (“Unknown Caller”) and a faithful reception of the love of God which requires that one both “stand up” for it and “sit down” to receive it (“Stand Up Comedy”).

    The central eschatological metaphor of No Line is the sound of the divine song, heard only by those who have the ears to hear it, yet unconsciously sought by everyone, for all people were created to hear and sing this song.

    Is this theological explication or theological wanking?

  • Contrary to the tone of this post, the article’s author is rather humble and kindly in his assessment of U2, as positive as it may be.

    And I think this segues with what Henry (and I), I believe, are saying:

    The yearning that U2’s music exemplifies and elicits need not be assumed to stand in for the whole of a theological life in order to be the pleasure that it is as both harbinger and holder of hope-in-the-wanting. Whatever salvation is, through such finite formations is it allowed.

  • And how so many of you seem to be embarassed by the incarnation…The Word dwelt amongst us….

  • I love U2. One of my favorite bands.

    This is still absurdly over the top: a releasement to worldly fragility, contingency, beauty, unpredictability, and the gorgeous strangenesses that we make, and that we are.

    Darwin didn’t say that rock music is worthless, just that it’s not as deep or rich as classical music. If you want to use Tolkien in an analogy here, a much truer analogy would be this: John Grisham isn’t as deep or rich as Tolkien and Shakespeare, even if he writes some darn good page-turners.

  • And the America article is wrongheaded: If you were going to pick out a moment in the Fordham concert as particularly religious in its implications, it wouldn’t be the inane lyrics “it’s been all over you.” It would be Bono assuming the orans posture in the song “Magnificent” as he sang the words, “I was born to sing for you.”

  • Tom Beaudoin is no theological “wanker.” Anyone familiar with what is going on in contemporary theology knows this.

    So many ridiculous definitions of what “real music” and “real theology” are in this thread. I’m guessing most of those making such definitions here are not theologians nor do they have much knowledge of music beyond mere personal preferences. The “rock music” (whatever that is) vs. “real music” binary is, as Henry said, absurd, but it fits right in with all of the other dualisms that haunt the thinking of those who frequent this place.

    Theological reflection on rock music — and popular culture in general — is not new. The prejudices here simply flow from the standard high culture vs low culture, often classist, biases. We see it in the way you people talk about liturgy and liturgical music as well. That’s all it is — a more or less classist dualism. (“I used to like rock music, but I grew up.”)

    I agree that U2 is “just a rock band,” not because I don’t think rock should be taken seriously as art or even as a theological source, but because they are, in my opinion, boring and most importantly, they act like any other rock band. There are much more challenging and important artists through which to do theological reflection, both in terms of the music and lyrics themselves AND the way the music is made.

  • Darwin didn’t say that rock music is worthless, just that it’s not as deep or rich as classical music.

    Which is still a ridiculous comment. Some “classical” music is indeed rich and deep (I like it, as well as other types of “real” music you might have in mind), but a good bit of it was just the pop music of its day.

  • Michael I,

    Nick Cave rules!

  • Let me amend my “U2 is boring” comment. I love U2 also, but much prefer their older stuff. War and The Joshua Tree in particular. Those records were no less “Christian,” and they had more bite. Now they pretty much write adult contemporary happy-Christian rock. Even when they’re “rocking,” it’s polite.

  • Some “classical” music is indeed rich and deep (I like it, as well as other types of “real” music you might have in mind), but a good bit of it was just the pop music of its day.

    That’s completely illogical. The fact that there exists some non-rich classical music (most of it, in fact) doesn’t change the fact that there is no piece of rock music ever written, or that ever could be written, that would compare to Bach’s B-Minor Mass in its depth and profundity. Nor that there will never be a rock/pop song written that could even conceivably compare to Bach’s Goldberg Variations in the sheer complexity and range that they exhibit. (If you’re not a trained musician, I doubt you would even be able to understand how unbelievably complex the Goldberg Variations are: every third variation is a canon beginning with an increasing interval, and yet it’s done with such skill that most people wouldn’t even notice.)

    I really like both John Grisham and Tolkien, both U2 and Bach, both Norman Rockwell and Rembrandt. Doesn’t mean I have to fall into the mindless and indiscriminatory relativism in which all works of art are equal.

  • I love U2. It happens to be my favorite band (my wife’s as well). I also happen to love their bluegrass roots and have a deep appreciation for Appalachian folk music. Michael Iafrate and I are in total agreement on the albums (although All You Can’t Leave Behind is a close third).

    That said, I have to agree that rock, as a musical genre, doesn’t have the capacity to carry the grandeur, subtlety, or depth that music in an orchestral style does. That’s not demeaning to rock, it’s just saying that, as a vehicle, it doesn’t have the ‘cargo room’ that some other types of music (which include a wider variety of instruments, longer pieces of music, and therefore the capacity for a more diverse arrangement of sound) have.

  • S.B. – There is nothing illogical at all about what I said. You’re merely expressing aesthetic opinion. There is, however, a lack of logic in your own view, as you reduce musical “richness” and “depth” to technical complexity. There is certainly more to music than that. Also, I never said all works of art are equal. But it would not be an S.B. conversation if you didn’t deliberately attempt to misrepresent what I said. At least you are consistent.

    Aside from the utterly stupid “rock music vs classical music” binary I am seeing here, I am concerned, too, about the elevation of Western “orchestral,” “classical,” etc. music over non-Western music, as if it were the pinnacle of music.

    Such views show a lack of exposure to other “real” music, a very narrow view of what music in fact is, and a reductionistic view of what makes music “good.”

  • I never said all works of art are equal.

    Then you should have no problem with the claim that some genres of art are on a different level than others.

    But it would not be an S.B. conversation if you didn’t deliberately attempt to misrepresent what I said. At least you are consistent.

    Back at you. I didn’t “reduce” richness and depth to “technical complexity” — I just pointed to one example of Bach’s technical mastery that would be unimaginable in rock music (if any rock musicians could even comprehend what Bach did, none could imitate it). That wasn’t my only example of “richness and depth.”

    There is nothing illogical at all about what I said.

    Yes there was. The claim was made that rock music, while delightful in many ways, doesn’t have the capacity for richness and depth that one finds in classical music. Your answer was that a lot of classical music was the pop music of its day — which is true but illogical, because the fact that some classical music is non-deep does nothing to refute the point that other classical music is deeper than rock music.

  • Then you should have no problem with the claim that some genres of art are on a different level than others.

    Why? They are not equivalent statements.

    Your answer was that a lot of classical music was the pop music of its day — which is true but illogical, because the fact that some classical music is non-deep does nothing to refute the point that other classical music is deeper than rock music.

    Nothing “illogical” at all. Initially you said, simply, that rock music is not as deep or rich as rock music. That’s an utterly simplistic, stupid statement. I replied saying that not all “classical” music is deep or rich. Nothing “illogical.”

    You are using empty terms like “rich” and “deep” and not explaining how you would judge whether or not a piece of music is “rich” or “deep” other than by technical complexity. I called you on it, and you said that’s not the only way you would judge a piece of music, but fail to mention any other criteria.

    All you are doing is speaking from your own aesthetic preferences. Which is fine. But don’t claim that you are speaking objectively in any sense.

    …because the fact that some classical music is non-deep does nothing to refute the point that other classical music is deeper than rock music.

    All one need say,then, is that some pieces of music are “deeper” and “more rich” than other pieces of music. As you would no doubt now admit, after I called you to clarify your points, some pieces of rock music are much more deep and rich than some pieces of classical music. By your own admission, your blanket claims about the superiority of certain genres are absurd.

  • All of this to avoid the point: I can imagine someone waxing eloquent about Bach’s B-Minor Mass. But waxing eloquent about U2’s line, “it’s been all over you”? Come on.

    As you would no doubt now admit, after I called you to clarify your points, some pieces of rock music are much more deep and rich than some pieces of classical music.

    Do you understand the concept of an average? Some U2 songs are richer than some pieces by Vivaldi; but there are many other pieces of classical music with a depth and range of emotion that simply isn’t expressed well in the limited format of guitar/bass/drums/4-minute song. If you’re not denying THAT point, then I’m not sure why you’re arguing at all. But if you are denying that point, then I think you’re guilty of mindless relativism — or just the incapacity to appreciate music.

  • I called you on it, and you said that’s not the only way you would judge a piece of music, but fail to mention any other criteria.

    Have you ever even heard Bach’s B-Minor Mass? Brahms’ 4 symphonies? Beethoven’s late string quartets? Mozart’s Requiem? vaughan Williams’ “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis”?

    If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then you need to educate yourself. It’s impossible to write to an ignorant person and to convey, via mere words, the depths that can be expressed in great music, just as much as it’s impossible to truly describe the color red to a person blind from birth.

  • Hey, Michael Iafrate and I agree on something.

    I like U2 as well, though I never thought about the deeper theological implications of it all. I just like good music.

    Wierd Al Yankovic rocks!

  • If we could get our boy Origen on the topic, we could probably start off with three to four pages on “You love” before moving on this “this town” for the following chapter. It’d be like Commentary on The Song of Songs all over again. Good times…

    heh. In retrospect, a second year college seminar was probably not the best place to appreciate Origen’s commentary.

  • The question of the translatability of the Christo-form into various musical genres seems to be a different, much more complex issue than the battle over the purported superiority of the Bach to Brahms (plus a few post-extras) element of the Western classical canon.

  • We really need to get back to non-controversial topics like abortion, Obama, homosexuality, etc. Obviously rock touches a nerve with a lot of readers!

  • I’d say Billy Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” has as much, if not more, “depth” and “richness” to it as/than anything that came out of the classical tradition in America between 1900-1935.

    It is also evidence of a non-classical genre’s high suspectibility to communicating the Christo-form musically.

  • All of this to avoid the point: I can imagine someone waxing eloquent about Bach’s B-Minor Mass. But waxing eloquent about U2’s line, “it’s been all over you”? Come on.

    Here, you are talking about two particular pieces of music. Fine, compare them. Of course that particular U2 song has less depth than that particular Mass from Bach. But your generalizations are not helpful.

    Do you understand the concept of an average?

    Yes. But I don’t like it if it’s used to make ridiculous generalizations.

    Some U2 songs are richer than some pieces by Vivaldi; but there are many other pieces of classical music with a depth and range of emotion that simply isn’t expressed well in the limited format of guitar/bass/drums/4-minute song. If you’re not denying THAT point, then I’m not sure why you’re arguing at all.

    What I am arguing with is your previous blanket statement that classical music has more “depth” and “richness” than rock music.

    And here I would take issue with your reductionistic view of rock music, i.e. “guitar/bass/drums/4-minute song.”

    If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then you need to educate yourself. It’s impossible to write to an ignorant person and to convey, via mere words, the depths that can be expressed in great music, just as much as it’s impossible to truly describe the color red to a person blind from birth.

    I know all of those pieces of music, of course. I love music. I’m a musician. You’re telling me I’m “ignorant” when it comes to music, but you’re the one who seems to have difficulty talking about music in any sensible way, making blanket statements along genre lines and then retreating into “you just can’t convey these things in mere words” territory.

  • And here I would take issue with your reductionistic view of rock music, i.e.“guitar/bass/drums/4-minute song.”

    But you wouldn’t take issue for any particular reason that you can state . . . which is why it’s difficult to “talk about music,” eh? Anyway, that’s what U2 does. Always. They have a guitarist, a bassist, and a drummer, and they write songs. Sometimes they add keyboard sounds for a little sweetener. Sometimes they use an automatic drum sound (Pop album, anyone?). There’s not a lot of variety in the format here.

    I know all of those pieces of music, of course. I love music. I’m a musician.

    Great! Then maybe you do know what I’m talking about after all.

  • What’s behind the impulse of leftists to bristle with such indignation at the notion that some genres of art have a wider capacity and range of possibilities than other genres of art? Do they get just as mad if someone suggests that Shakespeare is more sophisticated than Danielle Steel?

  • How about a nice Anglicanesque compromise.. anyone ever heard the live version of “One” with orchestral accompanyment?

    How about “Strung out on U2”? (admittedly, I enjoy the “Pickin’ on U2” tribute album..)

  • But you wouldn’t take issue for any particular reason that you can state…

    Um, perhaps because rock music is not limited to these characteristics? Thought it was obvious what I meant. But it is YOU we are talking about. I’ll spell it out for you more clearly next time.

    Anyway, that’s what U2 does. Always. They have a guitarist, a bassist, and a drummer, and they write songs. Sometimes they add keyboard sounds for a little sweetener. Sometimes they use an automatic drum sound (Pop album, anyone?). There’s not a lot of variety in the format here.

    “Keyboard sounds for a little sweetener”? You clearly have no idea what you are talking about.

  • I can only pity someone with such a reductionist view of Danielle Steel’s oeuvre.

  • In retrospect, a second year college seminar was probably not the best place to appreciate Origen’s commentary.

    Indeed. Education is wasted on the young.

    All joking aside, I really enjoyed Origen’s commentary, but we certainly weren’t well equiped to discuss it at that point.

    On the actual point now being disputed at length:

    If anyone took me to be suggesting that all classical music is inherently superior to all rock music, that was certainly not my intention. There is a great deal of classical music which is mediocre — though since much of it is a couple hundred years old, a great deal of that has been mercifully forgotten by now.

    However, I do think there’s generally a quality ceiling above which rock music is highly unlikely if not downright unable to reach, and that ceiling is lower than the ceiling for classical music. To make an analogy which will doubtless annoy some people: There are certainly some very good comic books (or to be artsy “graphic novels”) out there, and there are a great many very poor novels, but the best comic books will never be as good as the best novels because the genre itself has limits imposed upon it the form.

    Also, on a side note, I’m not clear how one can simultaneoously claim that classical music is just the pop music of the past (which leaves aside why there are to this day composers in the classical genre — again “classical” in the looser, popular usage of the term) and at the same time argue that the preference for classical music stems from a high versus low culture prejudice.

    In regards to this being a Western-centric view of the question: It’s probably significant in this regard that it is mainly only the West which has a tradition of writen/composed music going back for around a millenia. Without both the means to write down how complex music is to be performed and the cultural idea of composership (as opposed to a more tradition-guided approach to music in which particular performers are celebrated but composition is not seen as an individual enterprise) even those with the natural ability to produce such works will not find themselves able to fulfill those gifts and share the results with others.

  • Keyboard sounds for a little sweetener” You clearly have no idea what you are talking about.

    Of course I do. They often don’t have keyboards at all, and if they throw in keyboards on a few songs, it’s usually as background. In the music business, that’s known as “sweetener.” A little jargon there, so sorry if that threw you off.

  • And I heard it described that way when I happened to be in a studio owned by a producer who has worked with Celine Dion. I’m guessing that he knows quite a bit more about the music business than you do, so it might be wise to ditch the “you don’t know what you’re talking about” attitude.

  • “And I heard it described that way when I happened to be in a studio owned by a producer who has worked with Celine Dion.”

    Now, that is laughable.

  • Darwin, I think part of what I have a problem with is that your view (and that of SB, etc) makes a lot of unstated assumptions about what music is for, for example, that music is like a text one reads or that it is generally a non-participatory activity where the audience “takes it in,” etc. It does not so justice to that variety of world musics, particularly those forms that are participatory.

    Interestingly, more and more parallels between ya’ll’s musical tastes and your liturgical tastes are emerging as this conversation continues.

    They often don’t have keyboards at all, and if they throw in keyboards on a few songs, it’s usually as background.

    Right. That that’s all they do, eh? Write guitar/bass/drums 4-minute pop songs and “throw in” some “keyboards” here and there. Their albums, despite getting more and more boring IMO, are actually much more complex than that in terms of their instrumentation as well as the musical traditions from which they draw.

    In the music business, that’s known as “sweetener.”

    Not where I come from.

    A little jargon there, so sorry if that threw you off.

    What “throws me off” is your “thought” process. But I’m learning to anticipate the gaps, overstatements, generalizations, mischaracterizations and flat-out lies with time. Do be patient with me.

  • Now, that is laughable.

    Indeed.

    And yes, S.B., that’s why that comment “threw me off.” Musicians and producers who actually give a s**t about music (as opposed to Celine Dion) would never talk that way.

  • Sure, snicker and chortle about Celine Dion, the only point is that someone who has worked with her is likely to know what a particular piece of jargon means in today’s music business. That’s all.

  • Write guitar/bass/drums 4-minute pop songs and “throw in” some “keyboards” here and there. Their albums, despite getting more and more boring IMO, are actually much more complex than that in terms of their instrumentation as well as the musical traditions from which they draw.

    Not really. To someone who knows something about music (as I do from many years of study and multiple degrees), talking about the complexity of U2 — as much as I love them — is like talking about the overwhelming dramatic complexity of Spiderman 2. Or, to put it in theological terms, it’s as if someone went on and on about the complexity of Rick Warren’s books.

    It’s a sign that you need to broaden your education and understanding.

  • That does not entail that U2 too simply splashes
    in some keyboards as background-filler, in the same manner.

    Kitsch is kitsch. U2 is not that.

  • Do you have the same relativist and indiscriminatory mindset when it comes to theology? We can’t tell any difference, can’t make any distinctions, between Joel Osteen and Gutierrez? No one is any more complex or profound than anyone else, right?

  • S.B., that you have some “insider info” on a piece of jargon used by certain producers within the corporate music industry (probably dudes in their 60s — such terms are used by producers geared toward selling “sweet” sounding pop songs and are not used by people who actually make music) has little to do with my point which is that you don’t seem to understand that rock music can be much more “deep” and “rich” and “complex” than you make it out to be when you reduce it to “4-minute guitar/bass/drums songs.” I mean I understand that you probably don’t listen to rock music very widely, and that’s fine. That’s why I’m taking the time to challenge your generalizations.

  • S.B.,

    How about a pic for your profile. It’s not important, just wanting to jazz up the commentary column a bit.

  • No one is any more complex or profound than anyone else, right?

    No, I certainly don’t have a relativistic view of music. I’m one of the more discriminatory music fans that I know (my wife calls me a music snob regularly, and part of me takes delight in it). I believe in objective criteria for what makes music better than other music. But I think it’s much more complex than you make it out to be when you draw such lines simply according to genre.

    Your U2-Spiderman 2 comparison is absurd. Of COURSE there is rock/pop music that is comparable to such films. I just don’t think you’re giving U2 enough credit for the actual music that they make.

  • To someone who knows something about music (as I do from many years of study and multiple degrees)…

    You have multiple degrees in music? In what areas?

  • That does not entail that U2 too simply splashes
    in some keyboards as background-filler, in the same manner.

    They do too use keyboards as background. Listen to “Magnificent.” There are a couple of keyboard lines in the intro, but when Bono starts singing, the main focus is the strumming guitar, the bass, the drum, and way in the background, you can barely hear some sustained chords on the keyboard. Same with “No Line on the Horizon.” That’s sweetening the sound.

    Geez, I never thought I’d get so much disagreement from pointing out that U2’s songs often consist of guitar, bass, and drum. You guys ever check out the lineup? A guitarist, a bassist, and a drummer.

  • Classical guitar performance. B.M. and M.M. degrees, involving lots of study of music theory, music history, etc.

  • The point, SB, is that there is more artistic integrity to the final product of a Lanois/Eno/U2 collaboration or a Radiohead song than the stuff that makes its way onto a C. Dion album.

  • Testing for daylight savings time.

  • TEST. (had to reset the blog to central time, apparently WordPress doesn’t do this automaticaly)

  • Absolutely, and I never said otherwise. Good grief, I wasn’t comparing U2 and Dion! I was just pointing out where I came across a bit of jargon.

    And I wasn’t even criticizing U2 on that point either . . . I was just using the term “sweeten” in a purely descriptive sense: sometimes keyboards are there in the background, but come on, you wouldn’t expect keyboards to be the main focus in a band that has no keyboard player.

    You guys are just jumping at the bit to disagree with anything and everything.

  • That’s cool. My dad plays classical guitar (among other instruments) and a fellow musician friend of mine finished a masters in classical guitar performance. We were in a metal band together and when we were on tour he had me turned on to Leo Brouwer for a while. Our lineup was 2 guitars, bass, drums, and keyboard but the latter was not used as “sweetener” but as an integral instrument.

    Geez, I never thought I’d get so much disagreement from pointing out that U2’s songs often consist of guitar, bass, and drum. You guys ever check out the lineup? A guitarist, a bassist, and a drummer.

    Yes, of course that’s the core lineup. What I disagreed with was your flat description of their music and your claim that they don’t stray too much from “the” rock format. It does not do justice to the traditions from which they draw, the variety of other instruments they use, or the variety of ways they use the “core” rock instruments. (We could spend days talking about The Edge’s guitar sounds, for example.)

  • OK, fair enough. I love The Edge’s guitar sounds.

    Look, maybe we’re all talking past each other. How about this:

    On a scale of 1 to 1,000 — with 1 being artistically worthless and 1,000 meaning “capable of representing everything about the human experience” — different genres are going to be at different levels.

    So, for example, 1980s hair metal is at about a 10 or 20; the human experiences it can represent are rebellion (“We’re Not Going to Take It”), sex, and occasionally sadness (power ballads). Indeed, it’s probably better at expressing rebellion than is classical music. But still, its overall rating is lower.

    Same for rock music as a whole. Let’s say that its rating is 200 (there are rock songs that express transcendence, or longing, or awe, or social discontent, or whatever, and some rock songs do this much better than classical music). But the best classical music is capable of representing a broader range of human emotions and experiences — maybe 300 or 400.

    That’s all. I’m not saying that rock music is a zero. I’m not saying that ALL classical music is at a 300 or 400 level (some is practically zero). And I’m not denying that there is great musical creativity involved in some of the best rock songs. I’m just saying that rock is a more limited genre — it is limited by style, by length, by the types of compositional techniques that are used (ever hear a rock song in sonata form? fugue form? etc.), and more.

  • What aspects of “human nature” are not able to be represented in rock music?

  • It’s hard to put into words. Listen to the “Variations on a Theme of Thomas Tallis.” You can’t do that within the confines of rock music, any more than you can make a cathedral out of a cubic foot of stone. If you did try to do something that long and sweeping and orchestral in rock music, it wouldn’t be a rock song any more.

  • “Listen to the “Variations on a Theme of Thomas Tallis.” You can’t do that within the confines of rock music, any more than you can make a cathedral out of a cubic foot of stone.”

    You pick a strong example. The is an achingly beautiful, extended piece of music.

  • Let’s start here: What aspects of “human nature” do you think are expressed in “Variations on a Theme of Thomas Tallis”?

  • You keep saying “human nature,” which isn’t the term I used. Not that it’s important. In any event, I already said that it’s hard to put into words . . . an ineffable sense of sadness and yearning, perhaps. There’s no rock song remotely like it; and if a rock song DID try to imitate it, it wouldn’t be a rock song any more, because it would now be a lengthy orchestral piece instead.

  • Pardon me. You said human experience, not human nature.

    Thing is, S.B., you seem to have no problem putting your musical sweeping generalizations into words, but when asked to get specific, you retreat into “you can’t put it into words.”

    I’m not familiar with the piece of music you are citing. I’d be happy to check it out tonight at home. But if what makes it distinctive is a sense of sadness and yearning, I’m puzzled as to how you can say that that quality is more present in that piece of music than any “rock” music you can think of. I could rattle off albums and albums of, broadly conceived, “rock music” that have that quality. Most of Radiohead’s music, for example.

    You also say that no rock song is like it (I’m assuming you mean the feelings it evokes) but then get into the question of imitation, which irrelevant. Of course rock songs would not imitate classical music, generally speaking. What is at issue is the question of whether or not rock music can express the same range of human experience as rock music. You say it can’t; I think it can. I think it can because I cannot think of a human experience that rock music is not able to speak to, and I don’t think you really can either. You might, subjectively, think that a piece of classical music does so, but I think this is more a matter of preference and familiarity rather than something objective.

  • Reading the discussion is a fascinating past-time for the first [or second] afternoon of daylight savings time. But what is interesting is a failure to recognize that if you can express something musical in words, it is not music.

    And discussions about musical taste run into the dictum De gustibus non est disputandum. You cannot argue someone [including yourself] into liking one form or other of music, no more than you can argue someone into liking zucchini.

  • Gabriel,

    On your first point, certainly. But we can certainly talk about music. S.B. tends to make gigantic claims about music and then when called on it says that he “can’t put it into words.”

    On your second point, I also agree. And I’m not at all trying to get S.B. to like “rock music” any more than he does. In fact I think much of what he says is coming from his personal musical tastes, but he makes his claims as if they were based on objective facts.

  • As has been pointed out by several people, we’re in part talking about something in which taste and perception play a great role. Even taking it (and I would argue it to be the case) that are are elements of objective quality and range of expression at play here, that doesn’t mean that everyone is going to be fully attuned to them or that everyone will enjoy a thing equally.

    I would argue that it’s pretty clear that novels and short stories are, as a matter of form, capable of greater power, beauty and range of expression than comic books. But that doesn’t mean that individual people may not enjoy comic books more and prefer to read comic books to prose. Nor does it mean that there aren’t good comic books — it just means that the best comic books will necessarily fall short of the best novels and short stories.

    There’s always an element of apples to oranges comparison involved in these discussions, and I think SB is right that rock is better at evoking certain emotions than classical is. Perhaps it’s that rock is better at expressing stronger/blunter emotions.

    Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis which I tend to think of in pairing with his Lark Ascending (in part because I have them on the same CD, but also because I tend to associate the former with sunset and the coming of darkness while the latter with sunrise) both play out a subdued range of imagest of longing, loss, hope and also I think a strong sense of place: one feels the English countryside and the love for quiet and natural things while listening to these two pieces.

    I can think of rock songs with somewhat similar emotional palettes (flipping through the stuff I have on my work machine I’m sampling through Coldplay’s “Clocks” and “Rush of Blood to the Head”, Fastball’s “Sweetwater, Texas”, some Everclear, Dave Matthews, etc.) but we’re talking a much blunter or broader presentation of emotion — kind of like how even in comic books characters always seem to SHOUT one word out of every sentence.

  • I can think of rock songs with somewhat similar emotional palettes (flipping through the stuff I have on my work machine I’m sampling through Coldplay’s “Clocks” and “Rush of Blood to the Head”, Fastball’s “Sweetwater, Texas”, some Everclear, Dave Matthews, etc.) but we’re talking a much blunter or broader presentation of emotion — kind of like how even in comic books characters always seem to SHOUT one word out of every sentence.

    Well, if that’s the kind of rock music you’re talking about (Coldplay, Dave Matthews, Everclear, etc.) then I wholeheartedly agree with everyone here that classical music is far more deep and rich than these bands. No comparison. But I would encourage you to listen to — um — better rock music. I suppose it’s a futile conversation indeed if this is the sort of taste in rock music that you have! (See, S.B., I am a music snob and hardly a relativist. Not all music is equal!)

  • And I’m not at all trying to get S.B. to like “rock music” any more than he does. In fact I think much of what he says is coming from his personal musical tastes

    That’s completely missing the point. I love rock music of all styles; pop music; country music; bluegrass, jazz, big band, classic spirituals, you name it. I even enjoy Winger (Beavis and Butthead allusion there).

    So it’s not a matter of not “liking” rock. It’s just a matter of recognizing the limitations of a relatively narrow genre from a relatively narrow time period from a relatively narrow cultural framework, compared to a genre (classical) that encompasses everything from solo piano sonatas, songs, string quartets, medieval motets, Gregorian chant, Italian operas, classic and romantic symphonies, atonal modern music, and more, across 1,000 years and widely differing cultures.

    Like Darwin said, you don’t have to dislike comic books to think that as a genre, they don’t have as much possibility as novels and short stories.

  • Well, I can never claim to have been a rock snob. Even when I listened to it almost exclusively, I never really thought it was as good as classical music, it’s just that I never felt like sitting still long enough to listen to it. Except for an early love for Brahms, most classical music struck me as “borrrrrring” until I hit around 24 when gradually found myself switching.

    However in my slight defense, the only rock that lives on my iPod at this point (and thus that I had available to compare with Vaughn Williams while finishing up at work) is the “workout mix” which doesn’t include the “serious” rock that I used to listen to: Beatles, Metallica, Pink Floyd, U2, and (only the very early) Elton John.

    Still, that’s all very standard stuff. I was never one of those who could claim that he knew of all the groups that no one had yet heard of. One can’t be a snob on everything, though I try hard… 😉

    [Looking up Michael’s list of theological bands above on iTunes, I find that my junior year roommate was apparently a big Radiohead fan. Creep, Karma Police and High and Dry prove to be _very_ familiar.]

  • S.B. – You obviously cannot follow a conversation very well. Look: I am challenging the claims you are making about musical genres. I realize that you like rock music. I am saying that your claims, however, are based more in your personal tastes and experience with music rather than in any objective set of criteria.

    For example, you seem to have developed a differentiated consciousness about classical music as a complex genre. You don’t seem to have developed a differentiated consciousness with regard to rock music, which is also a complex genre. When you take into consideration the complexity of both “genres” (if we can even speak of them as “genres” at this point) and the fact that all genres of music are open to the expansion of possibilities, are always in motion and never fixed in one place, your simplistic claim that one genre of music, by its nature and/or history, has a greater “possibility” is exposed as nonsense. Real music, of any genre, is itself the questioning and opening up of possibilities.

  • Well, it’s certainly less plausible (and less objective) to try to suggest that rock music (a ridiculously recent invention in one human culture) is as wide-ranging and complex as the classical genre that I already described (existing in many different forms for many centuries in different cultures). If someone doesn’t have the capacity to see the vast differences that I described in my previous post, then it’s like trying to explain the color green to someone who is color-blind.

  • …it’s like trying to explain the color green to someone who is color-blind.

    Here you go again. Oh well. I guess you won’t be able to explain the color green to me, and I won’t be able to explain the color red to you.

  • Michael I,

    Real music, of any genre,

    now you’re going to make an objective judgment as to what is and is not “real music”? If you can make that objective judgment then it is entirely reasonable for SB to make an objective judgment about rock music’s qualities.

    This argument is ridiculous. We all, you included, recognize that there is objective qualities which we can use to discern the quality of any musical genre, those same qualities can be used to judge quality between genres. These qualities are not necessarily going to determine the popularity of a particular performance, as we all know there is far more to popular rock than the music itself. Rock is a genre which ranges from jazz/blues to what most people will call a clanging din, not music at all. Are you going to argue that this last category is of equal quality to the first?

    SB’s analogy to comic books is poignant… so poignant that Michael must ignore it.

    I believe Michael’s problem is personal taste combined with a relativistic worldview. SB shows a great deal of objectivity in his discourse, Michael’s is void of it.

  • Michael’s view smacks of musical bigotry. He’s disagreeing with the claim that a huge and capacious genre of music (encompassing everything from solo songs to massive symphonies) from across the world and many different centuries isn’t any broader than a new genre of modern and mostly American music. It’s quite a provincial view.

    It’s as if one were to claim that the American sitcom has just as much capacity to represent the human experience as the entire history of human playwrights (encompassing plays written in many different countries stretching back to Sophocles). “Why, of course, I can’t think of any human emotion that can’t be represented in a sitcom. Sad? Sitcoms have an occasional sad episode. Poignancy? Why, did you see the episode of Friends when Joey, etc.”

    Well, the point is that sitcoms (like rock music) are usually in a pretty limited range. It’s fine if a sitcom tries to do poignancy or if rock music tries to create a sense of awestruck wonder, but they’re going to be inadequate compared to other and more sophisticated genres.

  • You people are seriously claiming that all rock music is comparable to american sitcoms and comic books? Bob Dylan is like a comic book? Springsteen? Joni Mitchell? Rock music is “mostly American”?

    I ignore such remarks because they speak for themselves in revealing your ignorance.

  • SB’s analogy to comic books is poignant

    Poignant. Ha!

  • Bob Dylan is like a comic book? Springsteen? Joni Mitchell? Rock music is “mostly American”?

    So are you suggesting that a few American artists from the 1960s to the 1990s are able to match the best works from many different classical genres from the past thousand years from many different countries? Again, that’s a narrowminded and bigoted suggestion.

    Nothing those artists have ever done can even begin to compare to the best of Bach. So that proves my point.

  • Comparing Springsteen to Bach would be like comparing a comic book to War and Peace. Or comparing a kindergarten fingerpainter to Rembrandt. They’re not even remotely in the same league of accomplishment, skill, etc.

  • You people are seriously claiming that all rock music is comparable to american sitcoms and comic books? Bob Dylan is like a comic book? Springsteen? Joni Mitchell? Rock music is “mostly American”?

    Of course, there are also those who insist that comic books (or to use the artsy term, “graphic novels”) are just as good as novels and short stories.

    I think it’s actually a pretty good comparison. There are some very good comics out there, from the classic works of the turn of the early 20th century like the full page, full color Prince Valient spreads from Sunday newspapers, to modern graphic novels like From Hell and Sin City or graphic short story series like Optic Nerve.

    However, the genre simply lacks range and subtlety of prose forms.

    Now, I would assume that you take it as a possibility that one artistic genre could have less possible expressive range (even in its best examples) than another similar genre. Do you, for instance, agree that comic books are a genre with less range than novels and short stories?

    Or that the violin is capable of expressing more than a tuba.

    So if I understand the state of conversation right it would seem that SB and I are asserting:

    1) Different artistic genres can have differing abilities to express artistry and human experience.
    2) In the specific case of rock vs. classical music, classical music has a wider range than rock.

    If I understand right, you agree with 1), but would hold that in fact rock has at least as wide a range of expression as classical.

    Is that right?

  • DC,

    You surprise me throughout, considering your liturgical preference for the more “elemental” chant.

  • If I understand right, you agree with 1), but would hold that in fact rock has at least as wide a range of expression as classical.

    I sort of agree with #1. I think S.B. (and you I guess) is defining genres is different ways at different times to suit his arguments, defining them broadly at one moment (“rock music”) and narrow in another (“’80s hair metal”). OF COURSE ’80s hair metal has a narrow “artistic range” but rock music as a whole does not.

    Does rock music (widely conceived, to me, because I listen to a lot of “rock music” that does not fit S.B.’s narrow descriptions) have “at least as wide a range of expression as classical”? I think it does. I have asked S.B. to give me some type of human experience that classical can express that “rock music” cannot, and he can’t do it. All he does is say “I can’t put it into words.” I think he has a narrow view of rock music and that’s part of the problem with us being able to understand one another.

    I’ll also point out once again that S.B. is making assumptions about what music is for and how it is experienced, and drawing the conclusion that rock music ultimately “lacks” something that classical music “has more of.” But there are multiple ways in which classical music “lacks” something that rock music “has more of,” and that this is every bit as important as S.B.’s concerns.

    So are you suggesting that a few American artists from the 1960s to the 1990s are able to match the best works from many different classical genres from the past thousand years from many different countries? Again, that’s a narrowminded and bigoted suggestion.

    Match them HOW? Again, you are working with unstated assumptions about what makes music good.

    Nothing those artists have ever done can even begin to compare to the best of Bach. So that proves my point.

    You “prove” nothing. They don’t compare HOW?

    I can’t take S.B. seriously when he says that Bob Dylan is like a comic book or a kindergarten fingerpainter. These are obviously statements of his personal taste, not objective facts.

  • Or that the violin is capable of expressing more than a tuba.

    Another example of problematic comparisons. Each instrument’s purpose is different. Violin is designed to be able to function as a solo instrument, where the tuba is not. Of course the violin can “express more” than a tuba. But we’re not talking about individual instruments. S.B. is making gigantic blanket statements about widely conceived musical genres.

  • I’m pretty sure Bono and the lads have a good laugh at the midrashic readings of their lyrics.

  • I think S.B. (and you I guess) is defining genres is different ways at different times to suit his arguments, defining them broadly at one moment (”rock music”) and narrow in another (”’80s hair metal”). OF COURSE ’80s hair metal has a narrow “artistic range” but rock music as a whole does not.

    No, wrong. I used 80s hair metal as an EXAMPLE that would prove the point (and it seems you agree) that some genres are more limited than others.

    I have asked S.B. to give me some type of human experience that classical can express that “rock music” cannot, and he can’t do it.

    I gave you an example: Vaughan Williams’ “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.” Listen to it (check Youtube for live versions). Now name a rock song that even remotely do the same thing as that piece . . . create as much of a sense of foreboding ominousness combined with lyrical beauty.

    I can’t take S.B. seriously when he says that Bob Dylan is like a comic book or a kindergarten fingerpainter. These are obviously statements of his personal taste, not objective facts.

    These are comparisons that try to point out how much greater classical music can be. In any event, I can’t take anyone seriously who thinks that Bob Dylan represents some great achievement of human culture. He was a decent lyricist, an average tunesmith, and an unspeakably bad vocalist. No more than that.

  • I gave you an example: Vaughan Williams’ “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.” Listen to it (check Youtube for live versions). Now name a rock song that even remotely do the same thing as that piece . . . create as much of a sense of foreboding ominousness combined with lyrical beauty.

    Though to be fair, the “listen and you’ll see” approach can be difficult in that one sometimes needs an appreciation of a genre in order to understand everything that’s going on with a piece — even a clearly very good piece.

    If you’d challenged me to listen to Fantasia on the Theme by Thomas Tallis ten years ago, I might have acknowledged that it was “good music” because I knew it was supposed to be, but if you’d asked me to pick something that had “a sense of foreboding ominousness combined with lyrical beauty” I would have picked something from a soundtrack where I could hear that sort of thing evoked more bluntly.

    Which is not to compare Michael to the 20-year-old me, (he clearly knows far, far about music than I did — and indeed probably more than I do) but to emphasize that just tasting something doesn’t always solve the matter.

    Not that it’s completely a matter of taste. I think you’re right that classical music (in part because of the time available, types of instruments, number of instruments, and the subtlety of style is able to be significantly better than rock ever can — but I’m not sure that even asserting that’s objectively the case means that everyone would necessarily recognize it as such.

    You surprise me throughout, considering your liturgical preference for the more “elemental” chant.

    Well, I like polyphany as well — but actually I’d tend to say that one of the great advantages of chant is that it does have a limitted (or at least, very subtle) emotional range and generally puts the text first and sense of verticality foremost.

    While I love listening to mass settings by classical composers, I’m not sure that they’re actually well suited to liturgical use — certainly not on a regular basis — in that they turn the mass into too much of a performance.

    I would think very simple chants for most masses, and then bringing in more complexity and polyphany on high feasts and such. But though both liturgy and music involve active listening, it strikes me they’re of different sorts — though I’d have to think for a while about how.

  • As a side note, hitting on a vein of the argument awhile back, one need not employ the whole (or even most) of the orchestral palette to exploit the full expressive potentialities of the classical genre.

    Think of the Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time”,or, more radically, even Bach’s “Chaconne” (Partita #2).

  • The Chaconne, w/ Hilary Hahn:

  • The Chaconne is wonderful; I’ve played it on classical guitar.
    For someone who is sensitive to music and capable of appreciating its beauties, listening to Bach’s Chaconne is an amazingly powerful experience. There is no piece of rock music that even remotely compare. Rock music has its own emotional powers, to be sure, but it’s not the same.

  • Mark DeF:

    How do you manage to catalogue that many CDs? I can’t keep the ones in my car in the right cases…

  • I think you’re right that classical music (in part because of the time available, types of instruments, number of instruments, and the subtlety of style is able to be significantly better than rock ever can…

    Again: “Better” how? “Better” than rock music at doing what?

    No, wrong. I used 80s hair metal as an EXAMPLE that would prove the point (and it seems you agree) that some genres are more limited than others.

    Some genres are more limited than others, of course. As I said, I am no relativist. But “hair metal” is a limited genre. It’s also a much narrower genre than “rock music” which is a HUGE genre and not a helpful category, in my opinion, and yet it is THIS genre that you keep talking about. This is PRECISELY why I am arguing with your blanket claim that classical music is some kind of higher art form than “rock music.”

    In any event, I can’t take anyone seriously who thinks that Bob Dylan represents some great achievement of human culture. He was a decent lyricist, an average tunesmith, and an unspeakably bad vocalist. No more than that.

    I rest my case that when it comes to rock music, you know little.

  • Dale,

    Binders without the CD cases, which hold 250 each. It’s only 13 binders overall. That’s when I am fully organized. 😉 (Otherwise, there are cases everywhere).

    I regret that I did not give first the Nathan Milstein version of the Bach Chaconne, whhich I just found:

  • Nah, I’ve heard plenty of Bob Dylan, but never anything that interested me in a second listen . . . his voice is just too scratchy and out of tune. It grates on the ears. Other people like him, I know, and I can well understand how mediocre rock musicians would think he’s wonderful (because he’s far above them). But it reminds me of how when I would tell someone that I played classical guitar, and they would say, “Ever hear that tune ‘Classical Gas’?” or “Ever seen that movie ‘Crossroads’?,” and I would be thinking, “Wow, how can I convey to this person that there’s a whole world of music that is light years above and beyond anything they’ve ever heard.”

  • And anyway, are you purporting to offer an “objective” opinion that Bob Dylan was a great musician of some kind?

  • His voice is “scratchy,” eh? Is that another bit of jargon that Celine Dion’s producer taught you?

    More evidence that, although you have degrees in classical guitar performance, you aren’t very thoughtful about what music is and what makes it good.

    Of course Dylan’s voice was not the best in terms of a particular dominant set of Western musical values. And no, I’m not suggesting at all that Dylan “was” (he still makes music, you know – might want to catch up) a great musician. But it is objectively true that he made, and continues to make, great music.

    Are you able to catch these distinctions? Or is it just that you are intentionally misrepresenting me again?

  • His voice is “scratchy,” eh?

    No, it’s just an observation that would be shared by anyone who knows anything about vocal technique.

    But it is objectively true that he made, and continues to make, great music.

    No, it’s not “objectively true” in any sense whatsoever. He makes often-amateurish-sounding music that somehow seems to appeal to a particular subset of Americans in a particular cultural framework at a particular time and place. That’s not objective. If his music is still idolized in many different cultures in 300 years (as is Bach’s), then maybe he’ll have created something of value, but it’s too early to know that yet. And even if that were to occur, it would still be objectively true that his music isn’t very complex or difficult to replicate (no one could say the same about Bach), and that his only appeal (such as it is) derives from his lyrics.

  • No, it’s just an observation that would be shared by anyone who knows anything about vocal technique.

    Oh, ok. “Scratchy.” [rolls eyes]

    And even if that were to occur, it would still be objectively true that his music isn’t very complex or difficult to replicate (no one could say the same about Bach), and that his only appeal (such as it is) derives from his lyrics.

    So what if it’s not “complex” or “difficult to replicate”? You have already admitted that such things do not automatically constitute “good music.” Oh, unless you “admitted” it but don’t actually believe it. Which I could see you doing, considering you seem to have taken on a set of musical values that comes from academic study of instrument performance. But such values are not the only values involved. Technical complexity does not equal good music. Simplicity can indeed be better than complexity. (An example: the recent sub-genre of “math rock” within post-rock circles is largely a bunch of garbage.) You — simply, objectively — have a narrow view of what “good” music is.

  • What’s your deal with Dylan’s voice? No one who is remotely competent or knowledgeable thinks that Dylan has a good voice. It’s just awful — scratchy, thin, etc. It lacks power, range, depth and quality of tone, ability to create different vocal sounds, and everything that you find in a good vocalist. This is as objectively true as anything can possibly be about music. Just as objective as pointing out that someone who fumbles around trying to play Chopsticks isn’t as good at the piano as Vladimir Horowitz.

    The point about “difficult to replicate” is that any number of songwriters (myself included) can come up with tunes (just the music now, not lyrics) that are every bit as good as anything that Dylan wrote. His tunes just aren’t that creative or memorable. Think of “Knockin on Heaven’s Door” — the tune mostly consists of two notes. I could write a tune like that in my sleep. The only reason anybody pays any attention to it is because it’s “Bob Dylan.” (There are experiments where people can’t tell the difference between a cheap and expensive bottle of wine unless they see the label first.) If Dylan hadn’t written that song, and if Britney Spears came up with the exact same tune, you’d think the tune was crap.

  • I feel Admiral James Stockdale in the ’92 Vice-Presidential debate just reading these comments.

  • As I said, I agree that Dylan does not have a “great” voice. Can you not read? Or is your memory just bad?

    The point about “difficult to replicate” is that any number of songwriters (myself included) can come up with tunes (just the music now, not lyrics) that are every bit as good as anything that Dylan wrote.

    But the music as a whole is not reducible to the “tune.” The tune, the accompaniment, the lyrics, the performance (and even aspects beyond these, like the personality of the artist, etc) are all part of what makes music music. So what if the tune is simple? The music as a whole is good music. Paul Simon wrote classic songs that have ridiculous lyrics. It doesn’t mean the music is bad. If Britney Spears came up with the tune of “Knockin’ of Heaven’s Door” but sang her type of lyrics to that tune, with her style of instrumentation and production, and her style of performance, the music as a whole would be transformed and not at all the same as the music that Dylan made.

    Are you serious that you actually studied music academically?

  • Yes, that’s why I have the intellectual capacity to analyze whether someone has written a beautiful or interesting melody, without being unduly biased by the fact that he’s famous, or the fact that he wrote interesting lyrics, or all the rest. (And good grief, the “style of performance” isn’t something to compliment Dylan on . . . talk about something where Dylan was mediocre at best.)

    As I said, I agree that Dylan does not have a “great” voice. Can you not read? Or is your memory just bad?

    No, I read the posts in which you’re sneering at my criticism of his voice as “scratchy.” Why are you doing that, if you agree with me on that point?

  • And again: The music as a whole is good music.

    Says who? That’s not an objective judgment. The more I look at YouTube videos of Dylan in the 1960s, the more I’m baffled that he ever became famous. There’s nothing there worth further attention. Just mawkish screeching.

  • Also, the “difficult to replicate” phrase applies to the performance and instrumentation . . . in terms of performance and instrumentation, I haven’t seen anything from Dylan that couldn’t be equaled or outdone by thousands of cover bands across America.

  • …without being unduly biased by the fact that he’s famous…

    I actually listen mostly to music by artists who are not famous. As a good deal of my musical roots come from participation in local, independent and/or punk rock communities, it’s safe to say I am relatively free of bias that might be inspired by the fame of musical artists.

    On a side note, do you think you might have a bias or two at work in your musical opinions?

    …or the fact that he wrote interesting lyrics, or all the rest.

    The fact that he wrote interesting lyrics is not something apart from the music Dylan made/makes. It’s part of the music. If one recognizes the strength of his lyrics and considers this aspect when making a judgment about Dylan’s music as a whole, this is not a “bias” but part of the process of judging his MUSIC.

    Why are you doing that, if you agree with me on that point?

    I don’t think “scratchy” is a helpful term. Leonard Cohen’s voice might be kind of “scratchy.” Dylan’s is certainly whiny, nasally, out of tune, etc.

    Says who? That’s not an objective judgment.

    My judgment is certainly debatable, but the burden of proof is probably on you considering the fact that Dylan is held in high regard almost across the board. My judgment contains both subjective and objective aspects and I don’t claim that such judgments are easy to come to. I do believe in objective criteria and that some music is surely better than others, but I think such judgments are debatable, obviously.

    I don’t see much objectivity in your judgment on Dylan. You criticize him for “screeching” (see, now that’s much better than “scratchy”). Does screeching equal “bad” music? Why? Should music always be pretty? You admit that he wrote good lyrics. Where do you draw the line? What sort of calculus do you use to add all these things up?

    Enjoy YouTube.

  • Also, the “difficult to replicate” phrase applies to the performance and instrumentation . . . in terms of performance and instrumentation, I haven’t seen anything from Dylan that couldn’t be equaled or outdone by thousands of cover bands across America.

    Well that’s just silly. I’ve heard countless covers of Dylan and most of it is trash. Ahh… maybe we’ve found the root of your dislike of Dylan. You;ve heard one too many cover versions of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.”

    Personally, I don’t like that song much either.

    How old are you anyway, S.B.?

    I’m surprised more folks aren’t sticking up for Dylan here.

  • I’m still waiting for someone to tell me what is the supposedly objective reason that I or anyone else should think that Dylan is so great. His tunes are simplistic, his voice is pretty awful, his performing is nothing special. I don’t see anything about his “music” that is objectively good, except that he has interesting lyrics. So why am I supposed to be impressed?

    Again, if anyone else came up with the average Dylan song, no one would care. It would languish on some unknown MySpace page. It’s only because it’s “Bob Dylan” that anyone pays attention. Same as with the wine experiments . . . tell people it’s an expensive wine, and they ooh and aah; tell them it’s a cheap wine, and they don’t like it.

    But if an unknown came up with something like the Goldberg Variations, the classical world would bow in awe.

  • I’ve heard countless covers of Dylan and most of it is trash.

    I’m not talking about Dylan covers necessarily. I’m just saying that in terms of technical skill at playing instruments and singing, or stage presence, or anything that you supposedly like about Dylan’s performances, there is nothing that sets him apart from thousands of bands across America (whether they’re playing their own music or whatever).

  • I’m surprised more folks aren’t sticking up for Dylan here.

    I think Dylan’s great as a lyricist. But his voice, arrangements, and performance skills are nothing spectacular. Dylan’s importance, imo, is very contingent on timing and the influence he had on other bands. I know that’s sacrilege among people who think rock is the. greatest. music. ever., but, then, I think rock is inferior to classical music as a genre. I listen almost exclusively to rock, play rock, and prefer to listen to it. But I think it’s a limited medium. I read (and enjoy) blogs more than I read papal encyclicals in an average week; that doesn’t mean the former is superior to the latter.

    I think Dylan’s poetry falls short of the best poets, and his melodies, harmonies, etc. are child’s play compared to the best classical composers. Granted, part of the point of rock is that the music as a whole is better than the sum of its parts. But I still think classical music is superior, although I see no need for either rock or classical enthusiasts to speak ill of each other.

  • But I think it’s a limited medium.

    AGAIN: Limited how? In its ability to do what?

    I read (and enjoy) blogs more than I read papal encyclicals in an average week; that doesn’t mean the former is superior to the latter.

    Papal encyclicals are “superior” to blogs? This is comparing two things that do different things. You can’t really say that encyclicals are “better” than blogs. What remains unspoken, in this case and in the musical debate we are having, is what they are “superior” at doing No one is addressing this point.

    It’s only because it’s “Bob Dylan” that anyone pays attention.

    I definitely think that’s true of many rock music “stars.” As I said, I am highly critical of the mainstream rock music world. I don’t think you are justified in saying that Dylan is just like any run-of-the-mill rock musician.

  • A good way to think of it would be this:
    Listen to hundreds of rock songs, and think how often you hear something musical that can’t be done within classical music. Maybe the feeling of rebellion, maybe the feeling “this rocks!,” maybe something else. Not much.

    Listen to hundreds of hours of Gregorian chant, Italian operas, Renaissance motets and masses, Romantic symphonies, 20th-century Russian composers, atonal music, solo piano sonatas, string quartets, Bach cantatas, violin concertos, piano concertos, etc. With every new piece, try to appreciate what the music is doing, and think to yourself, “Is there anything within the comparatively much narrower genre of modern American rock music that can do the same musically?”

    If you have any capacity to appreciate music at all, there will be many more times when you realize that the classical genre is much broader, much more varied and representative of different cultures and places and times, etc.

  • I’m too low brow to get into classical music, but am a bit of a rock snob. I can appreciate the argument that classical as a whole is more sophisticated musically speaking than most, even all rock – even the rock that I find brilliant and moving. However, I was hoping Michael Iafrate would be able to make a case that would bring rock a little more credibility because there really are some rock artists who know music and can stretch the capacity of rock and/or supply some very poetic lyrics that are accompanied by appropriate musical arrangements. Sorry, Michael, I don’t think you’ve made much headway – but then you sort of really lost me when you cited Dylan and Springsteen. Dude, it’s hard to escape tastes when evaluating any form of art, and it’s admittedly hard for me to give those guys more credit than my personal taste will allow, but if you’re going to convince someone that there exists rock that is worthy of consideration by classically trained musicians or has power to move in profound or not-so-base way, you missed the boat. I was really pulling for you on this one…

  • With every new piece, try to appreciate what the music is doing, and think to yourself, “Is there anything within the comparatively much narrower genre of modern American rock music that can do the same musically?”

    I hope you would do the same with various types of rock music. You might find that some rock music evokes more than feelings of “rebellion” or “this rocks.”

    I’ll cite two examples of rock music that evoked for me, in a live setting, the same feeling. I saw Radiohead a few years back. Not sure if you’re familiar with their music or not. You might call it “post-rock.” The other band is called Godspeed You Black Emperor. They would also be considered “post-rock,” but even more so than Radiohead, as they play long, instrumental “pieces” rather than songs. The latter, at the time, was a band of about 10 members. Called themselves a “collective” rather than a band. Various instruments, including guitars, basses, drums and various percussion, cellos, violins and violas… maybe other things. Both bands evoked for me, through the music itself (and lyrics in the case of Radiohead) as well as through the way it was played (incredibly loud), a sense of apocalyptic. Both bands push the boundaries of rock music in their instrumentation, the structure of the music itself, use of electronics and sampling and sometimes visual imagery. Despite what you might think (without any evidence, of course), I have pretty wide musical tastes. The apocalyptic feeling of these two bands, especially the live experience, I have not experienced with any other type of music.

    I can appreciate the argument that classical as a whole is more sophisticated musically speaking than most, even all rock – even the rock that I find brilliant and moving.

    Now THERE you go. I would definitely agree that classical music as a genre is more sophisticated than rock music. I don’t know, though, whether this means that it can express a great deal more of human experience than rock music, or that classical music, as a genre, is better than rock music.

    Sorry, Michael, I don’t think you’ve made much headway – but then you sort of really lost me when you cited Dylan and Springsteen.

    Well, they’re not my favorites by any means, but they are names that are familiar and certainly artists that I think are among the greats of rock music. I am certainly not suggesting that either artist’s entire canon is perfect or consistent in terms of quality. Who, then, would you cite, Rick? Help another rock snob out! 🙂 The Beatles are an obvious possibility… I’ve already mentioned Radiohead who I think are one of the most important rock bands of all time, and still in their prime.

  • I checked out the Godspeed group. Many of their pieces sound exactly like stuff that you’ll hear from modern classical composers. It’s not really helping your case to point to so-called “rock” groups whose musical talent seems to consist of importing sounds, instrumentation, etc., from classical music!

  • An intervention for the health of “American Catholic”.

    2+2 always makes 5:

  • Pingback: Serious Musicians « The American Catholic
  • Both bands evoked for me, through the music itself (and lyrics in the case of Radiohead) as well as through the way it was played (incredibly loud), a sense of apocalyptic.

    I’d defer to SB and Mark, who both probably have wider experience than I, but I’d tend to say that apocalyptic is something that rock music is going to be better at than classic. (While classical is probably able, for instance, to be far more pastoral — as in countryside, not running a parish — than rock.)

    However, it’s always interesting to try a challenge. The two things I first thought of in regards to apocalyptic is the sacrifice section from Rites of Spring:

    And the Dies Irae from Karl Jenkins’ Requiem:

    I have the feeling there some other very obvious 20th century piece which is right beyond my memory at the moment, but thus it goes.

    I’d be curious what others thought of, if anything.

    And Rick, I’d be curious to hear what bands you would consider outstanding rock. (I confess, Michael, that while I basically enjoy Radiohead I’m not deeply moved by it. Though the fact it strongly evokes a roommate I didn’t get along with doesn’t help any…)

  • Many of their pieces sound exactly like stuff that you’ll hear from modern classical composers. It’s not really helping your case to point to so-called “rock” groups whose musical talent seems to consist of importing sounds, instrumentation, etc., from classical music!

    No genre of music is self-contained. If you studied music, you should know this!

  • Here’s one:

    Mahler 2, 5th movement

  • Michael I

    Correct; no genre is self-contained; indeed, most of my favorite bands are quite diverse (world folk rock tend to be). I wonder, for example, how one would go about describing Hoven Droven.

    You get some rather heavy tunes like KOTTPOLSKA

    Somewhat lighter with their Vasen

    Turbo is interesting

    Some of their songs are more jazzy (perhaps Malort works for this, though not the best example

    And they do their own covers, like Wish You Were Here:

  • Michael and Darwin,

    Maybe I’m not qualified to speak on the subject because I’m not an accomplished musician – unless being able to play Smoke on the Water on anything from a guitar to a child’s xylophone counts for something. 😉

    But really, the whole genre of Progressive Rock was (or is, as far as it can be found these days) about was expanding the scope of rock as a musical vehicle. Most of my taste lies in that genre. Among my favorites are Pink Floyd, old Genesis, Supertramp, Rush, Yes, etc.

    While Pink Floyd has been at the top of my list for decades if I decided what my favorite band was by both appreciation and how often I listen to them, then that would be Marillion from the Fish years (first four albums – mid-1980s). I don’t argue that they’re better than Pink Floyd, Genesis, et al (in fact they were influenced by those bands), but they were awesome and there is an extreme personal connection in my case.

    Anyway, I’d argue that in the Prog Rock genre there is a wide variety of talented musicians pushing the envelope of Rock and Roll. In some case you might find it done in sophisticated structures that would have more in common with classical than average rock, other times you might find some hard core jazz influence (you know, the kind of stuff you pretty much have to be a musician to appreciate), other times you may find that orchestral arrangements are an integral part of the work (but that really says something about the capacity of classical to transcend too).

    And Mark D., personally I didn’t like that Radiohead tune you posted, though the imagery in the video was reminiscent of Pink Floyd in a number of ways – almost seemed a rip-off of them, in fact. Pink Floyd had an album called Animals, which was based on the Animal Farm thing too. Notable songs, Dogs, Pigs, and Sheep. Anyway, many of the images in that video seem to have been deliberate mock-ups of the animation in Pink Floyd’s The Wall. I can’t help but to wonder if that was intentional – a tribute, so to speak.

  • http://www.thecedar.org/hoven_droven_brekken_0

    That has a good sample of Hoven Droven with hammond organ rocking away; I was looking for it on youtube, but didn’t find it. It is on the heavier side of their music.

  • No genre of music is self-contained. If you studied music, you should know this!

    At the edges, yes, but genres are obviously different, or else we wouldn’t be able to talk about “genres” in the first place.

    Anyway, what you’ve done here is as if I talked about the superiority of classical music, and then my example of good classical music consisted of a modern so-called “classical” group that consisted of an electric guitar, bass, drums, and that sounded just like the Eagles.

  • By the way:

    I’m surprised more folks aren’t sticking up for Dylan here.

    Well, I’m continually surprised when certain members of the Vox Nova crowd, who supposedly agree with the Church’s teaching on abortion, can’t bring themselves to criticize Obama with even a thousandth the same fervor that they have when criticizing SUVs or Sarah Palin’s preacher — or just about anything, for that matter.

    But everyone has different priorities, I guess.

  • A: “Chairs are nice, but couches seat more people than chairs.”

    B: “No, they don’t.”

    A: “Huh? Obviously they do. Have you never seen a couch?”

    B: “Check out this great example of a progressive ‘post-chair’ that is 15 feet wide, and that seats more people than a couch.”

    A: “Um, that’s actually a couch. That doesn’t prove your point at all.”

    B: “So what? Genres aren’t self-contained.”

    A: Sigh.

  • Henry,

    Your comments aren’t being moderated. AC’s spam filter automatically moderates comments that contain three or more links.

    You’re good to go!

  • S.B. – Congratulations on your pathological ability to bring every conversation — even one about rock music — back to abortion.

  • You’re right, my priorities are totally out of whack. Anyway, it’s just an offhand comment; just move right along to more important subjects.

  • Yes, onto more important things… Amazing that you are now attempting to cast Godspeed You Black Emperor as classical music.

  • Michael I

    When all else fails, and the conversation isn’t going so well, bring it back to abortion and if people complain, tell the world “it’s the most important thing in the world to talk about.” The question of course is, why didn’t you say so in the first place?

  • Amazing that you are now attempting to cast Godspeed You Black Emperor as classical music.

    Why? The tunes I heard all have classical instrumentation, and sound exactly like oodles of stuff that I’ve heard from modern classical composers (maybe a little less adventurous). They’re clearly knock-offs of modern classical music. So it’s just funny that one of your best examples of good “rock” music consists of a group that makes modern classical music but, for no apparent reason, seems to have some followers who use the label “rock.”

  • To be fair, it could well be more an example of convergence than immitation. Perhaps both are being formed by the same post-modern artistic sensibilities.

  • Is classical music? I didn’t know!

  • That must also be classical music, now. Don’t tell John Taverner.

  • Yeah, that first clip clearly sounds like classical music (i.e., modern experimental music, although this wasn’t very experimental), much more than it sounds like the typical rock song. So you’re absolutely right: you didn’t know.

  • So, Hoven Droven is also classical music?

  • Another Hoven Droven video, this time, if you skip beyond the intro, with a full orchestra.

  • Must be the heaviest classical music I’ve ever heard!

  • Stop trying to be a smart***, Henry; you’re just showing that you don’t know anything about modern classical music.

    And what’s the point of this, anyway? It’s like amateur philosophers who think that because they’ve identified a particular point in the day where the sun has set but it’s still somewhat dusky in the sky, therefore there’s no difference between day and night. The fact that a few fringe bands at the edge of a particular genre borrow heavily from other genres shouldn’t deprive us of the intellectual ability to see how the majority of one genre differs from another.

  • SB

    So in other words, your answer is, “I don’t have an answer.” Got you.

  • I don’t have an answer to what? I don’t see an intelligible or intelligent question anywhere. If the question is whether the boundaries of genres can be blurry at the edges, I already said that of course they can . . . that’s why you see modern classical composers using electric guitars, or why you see wanna-be rock bands using a violin. That doesn’t change the fact that we can still distinguish between genres, nor does it change the fact that when a supposed “rock” group uses classical instrumentation and musical structure and style (along with the absence of anything resembling a typical rock song), it’s really closer to modern classical music than anything else.

  • I’m not sure if either one of you is going to be able to cast much light on the topic by examining the muddy intersections of the question.

    After all, Paul McCartney is a rock musician — but he released a couple of explicitly classical albums.

    Apocalyptica uses only instruments generally used in classical music (four chellos) but their music is pretty clearly rock.

    Back in the late 80s the rock group ELP did a very faithful cover of Holst’s “Mars, Bringer of War”, a classical piece.

    One could play with muddy examples all day, but unless we assert that the terms are meaningless (and that hardly seems to be the case since I think most people could successfully divide 99% of classical and rock pieces into the appropriate buckets if asked) there must surely be a basic set of characteristics that most “classical” shares and another that most “rock” shares.

    Given that, even if there are a few weird cases where one could make arguments that a group’s music is either rock or classical (and settle it only based on what the group self-identifies as) it should still be possible to make general statements about both groups of music. And some of those statements might have to do with subtlety and range of expression.

    (Though to be honest, I find most of the really experimental classical stuff rather un-involving — so the middle ground is hardly something I feel like fighting for anyway. I was listening to a 28 minute a-tonal piece for asian flute and orchestra the other night on the classical station and simply had to turn off the radio after ten minutes. There’s only so much a-tonality this fellow can take.)

  • That’s just a semantic label; it doesn’t change the underlying reality that their music sounds much more like classical music than “rock.” Deal with it.

  • And again, if the best you can do is say that music labeled as “rock” is interesting to the extent that it sounds like and/or draws from classical music, then that proves my point. The lesser genre is having to draw on the greater genre in order to expand its range and capacity.

  • Whereas when classical performers try to draw on pop influences, it just looks like they’re slumming, selling out to try to appeal to the young and ill-educated.

  • “That’s just a semantic label; it doesn’t change the underlying reality that their music sounds much more like classical music than ‘rock’ Deal with it.”

    And there you have it, folks. The tautology. Rock can’t do it, because if it does, it “sounds like classical so it is classical.” Get it? If it has the depths, it’s not really rock!

  • I don’t think bands that fuse classical and rock really prove a point one way or the other in this discussion. Sure, some music is both, but that doesn’t mean the genres don’t exist or that we can’t discuss the relative merits of the genres in general terms.

  • That’s just a semantic label; it doesn’t change the underlying reality that their music sounds much more like classical music than “rock.”

    You must not have listened to very much of it.

    And again, if the best you can do is say that music labeled as “rock” is interesting to the extent that it sounds like and/or draws from classical music, then that proves my point.

    Well, that’s just it. I didn’t say that. As usual, you’re putting words in my mouth. Fact is, Godspeed draws from a lot of influences. I’m not really even convinced that they’re drawing much from “classical” music. I mean, they use violins. So does bluegrass. Regardless, Godspeed is clearly a rock band.

    Whereas when classical performers try to draw on pop influences, it just looks like they’re slumming, selling out to try to appeal to the young and ill-educated.

    Well this is clearly the most direct statement you have made. And it reveals you to be a classist prick.

  • A better word would be “elitist.”

    Anyway, if you asked me to provide examples of the beauties and wonders of classical music, it would be rather pathetic if one of my chief examples was Luciano Pavarotti’s duets with James Brown and Sting.

    Henry:

    The tautology. Rock can’t do it, because if it does, it “sounds like classical so it is classical.”

    How stupid. It’s not a tautology at all to point out that if a supposed “rock” group in fact consists of instrumentation that imitates classical music, melodic lines and structure that imitate modern classical composers, and nothing that resembles a traditional rock song, then it’s closer to classical music regardless of whether some people prefer (for inscrutable reasons) to use the label “rock.”

    Again, if I come up with a “pop classical” group that consists of an electric violin, an electric guitar, drums, and a bass, and that plays covers of Sting and the Police, only a complete idiot would think it tautological to point out that the group’s music was more pop/rock than actual classical music.

  • And it reveals you to be a classist prick.

    Find a more polite way to state your opinion or take it elsewhere.

  • And again:
    Well, that’s just it. I didn’t say that. As usual, you’re putting words in my mouth.

    Not so. I’m just pointing out the logical implications of the fact that in attempting to point to artistic rock music, you come up with examples of so-called “rock” groups that are imitating modern classical music in terms of style, melody, instrumentation, etc. You couldn’t do a better job of proving my point: Music given the label “rock” can be broad . . . when it cribs from a superior genre.

  • It’s not a tautology at all to point out that if a supposed “rock” group in fact consists of instrumentation that imitates classical music, melodic lines and structure that imitate modern classical composers, and nothing that resembles a traditional rock song, then it’s closer to classical music regardless of whether some people prefer (for inscrutable reasons) to use the label “rock.”

    For those who aren’t as familiar with the really modern composers (I’ve heard some stuff on the radio that sort of fits your description here, but there are only a few pieces I actually have copies of which were composed since 1965 and most of them are fairly traditional) what might be some examples of the sort of modern classical you’re talking about?

  • 157 (now 158) comments. Is that an American Catholic record? On a post about music no less – and it’s not even about liturgical music!

  • I’m thinking of a bunch of avant garde stuff that my fellow music graduate students composed and performed (sometimes I was in on the performance).

    Henry would be right about the tautological point IF, and only if, I had said something like this: “Rock music can’t be emotional [or deep, or lyrical, or whatever.] Oh, here’s something that is emotional, and therefore by definition it’s classical, not rock.” But of course I said nothing even remotely like that.

    What I’ve said — and this isn’t a complicated point — is that labels matter less than reality. If something is given the label “rock,” but its melody and structure and instrumentation resemble some modern classical music, then that reality is more important than the mere semantic fact that some people have, for no apparent reason, fallen under the spell of the four letters “r” “o” c” and “k.” Conversely, if something is given the label “classical,” but the musicians involved are playing electrified music, with lyrics, in verse and chorus form, and that sounds more like Johnny Cash than anything classical, then that reality is more important than the mere label “classical.”

    That’s not even arguably a tautology.

  • 160 posts on Rock. Crazy kids with their crazy music! (Crotchety Don goes off muttering to himself.)

  • Henry would be right about the tautological point IF, and only if, I had said something like this: “Rock music can’t be emotional [or deep, or lyrical, or whatever.] Oh, here’s something that is emotional, and therefore by definition it’s classical, not rock.” But of course I said nothing even remotely like that.

    Actually, that’s a great summary of what you did actually say.

    If you think Godspeed resembles “classical music” because it features strings, then I need to question your claim to have done academic work in music.

  • What an illiterate. I never said that “Godspeed” is classical because of its emotional power or anything even remotely like that. I said repeatedly that it sounds like modern classical music because it does — as a matter of musical substance, as a matter of listening to it and thinking, “Gee, that sounds like modern classical music I’ve heard before,” as a matter of not just instrumentation but of structure and form.

    Anyway, parsing the details of one obscure wanna-be “rock” band is neither here nor there. As I’ve said — to no disagreement — the mere fact that a few fringe bands are hard to classify tell us nothing about the rest of the genre, any more than the existence of dusk makes it impossible to tell the difference between day and night, or the existence of hermaphrodites makes it impossible to speak of men and women.

  • Interestingly enough, SB never answered my questions. I asked what genre one would place various bands and songs— from Hoven Droven’s work, to the song “Clubbed to Death.” No answer. His tautology would have to classify them as classical, I am sure. But that is also patently ridiculous, so… here we are.

  • There’s no tautology, and you know it. And are you still not grasping the point that classifying fringe bands is a pointless exercise? There can be blurry boundaries between genres, but that doesn’t change the fact that we can still tell the difference between genres the vast majority of the time. What you’re doing is as stupid as saying, “Look at this hermaphrodite! Therefore we can’t say that male anatomy on average differs from female anatomy.”

    (How would I classify “Hoven Droven”? They’re not nearly as close to modern classical as Godspeed; they use a mixture of folk melodies and rock sounds with acoustic/classical instrumentation. Big deal.)

  • “…there must surely be a basic set of characteristics that most “classical” shares and another that most “rock” shares. ”

    For rock’s basic characteristic, let’s go to Magister Berry himself: “It’s got a backbeat/You can’t lose it.” That, the fundamental lineup of guitar/bass/drums, and electronic amplification are what make rock rock, imho. Since the Beatles started messing with the form in 66/67, the backbeat will occasionally disappear, other instruments will surface, and the volume will vary, but music entirely without these three features generally is not categorized as rock. I think that it’s these characteristics which gives rise to the belief that rock, as a genre, is more limited than classical, since overriding, propulsive rhythm and volume tend to overwhelm sonic subtleties and nuance commonly found in orchestral, choral, and chamber music. Of course, since classical rarely partakes of these features, rock can definitely go to places which classical does not. But I believe that a case can be made that a fairly metronomic backbeat and high volume can be seen as limiting factors of the style.

  • Interestingly enough, SB never answered my questions. I asked what genre one would place various bands and songs— from Hoven Droven’s work, to the song “Clubbed to Death.”

    I’m not sure I fully agree with SB’s comments here (though I’m not in a position to know either way for sure since I generally avoid the modern exprimental classical stuff) but you’re overly simplifying his position. To run down:

    Clubbed to Death: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pt-NvcuDVBc
    No, I wouldn’t see this as sounding very classical. The percussive bassline and some of the other repetition/development elements strike me as sounding more like your standard electronica/instrumental rock/new age cross-over area.

    Godspeed You! Black Emperor live: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6nUml7Ijznw
    This does, despite the use of traditonally rock instruments, strike me as sounding fairly similar to some modern/experimental classicla music. Though it’s more melodic and less dissonent and abrasive than much of the stuff that I was hearing looking around through experimental classical stuff last night. However, if you asked me to classify it, I’d certainly put it in the rock category due to the eventual take over of the percussion and guitar line, and the ending which strikes me as a very rock-like close: hit a crescendo and then fade out with an electronic interference noise.

    Hoven Droven with orchestra: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4LlELP3gzc
    The first couple minutes sound in some ways like some experimental classical, but once they settle in the main themes are clearly derived from folk, jazz and rock. No question there.

    I don’t think there’s a lot of insight to be gained either way by looking at the muddy fringes between genres — but at least don’t simplify SB’s point to “if it has strings, it’s classical” because that’s not remotely what he’s saying.

    That said, I can hardly blame anyone for not being familiar with experimental classical because (having spent yesterday evening browsing around through examples) I am re-enforced in my idea that it’s mostly pretty un-likeable stuff compared to “real” (used as prejudicial term) classical music.

  • DC,

    This Steve Reich piece, Music for 18 Musicians, once considered pretty experimental, as was his tape-looped stuff is moving into the ‘mainstream.” Try it:

  • Darwin is right about the “Clubbed to Death” link. Not that it matters: Classifying whatever obscurity you dig up is a waste of time. Doesn’t affect the fact that genres differ enough that the overwhelming of the time, we can tell them apart. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be different “genres” in the first place.

  • And what are you trying to prove, anyway? That cheesy folk rock groups or tedious electronica are as profound as Bach? Or what?

  • This Steve Reich piece, Music for 18 Musicians, once considered pretty experimental, as was his tape-looped stuff is moving into the ‘mainstream.”

    That’s a really interesting piece, Mark. Thanks.

  • Let me take an amateurish approach to see we can (especially the warring parties) reach a mutual consensus that doesn’t necessarily negate anyone’s thoughts but incorporates the nuances.

    I’m not a musician, nor a music scholar, but I do appreciate music. My understanding is that there are recognized three major components of music. Rhythm, melody, and harmony. Each has it’s own primary effect on us (but that doesn’t mean they can’t work in concert). Rhythm primarily affects us at a physiological level (we want to tap our feet, might make our pulse rise, etc. – it’s primarily what makes rock moving, though rock can move us with harmony and lyrics, etc.). Harmony moves us on more of an emotional and intellectual level (a major part of classical music. This is why in movies when they’re trying to move the audience on an emotional level like sadness, jubilation, etc. there’s a sweeping harmonic score playing. It’s so effective you really don’t need to have been involved in following the movie or identifying with the characters to feel the jubilation of a homecoming or victory – or the sadness of a charecters loved one, etc.)

    Am I on track so far – more or less? If so, let’s proceed further, if not disregard me and call me an idiot.

    I think examining these elements and traits of the two genres in question we find why Michael can honestly question SB as to the ability of rock to move vs. classical. We also can see why SB claims and can claim that rock will never be able to move like classical does.

    I think SB is mostly right in that while rock can certainly move at a physiological level (very powerful thing, but rather base) and can and does utilize harmonic structure to move, the nature of rock still can’t make as effective use of harmony as classical can.

    If convincing y’all can say, I can agree to that characterization and be done with the conversation. If not, you can call me an idiot, and proceed to run up the comment count to the 200 mark.

  • DC,

    If you appreciated that, then you’d like John Adams too:

    Try this:

  • If not, you can call me an idiot, and proceed to run up the comment count to the 200 mark.

    I agree with you, but I will call you an idiot just because I wanna see if this puppy can make it to 200. 😉

  • DC,

    Or “Short Ride on a Fast Machine”, by the same composer:

  • A better peformance and rtaping (Berlin Philharmonic) of Short Ride on Fast Machine:

  • Check this out: a full video of Aaron Copland’s Third Symphony, a magnificent work. http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=1838768546135838793&ei=hE65SY39JY2grwKMmfTfBA&q=copland+third+symphony You’ll have to fast forward to 1:11:50, at which point you’ll get to hear the conductor’s comments about all the feelings that the music evokes in him. I was impressed with the brass; this is a difficult piece. (Trivia: I once got roped into playing the bass drum for an orchestra rehearsal of this piece, because one of the percussionists was absent. It was quite challenging: you had to count for interminably long periods of time, and then suddenly bang the heck out of the drum on an off-beat.)

  • Don’t miss out on 1:42 and following, where Copland introduces the “Fanfare for the Common Man” theme. Simply majestic.

  • Mark,

    Interesting. I quite like the Short Ride on a Fast Machine, but I think Shaker Loops gets too “weird” for me if you’ll forgive the non-technical term. 🙂

    Being a pretty traditional kind of guy, I usually don’t get much past someone like Hovhaness. He’s his Alleluia and Fugue:

  • Heh. Listening to Copland piece in the background as I work. They said in the beginning that it was a reflection of life in bustling NYC in the 1920’s. I’m just not getting that. While listening, what’s going through my mind is a stuff like coyote getting an ACME anvil dropped on his head, a duck getting his bill blown off by a shotgun, and a mouse pulling the tongue of a cat. oops… I just heard the sound of a bulldog getting smacked in the head with a garbage can lid. Pretty violent music there, SB!

    🙂

  • Hmm, just fast forwarded it a bit. Maybe I wasn’t listening to the right piece (it was the first one I was listening to).

  • Right, the Copland starts after 1 hour and 12 minutes into the video. (John Williams wishes he was Copland.)

  • DC,

    I love Hovhannes.

    Try this beautiful piece by the Estonian composer, Arvo Part, Spiegel im Spiegel (Mirror in the Mirror):

  • Well, this one heckuva a thread. Let me go on record as saying that both U2 and this new album are great.

  • BTW, I finally purchased No Line On the Horizon off of Itunes. Great album.

    Still, it’s no Ninth Symphony.
    :)-

Mad Men

Saturday, March 7, AD 2009

Mad Men is an American Movie Classics (AMC) television drama series is set in the early 1960s at the fictional Sterling Cooper advertising agency on New York City’s Madison Avenue.  The show centers on Don Draper (played by Jon Hamm), a high-level advertising executive, and the people in his life in and out of the office. It also depicts the changing social mores of 1960s America.  Mad Men has received wide critical acclaim, particularly for its historical authenticity and visual style.  Mad Men is the advertising term for people in the industry that work on Madison Avenue, ie, Madison Avenue Men shortened to Mad Men.

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2 Responses to Mad Men

The Hot Asphalt

Saturday, February 28, AD 2009

Something for the weekend.  For a wonder I am posting an Irish song about something other than rebellion against the British!  The incomparable Wolfe Tones singing The Hot Asphalt.  I trust this song will be appreciated by all who have ever worked on a road crew or who have ever had a family member who worked on a road crew.  It is tough work, necessary work, and, until this song, unsung work.  Here is another set of lyrics for the song.

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Battle Cries of Freedom

Saturday, February 7, AD 2009

Something for the weekend.  The Battle Cry of Freedom was a popular song North and South during the Civil War.  Of course, they sang different lyrics to the song.  The Union version was such a favorite among the Union troops, that President Lincoln, in a letter to George F. Root, the composer, wrote:  “You have done more than a hundred generals and a thousand  orators. If you could not shoulder a musket in defense of your country, you certainly have served her through your songs.”

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3 Responses to Veni Emmanuel

96 Responses to Return of Gregorian Chant

  • FYI – There will be a Gregorian Chant workshop at St. Theresa’s in Sugar Land on Feb. 13th & 14th, 2009. It will be presented by Scott Turkington, who is on the board of directors for the Church Music Association of America. $75 for the weekend, beginners welcome!

    http://www.musicasacra.com/sugarland/

    Incidentally, there is also a (free) concert of William Byrd’s Mass for Four Voices at 7:30pm on Feb. 13th, put on by the St. Theresa Schola Cantorum. Come for the whole weekend!

  • Chant is a nice option for liturgy. Too bad most of the folks pushing it as if life depended on it are simply “high culture” types who simply have an emotional attachment to one particular form of music and insist on imposing it on the rest of the church.

  • Before you make sweeping statements like that, you might want to have some basic familiarity with what the advocates of traditional sacred music (chant and polyphany) actually say about it — and more importantly what the Church herself has said about chant: namely that it should (according to Vatican II) given “pride of place” as a form “specially suited to the Roman Liturgy.”

    If we take the universal understanding of our Church seriously, we should certainly be following her guidance in this regard rather than the sort of Americanist guitar strumming which is all too often inflicted on us.

    Surely as someone so able to get outside the dominant cultural paradigm you agree?

  • “who simply have an emotional attachment to one particular form of music and insist on imposing it on the rest of the church.”

    Yes. One does wonder when most music directors at masses in this country will wake up to the astounding fact that the year is 2008 and not 1978. The persistance of bad “worship” music from the sixties and the seventies of the last century is as much a wonder to behold as it is painful to hear.

  • Second Vatican Council, Sacrosanctum Concilium §116 (1963) says, “The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman Liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services”.

    Amen.

  • [quote]If we take the universal understanding of our Church seriously, we should certainly be following her guidance in this regard rather than the sort of Americanist guitar strumming which is all too often inflicted on us.

    Surely as someone so able to get outside the dominant cultural paradigm you agree?[/quote]

    Yes, one would think so, but how could this fit into a pre-ordered worldview?

  • Darwin – First, I am quite familiar with what “they” say about it, having been active in liturgical music for about 15 years. Second, despite your wishful thinking, the “universal church” is not teaching us to restore monocultural music universally. It’s not even asking us to ban guitars. Keep dreaming. And what is “Americanist” guitar strumming anyway?

    Donald – The worst of liturgical music is from the late 80s and the 1990s. Most parishes are using music that sounds like its from the Weather Channel or Elton John “Circle of Life” crap and it’s horrid. A lot of the music from the 70s was actually quite good.

    Surely as someone so able to get outside the dominant cultural paradigm you agree?

    Yes, what better way to “get outside the dominant cultural paradigm” than by restoring the former dominant cultural paradigm, and not because the type of music is any “better” in any objective way, but because 1) of some emotional “mysterious” feeling it gives you and 2) because it suits your ecclesiological ideology.

    Of course some types of music are better than others, and we can certainly say that some types of music are suitable for the eucharistic liturgy and others are not. And of course chant is fantastic. Sure, let’s even say it should have the “pride of place.” But it’s merely an option among many.

  • Here is a thread from Catholic Answers on the worst Catholic hymns.

    http://forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=197443

    Note that it goes on for 50 pages.

    My personal list of the bottom ten Catholic hymns that make my ears bleed:

    1. Sing a new song-1972.

    2. I am the bread of life-1971.

    3. On eagles’ wings-1979

    4. Here I am Lord-1979

    5. Gift of finest wheat-1976

    6. Be not afraid-1974

    7. Glory and praise to our God-1976

    8. Hosea-1972

    9. Peace is flowing like a river-1975

    10. Ashes -1978

    Bad music is created in every decade, but the seventies abuse the privilege.

    Hear is a good article that explains why this mouldy boomer music is foisted upon us so frequently at Mass.

  • I am curious if there is overlap between Donald’s bottom 10 and Michael’s top 10 from the 70’s.

    Personally I think some of those songs are defensible, particularly when they are scriptural, but to say they are defensible is not to say they are ideal.

  • I am personally a lover of Lassus, Victoria, Byrd, Palesrtina Tavener AND all of the songs on Donald’s list.

  • I have a certain shame-faced affection for Gift of Finest Wheat, though my list of horribles would line up well with Donald’s. I’d add Let Us Build the City of God in place of Gift of Finest Wheat.

    There’s an important distinction to bear in mind, however, when talking about Palestrina, Byrd or the Glory & Praise Hit Parade versus talking about chant. (And this applies equally to Gregorian Chant in the Latin Rite and the various Eastern forms of chant which are found in the Eastern Rites and the Orthodox churches.

    John Michael Talbot and Palestrina are both composers who wrote specific compositions in the idiom of their times (though one barely deserves the title and the other was among the most brilliant composers of choral music who ever lived). In that sense, Desprez, von Bingen, Monteverdi, Byrd, Tallis, Palestrina, etc. are of a specific time and culture, though composing music to fit an eternal and universal purpose. (And creating beauty which can be appreciated in many times and places.)

    Chant, however, is not a composition in the same sense. It is a mode of turning words into musical prayer, not a style for composing songs. This is what make’s Michael’s comment about “restoring the former dominant cultural paradigm” very odd. The “dominant cultural paradigm” in regards to sacred music has varied throughout the history of the Church. Medieval compositions are very different from Renaissance ones, which are in turn different from Classical and Baroque and modern ones. The various forms of chant, however, are not time and place specific in the same way. They’re flexible — listening to an African or Latin American priest or choir chant is very different from hearing a French or Spanish one — and yet they contain a universal musical language of prayer. (The use of the Church’s universal language helps as well, of course, when it comes to bridging barriers.)

    That is why the Church teaches that chant should have price of place in our liturgy — not because it is superior music or from a superior culture (though it is musically superior to much of what is churned out in any given period or by any given culture) but because chant provides the Church with a musical language of prayer which crosses cultural and temporal boundaries.

  • I appreciate music from all periods, but the problem that happened over the past generation and a half with Catholic Mass music in this country is that it largely remained frozen in time with the same 20 hymns or so, mostly from the seventies, played ad nauseum. One of the benefits of belonging to a Church that spans two millenia is that it gives us the opportunity to choose good music from many time periods, with the mediocre and bad music, alas always in the majority for any time period, residing in sweet oblivion. Time to take advantage of this and give the jejune hymns of the past two generations a rest for say a century or so.

  • “Hear is a good article that explains why this mouldy boomer music is foisted upon us so frequently at Mass.” should have been “Here is a good article that explains why this mouldy boomer music is foisted upon us so frequently at Mass.”, although, considering the subject matter, no doubt it was a Freudian slip.

  • .”..but because chant provides the Church with a musical language of prayer which crosses cultural and temporal boundaries.”

    I understand the claim and sympathize with the sentiment, but am not so sure that it is in a category unto itself, actually delivering in such a way.

  • Donald,

    Sadly I’ve been inculcated with these songs, having grown up in the 80’s and 90’s. Most of the songs you list I actually like. However, as I’ve become more and more aware of liturgical abuses, I’ve also become a little more sensitive to abuses in music, as well. There might be hope for me yet…

    As a completely useless anecdote, just this morning I was looking up the lyrics to Tim Schoenbachler’s “Rise Up, Jerusalem”. The song popped into my head at Mass yesterday, and I was trying to remember if it was something we sang in church years ago or was some pop piece that I’d heard elsewhere.

  • No problem Ryan, force of habit will cause many people to become fond of items that they would otherwise not be fond of. Of the songs produced during the seventies I actually like One Bread, One Body which I know is fingernails on the chalkboard to many people. Tastes will vary. My main point is that these songs are played too frequently and detract from the massive musical heritage that Catholics have to draw upon.

  • I am curious if there is overlap between Donald’s bottom 10 and Michael’s top 10 from the 70’s.

    Most of the songs he mentioned I don’t really like. I do like “I Am the Bread of Life” and “Be Not Afraid.” “Hosea” is also pretty good. The rest are not very good songs. “Here I Am Lord” rips off, of all things, the theme from the Brady Bunch.

    I do tend to like St Louis Jesuits hymns for the most part (only a few of the songs D mentioned were their songs), but I tend to like the more obscure ones. And I like them stripped down to folk instruments, well played, as they were intended to be played. Not translated to piano or pipe organ. And not simplistic guitar strumming. Good guitarists and singers playing “Answer When I Call,” for example is simply beautiful.

    A more interesting question is whether the songs on the “top ten worst songs” lists make it because folks are simply sick of them, and sick of bad music in general in Catholic parishes. “Be Not Afraid” is a great song, but it’s overdone and it’s usually played horribly. Any style of liturgical music can be done poorly. Donald’s later comments indicate to me that his issue is more with the fact that he is sick of certain hymns being over played. That’s certainly a legitimate point, but it does not signal an overall problem with the quality of Catholic liturgical from 1960-present.

    That said, I mostly don’t like Haas and Haugen (Haugen is better). And I can’t stand the Catholic embrace of “praise and worship” music.

    Chant, however, is not a composition in the same sense. It is a mode of turning words into musical prayer, not a style for composing songs. This is what make’s Michael’s comment about “restoring the former dominant cultural paradigm” very odd… The various forms of chant, however, are not time and place specific in the same way.

    What is “odd” is the notion that chant somehow floats above culture as if God herself wrote it. I’ve heard that argument before and frankly I find it ridiculous.

    I was fortunate to grow up in a parish that had a “folk Mass” with a very competent choir. These “folks” knew what they were doing. Great guitar players, fiddler, bass, etc. They had a huge batch of songs to draw from and they knew how the songs were intended to be played. Thus, it’s hard for me to accept the across-the-board dismissals of contemporary Catholic liturgical music.

    I’m working on an album of St Louis Jesuits songs played in a very stripped down format, with a sort of Appalachian old time feel. I am picking some of their more obscure songs for the most part.

    “Cry of the Poor,” played well, is one of the best, most hauntingly beautiful contemporary Catholic hymns in my opinion. But it does not translate well to piano or organ.

    I like Taize music (in Latin, English, or Spanish) because it feels both ancient and contemporary.

  • God herself

    Can I hope that’s a typo…?

  • That said…

    What is “odd” is the notion that chant somehow floats above culture as if God herself wrote it. I’ve heard that argument before and frankly I find it ridiculous.

    I don’t think the argument is that God himself produces chant, obviously the various forms of chant are human developments, but they’re human developments with a purpose and form different from “song writing” or “composition” in that they are means of singing pre-existing words (the words being the main emphasis) to a musical form that provides beauty without making the musical composition the center (a center to which the words are fit.)

    In this sense, a chant approach works equally well in Latin, English, Spanish, etc., so long as one takes into account the rhythms of the language itself.

    Though I can certainly imagine given your background and ideological commitments why you’d want to ignore or recategorize chanted prayer.

  • Most of what Donald puts on his list rank near the bottom of my list, too It’s not that they are necessarily bad songs (in fact, melodically some of them are very good), but most of them suffer from one serious defect: they’re virtually unsingable by ordinary people. The melodies have huge intervals in them or cover an enormous range (and sometimes both). The majority of people can only consistently sing an interval of a third or maybe a fourth, but many of these songs have fifths, sixths, and even octaves in them. Most people’s effective range is perhaps a full octave, but some of these songs stretch almost two octaves (“I Am The Bread Of Life” is especially bad about this). If your goal is to have the people sing along with the choir, this is the worst thing you can do; the result typically is absolute cacaphony. The great advantage of chant (and hymns up until the early 20th century in general) is that the intervals and ranges are relatively small (and the meter is regular). Even untrained singers can sound reasonably good with that material. By contrast, only a trained choir typically sounds good with much of the modern stuff.

    There are other issues involved that I won’t get into, such as apparently sopranos and tenors write all of the modern music and put it in keys that are uncomfortable for a bass such as myself, or performing in a style that is totally inappropriate for the source material (the parish I’m at now is the second consecutive one where the music group tries to play Andrae Crouch’s “Soon And Very Soon” and absolutely butchers it…).

  • I’m working on an album of St Louis Jesuits songs played in a very stripped down format, with a sort of Appalachian old time feel. I am picking some of their more obscure songs for the most part.

    I’d be interested in hearing it when you’re finished.

    but most of them suffer from one serious defect: they’re virtually unsingable by ordinary people.

    Truer words were never spoken. I grew up in a Presbyterian church (where they sang the Psalms, and nothing but the Psalms, set to music) and later a Southern Baptist church — and in both instances, everybody sang. Take a look around my parish on Sunday and people struggle along (if at all) while the director puts on a solo performance.

    Something’s amiss here, and it ain’t the parishioners.

  • God herself

    Can I hope that’s a typo…?

    Like his refusal to capitalize certain words, Michael I. is just going out of his way to be obnoxious.

  • One thing professional gadfly Todd Flowerday correctly points out is that everybody needs to step back and realize that hymn-sifting will occur and is occurring. Each of the currently popular hymnists is going to be lucky to have maybe five of his/her songs in a hymnal come the turn of the 21st Century. Which means that we’ll end up singing a lot of chaff, alas.

    The transcultural effect of chant is a good point. The Church has rarely been monochrome culturally, least of all during its formative years, and yet that’s when traditions of chant proliferated throughout. Take a listen at Sr. Marie Keyrouz’ eastern chant repertoire and that comes through with crystal clarity. And, yes, hymns do as well, given the hymn fragments we see in the NT (Phillipians, for example). But it is the centrality of chant to the actual liturgical prayer forms of the Church across time and culture which distinguishes it from hymnody.

  • Can I hope that’s a typo…?

    If you want to. But it’s not a typo.

    I don’t think the argument is that God himself produces chant, obviously the various forms of chant are human developments, but they’re human developments with a purpose and form different from “song writing” or “composition” in that they are means of singing pre-existing words (the words being the main emphasis) to a musical form that provides beauty without making the musical composition the center (a center to which the words are fit.)

    I said “as if” God writes chant.

    Of course I see that chant is held to be different than mere “song writing” in a way similar to how icons are not mere paintings. But even most contemporary liturgical composers do not see what they do as mere songwriting. And given what you have said about using pre-existing words, etc etc, it still does not follow that chant somehow “transcends” culture. It simply does not.

    Though I can certainly imagine given your background and ideological commitments why you’d want to ignore or recategorize chanted prayer.

    I have said a few times now in this thread that I like chant. A lot. I don’t ignore it at all. I have some on my laptop right now. But the push to enshrine chant as the only “real” form of liturgical music is misguided and not catholic (in the “small ‘c’ sense of the word). If you want to try to misrepresent my position (as usual), go ahead, but I’ll indeed point out whenever you do so.

    The great advantage of chant (and hymns up until the early 20th century in general) is that the intervals and ranges are relatively small (and the meter is regular).

    Your point about the singability is a good one. But I don’t agree that pre-20th c. hymns were easier to sing. I say this from experience in choirs over the years who have used a variety of music from different time periods.

    Take a look around my parish on Sunday and people struggle along (if at all) while the director puts on a solo performance.

    Yes, absolutely. But here again, this is a problem with the practice of liturgical music, NOT with the style of the music.

  • Can I hope that’s a typo…?

    If you want to. But it’s not a typo.

    Well, okay.

    I kind of thought it might not be, but I had hoped that my low expecations were not actually reflective of reality.

  • As Julian of Norwich says so beautifully, Jesus is our Mother…

  • Tito,

    Both man and woman were made in God’s image.

    Can you use your analogical imagination to understand that in God’s perfection there is femaleness?

  • Mark,

    I understand where you and Michael I. are coming from, but I respectfully disagree with calling God a ‘she’. It is more an act of provocation rather than anything congenial.

    The thread is about Gregorian Chant and then MIchael I. decides to throw a hand-grenade that is completely unrelated to the topic, ie, par for the course.

    What’s the name of your pooch?

  • So our Lady is our mother, in whom we are all enclosed and born of her in Christ, for she who is mother is mother of all who are saved in our savior; and our saviour is our true Mother, in whom we are endlessly born and out of whom we shall never come.
    ….

    And so in our making, God almighty is our loving Father, and God all wisdom is our loving Mother, with the love and the goodness of the Holy Spirit, which is all one God, our Lord.

    The mother can give her child to suck her milk, but our precious Mother can feed us with himself, and does, most courteously and tenderly, with the blessed sacrament, which is the precious food of true life..

    The mother can lay her child tenderly to her breast, but our tender Mother Jesus can lead us easily into his blessed breast through his sweet open sidem and show us there a part of the godhead and of the joys of heaven, with inner certainty of endless bliss.

    Julian of Norwich, Shewings

  • Tito,

    The dog’s name is Georgia, or Georgie for those who are on familiar terms with her. She’s actually my girlfiend’s.

  • Mark,

    Thanks for the Julian referrence. It’s always good to learn more about the faith.

    Georgia it is. I’m a big cat and dog fan. Cats because they take care of themselves, dogs because they are loyal. Though I don’t own any as of this moment, I’m thinking of getting two kittens sometime next year.

    Felix and Nestor!

  • The thread is about Gregorian Chant and then MIchael I. decides to throw a hand-grenade that is completely unrelated to the topic, ie, par for the course.

    I’m sorry you find female terms for God “provocative.” That’s your problem, your issue, not mine.

    Utterly hilarious that you think my use of the word “she” for God was an intentional attempt to derail the conversation here. You have issues, my friend!

    Can you use your analogical imagination to understand that in God’s perfection there is femaleness?

    Tito has made clear for some time now that he has no analogical imagination.

  • Mark – Femaleness is a “hand grenade,” according to Tito. I’ll bet the women in his life must be flattered.

  • Michael,

    Maybe you are being a bit too tough on Tito. He probably just wants to respect the language that God chose in his full revelation of Himself.

    Unfortuantely, a too obsessive adherence to this langauge has historically stifled the theological imagination, and we are all the victims.

  • Utterly hilarious that you think my use of the word “she” for God was an intentional attempt to derail the conversation here.

    Of course it was. The troll’s mission accomplished!

  • From a recent post:

    Whenever I see debates about Church music, they are generally about stylistic issues, instrumentation, and the like. These debates usually center around music selection — which hymns to select and why. It’s been this way for at least as long as I’ve been involved in church music (13 years). I wish to change the terms of the debate; I’m not going to center on style or instrumentation. Instead, I wish to concentrate on the texts of the music assigned for the Mass each and every week.

    Now many will wonder at the final part of that phrase. “I didn’t know each and every Mass has music assigned already. I thought pastors, music directors, and liturgical committees chose the music for the Mass.” This kind of question is a manifestation of what I see as a case of deep liturgical amnesia that has plagued the Western Church since even before the Second Vatican Council. But that is another post for another time.

    Read on…

  • Aristotle,

    That’s a very key point you bring up, and while I think that chants are particularly appropriate forms of music to the texts appropriate to the mass, I would agree with you that it is more important that we regain the lost propers of the mass than what style of music they are in.

    Michael,

    I’ve known rather more women who are offended by the implication that they were incapable of “relating” to God when He is referred to with the masculine pronoun (which is generally how the scriptures and Church Father describe Him, after all) than who are offended by comments such as Tito’s. Your mileage may vary, of course, but I very much doubt that any women worth winning the admiration of would be offended by what he said.

    As you are no doubt aware, God is traditionally referred to in orthodox Christianity as masculine, just as the Church is traditionally referred to as feminine, and I think the case is pretty solid that doing otherwise can only be taken as:

    a) An attempt to shock and/or flaunt one’s transgressive attitude.
    b) An expression of solidarity with the sorts of “feminist theology” which have been explicitly rejected by the Church.

    Mark,

    You’re right, of course, that there are aspects of God which we, in human terms, might see as feminine. Men and women are equally made in His image. However, I must admit that I can’t see where generally sticking with describing God as the scriptures and the Church Fathers described Him has stifled theological imaginations that much over the last 2000 years.

  • Darwin/Brendan:

    On the contrary, God is referred to as both masculine and feminine throughout the history of orthodox Christianity. Jesus himself referred to God as female at times. Take it up with him.

    You’re simply not familiar with the breadth of the tradition. Sticking God in a box labeled “BOY” is transgressive, not referring to God as “she.”

    Tito-sterone is right, though: this thread is about liturgical music not “feminist theology.” The fact that you jerks can’t handle a feminine pronoun in reference to God is not my problem. YOU are the ones who are making a big deal about it, not me. Get over it.

  • Jesus himself referred to God as female at times. Take it up with him.

    Once, yes. But there’s hundreds of times more scriptural support for saying that God is pro-war (i.e., much of the Old Testament). Likewise, if you look at Church history, there were more wars started by the Church itself than there were orthodox theologians who called God “she.” So if, in a thread about Church music, someone dropped a completely irrelevant aside that God is pro-war, only jerks like you would be sidetracked over that comment, right?

  • Is today Festivus or Christmas Eve?

  • On the contrary, God is referred to as both masculine and feminine throughout the history of orthodox Christianity. Jesus himself referred to God as female at times. Take it up with him.

    I think you’re wrong about that, but if you want to provide ten specific citations from the from the New Testament and/or Church Fathers (stick to people canonized so we don’t have to argue over whether they’re “orthodox”) I’ll gladly concede the point.

    Sticking God in a box labeled “BOY” is transgressive

    If you read what we wrote, we pretty specifically did not do that.

    Tito-sterone is right, though: this thread is about liturgical music

    Just so. Thus, if you want to return to that, I’ll throw this out: It strikes me that one of the things you’re missing when you talk about chant being culturally specific rather than a universal part of the Church is that chant as a form is not a product of a specific regional culture, but rather of Catholic culture.

    So while it’s well and good that you have an affection for religious music in a bluegrass style (a style to some extent specific to your region of origin) it strikes me as important that we as Catholics also give significant (not merely token) place in all her liturgies to both her universal language and to her developed forms of music and prayer.

    There’s a balance to be found here. I think in many cases in the immediately pre-Vatican II period there was a tendency to attempt to impose a lot of European cultural baggage along with an authentically Catholic culture, yet since the 70s (though this seems to be slowly and surely correcting itself) we seem to have swung in the opposite direction and our authentically Catholic language, music and other cultural elements are often ignored and replaced with quickie knock-offs of the local regional cultural forms.

  • I think you’re wrong about that, but if you want to provide ten specific citations from the from the New Testament and/or Church Fathers (stick to people canonized so we don’t have to argue over whether they’re “orthodox”) I’ll gladly concede the point.

    Why ten? That’s arbitrary number. Even if Jesus referred to God as female “once” (as S.B. incorrectly states) is that not enough to convince you that referring to God as “she” ONCE in a stupid blog thread might be acceptable?

    is not a product of a specific regional culture, but rather of Catholic culture.

    “Catholic culture” cannot be completely isolated from culture in general.

    it strikes me as important that we as Catholics also give significant (not merely token) place in all her liturgies to both her universal language and to her developed forms of music and prayer.

    Sure. But nevertheless, it still remains an OPTION to do so.

  • Why am I in moderation? Because I called God a “she”?!

  • Probably for the same reason that Vox Nova automatically moderates comments that use certain rude words.

  • I’m not sure why the comment was in moderation, but I pushed it through.

    Yes, ten is an arbitrary number. I’d be moderately impressed with five, come to that. But I did indeed pick it arbitrarily. Given the thousands of times that God is referred to in the scriptures and by the Church Fathers, it seems to me that if you can’t locate ten specific instances where God is referred to with the feminine pronoun (and this would have to mean just calling God “she” or “her” — not an analogy to a mother or some such literary device) then that would substantiate my claim that your use is unusual — and only makes sense as a way to make a statement or dissent from the traditional Christian understanding of God.

    “Catholic culture” cannot be completely isolated from culture in general.

    Certainly not, but it doesn’t need to be wrapped in the dregs of the culture in general either. At no time in the Church’s history has chant been the prevailing musical form in the wider culture — it’s always been specific to the Church and her worship.

    Sure. But nevertheless, it still remains an OPTION to do so.

    Yep. Kind of like it’s an option to occasionally celebrate mass in the vernacular.

  • Even if Jesus referred to God as female “once” (as S.B. incorrectly state

    Put up or shut up. Give a citation outside of the mother hen passage (“How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing”).

  • …only makes sense as a way to make a statement or dissent from the traditional Christian understanding of God.

    There is no “dissent” involved in using “she” as a pronoun for God. Unless you happen to think God is male. THAT is heresy.

    Kind of like it’s an option to occasionally celebrate mass in the vernacular.

    Latin and vernacular are both options. Yes. What is your point?

    Give a citation outside of the mother hen passage

    The parable of the woman and the lost coin.

  • That’s not a very good example — the whole point of that story was the attitude towards the lost coin; the story had absolutely zero to do with “femaleness,” or any attributes thought to be particularly “female.” Just like the point of the “unjust judge” story was the value of persistence, not to say that God is literally an unjust judge.

  • Why do some people get so sensitive in regards to the issue of the femaleness of God?

  • I think what you meant to ask was, “Why do some people get so sensitive [towards attempts to derail a conversation by raising bogus arguments] in regards to the issue of the femaleness of God?”

  • If you sincerely are puzzled, check out the (a) and (b) points in Darwin’s comment, December 24, 2008 A.D. at 12:54 am

  • S.B. – I didn’t “derail” anything. I used a female pronoun for God, as I often do, and there was a comment made about it. In response to that comment, I didn’t fight back, if you remember. The ones “derailing” the conversation are the folks who can’t seem to deal with a casual comment.

    Mark – There is, sadly, a deep hatred of women that persists in some quarters of Catholicism. Of course they will protest, “I love my wife, I love my daughters, I love my mother.” But their god is Maleness. It’s connected to their love of war, their admiration of soldiering, their passion for guns. Even Christ’s use of female images for God does not satisfy them: the feminine must be excluded from the Godhead.

  • S.B. – I will not continue talking about the reasons why I used a female pronoun, if you are concerned about “derailing” the thread. I suggest that if you are really concerned about it, then you too should shut us about it and deal with it. I may continue to use the word “she,” just as I would “he,” in reference to God. But that ain’t “derailing” anything.

  • There is, sadly, a deep hatred of soldiers and policemen that persists in some quarters of Catholicism. Of course they will protest, “I love my friends who are soldiers.” But their god is their own political beliefs, not Christianity. It’s connected to their leftist posturing, and their desire to fit in with their radical friends. Even God’s repeated commandment to wage war throughout the Old Testament does not satisfy them: Anything to do with soldiers must be excluded from their faith.

  • Yes, Michael, I am afraid you are correct.

  • My comment, if it wasn’t obvious, was intended to be as facetious and silly as Michael’s psychoanalysis. The notion that you have a “deep hatred of women” if you don’t mind private gun ownership and if you’re thankful for the service of American soldiers . . . that’s one of the most knee-jerk examples of ideological dimwittedness I’ve ever heard.

  • There is, sadly, a deep hatred of women that persists in some quarters of Catholicism. Of course they will protest, “I love my wife, I love my daughters, I love my mother.” But their god is Maleness. It’s connected to their love of war, their admiration of soldiering, their passion for guns. Even Christ’s use of female images for God does not satisfy them: the feminine must be excluded from the Godhead.

    I suspect that you know very well this is not the motivation involved, though I have little doubt that you have the low opinion you state of those who disagree with you. Because although you’re a somewhat unpleasant and disdainful person at times, you’re not particularly stupid — and as analysis goes that above is pretty stupid.

    Now you gave as an example of Jesus referring to God with a feminine pronoun “The parable of the woman and the lost coin.” This pretty much substantiates my expectation when I said, “you can’t locate ten specific instances where God is referred to with the feminine pronoun (and this would have to mean just calling God “she” or “her” — not an analogy to a mother or some such literary device)”

    The text of the parable you mention is:
    “Or what woman having ten coins 2 and losing one would not light a lamp and sweep the house, searching carefully until she finds it? And when she does find it, she calls together her friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost.’ In just the same way, I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

    I should hardly have to point out to you that this is a case of Jesus comparing God’s rejoicing in the return of one sinner to that of a woman who finds a lost coin — at no point in it does Jesus refer to God as “she”. (I can’t really imagine you’ve gotten as far an academic theology as you have at this point without knowing the difference — so I must assume that you either think we’re pretty stupid or that you’re being disingenuous in making your argument.)

    Now if someone did actually object to parables, analogies and similes in which God is compared to a woman for one reason or another, you might perhaps have a case that that person has a hang up about women based on some sort of prejudice or disdain. That’s not the case, however. You’re simply referring to God as if He were female by referring to Him as “she” or “her”. (I’m assuming that your lack of capitalization is simply typing laziness, such as I at times suffer from myself, and not a point such as your lack of capitalization with “america” and “usa”.) Doing so puts you very much outside the tradition of how God has always referred to Himself in revelation, and outside the traditional language of the Church.

    That said, I don’t really doubt you when you say,
    may continue to use the word “she,” just as I would “he,” in reference to God.
    Because when it comes to making a statement, you don’t seem to mind putting yourself outside of the traditional range of Church thought.

    ———-

    But since you seem to feel all this is a distraction, I’ll close by returning to point.

    When you said: Sure. But nevertheless, it still remains an OPTION to do so.

    I fell into the temptation to go for the snappy content-less reply and said: Yep. Kind of like it’s an option to occasionally celebrate mass in the vernacular.

    Instead, I should have been more clear as to why I’ve been objecting to your repeated characterization of the use of chant in liturgy as “just an option”.

    First, the use of chant and the use of Latin were both originally intended (as in, when the rubrics were written — and in the case of chant this is still reflected in the current rubrics) as the norm while the use of the other songs in place of chant, and of vernacular in place of Latin, are the options — allowable exceptions to the norm.

    This clearly doesn’t mean that it’s wrong to use other songs in other styles in the context of the liturgy, nor to use the vernacular in place of Latin in some or all of the liturgy. Using other music and other languages remain a perfectly acceptable option.

    The problem, however, is that in the modern US these exceptions have become the norm, and often what was meant to be the norm is harshly opposed. (For example, one of the priests at our parish, when the choir chanted the introit before the entrance hymn, gave the directive: I don’t want you people doing that Latin stuff at any of my masses again.)

    This trampling of the very aspects of our Catholic liturgical culture which bring all parts of the universal Church together (rather than fragmenting us apart so that even the Spanish, Vietnamese and English masses at the same parish become foreign to one another) causes serious problems for the Church. And your initial dismissive comment on this thread, and subsequent follow ups, suggest to me that you either don’t “get it” or are part of the problem.

  • There is, sadly, a deep hatred of women that persists in some quarters of Catholicism. Of course they will protest, “I love my wife, I love my daughters, I love my mother.” But their god is Maleness.

    Does your diagnosis apply to Benedict XVI?

    First of all we have to say that the Bible does indeed, when addressing God in prayer, use the image of him as Father, and not as Mother, but that in images used in talking about God it always equally attributes feminine characteristics to him.” God and the World p. 101

    Notice the distinction Benedict makes between referring to God and describing God’s attributes or characteristics. As Darwin noted, your assertion above is either disingenuous or sloppy. The Bible does not describe God as ‘she,’ but it describe God as possessing ‘feminine’ characteristics. Those are two very different things. More Benedict XVI:

    Yes, why is this strictly limited to calling God Father?….I would in the first place hold on to the fact that the word ‘Father’ naturally remains an image. It remains true that God is neither male nor female, but is simply God. Yet at the same time we are talking about an image that was given to us authentically by Christ himself, and is thus non-exchangeable…
    God and the World p. 102

    Notice, Benedict XVI seems to take it for granted that we are ‘strictly limited to calling God Father.’ He goes on to explain what some of the reasons for this might be, but says we cannot come to a definitive answer. I would submit for your consideration that those who believe, like Benedict XVI, that God should be referred to using masculine pronouns do so not because of some sort of ‘deep hatred of women,’ but rather because it is the language through which God has chosen to reveal Himself.

  • I have promised S.B. that I would not “derail” the conversation further. I encourage all of the men here to get over the fact that I used “she” in reference to God.

    Hey, by the way, do any women read this blog?? You have no women contributors….

    Something to think about.

  • Michael I.,

    It’s a shame that even during Christmas you continue in your uncharitable ways. You have not contributed anything to the thread concerning Gregorian Chant except your bile and hatred for all things sacred to our beautiful Catholic faith.

    If you continue distracting from the conversation, you will be put back on probation.

    In Jesus, Mary, & Joseph,.

    Tito

  • You have not contributed anything to the thread concerning Gregorian Chant except your bile and hatred for all things sacred to our beautiful Catholic faith.

    Baloney. I repeatedly said how much I love chant. I simply don’t think it should be used instrumentally as a symbol in the ideological battles of the Catholic Right.

    You need to look at who really has derailed the conversation.

    Even during the holidays you are a major league nutcase. But happy Christmas to you anyway.

  • Michael I.,

    Too bad you wished me a “Happy Christmas” preceded by an insult.

    Par for the course.

  • I must say that the arguments for primacy of Gregorian chant have been wanting, even in both the claims for 1) a special universality, in contrast to beautiful “compositions”; and 2) their separateness from the hymnody. In the end, all we have left standing is an argument from authority…

    And why does God’s using masculine language preclude us from also acknowledging that a) he transcends the human sexes; and b) contains equally the perfection of both sexes in God’s unique, special way, as Genesis informs us that both man AND woman are made in God’s image.

  • I must say that the arguments for primacy of Gregorian chant have been wanting, even in both the claims for 1) a special universality, in contrast to beautiful “compositions”; and 2) their separateness from the hymnody. In the end, all we have left standing is an argument from authority…

    Well, given that the Church is the authority in determining the wording and form of the liturgy, I’m not sure that an argument from authority is really out of place. Indeed, attempts at arguments from first principles for one liturgical form or another usually come up rather poor.

    There are, I think, good arguments for chant which could be made from first principles. (One might note, for instance, that most major religious traditions have their own forms of chanted prayer.) But it’s not really an issue one can make arguments about as one might about the necessity of an all powerful deity being one.

    And why does God’s using masculine language preclude us from also acknowledging that a) he transcends the human sexes; and b) contains equally the perfection of both sexes in God’s unique, special way, as Genesis informs us that both man AND woman are made in God’s image.

    It doesn’t. Everyone agrees on that.

  • It doesn’t. Everyone agrees on that.

    Sure. “Everyone” “agrees” on it but some insist on using language that says the precise opposite. And condemns anyone who uses a female pronoun for God — in casual conversation, mind you, not a liturgical formula.

  • As discussed above, Pope Benedict XVI has said we are ‘strictly limited to calling God Father,’ and that this image, having been provided by Christ, is ‘non-negotiable.’ There is a difference between attributing ‘feminine’ attributes to God like compassion, and referring to God using a feminine pronoun (one happens in Scripture, the other doesn’t as BXVI and numerous commentators noted above).

    Thus far, it is not clear whether you disagree with this distinction, are ignorant of it, or don’t understand it. You have offered nothing other than insults and third-rate exegesis to support your point of view. Granted, this is a combox on a blog, but it is intended to be a forum for discussion; if you are unwilling (or incapable) of having a discussion on this topic, then at a minimum please refrain from insults and other childish behavior.

  • Invoking the “non-negotiable” language, eh? That’s a conversation stopper.

    A few things to keep in mind:

    1) Though I don’t know the context of that particular passage from Ratzinger (I don’t have that particular book of his) it seems to be an expression of his opinion. You are certainly free to cite him to strengthen your argument, but you need to understand that you are citing his personal opinion in this case. His opinion is certainly a strong participant in these discussions, but in this case he does not represent a “final word” so to speak.

    2) Again, I can’t look at the context of the passage you plucked, but I truly have no problems with Ratzinger’s views necessarily because I don’t think he is in contradiction to my position. Take for example his assertion that “Yet at the same time we are talking about an image that was given to us authentically by Christ himself, and is thus non-exchangeable…” Of course there is real significance to the images of God that Christ gave us. The image of God as Father is indeed “non-exchangeable” in that sense. We don’t simply “get rid of it” because it offends modern sensibilities. I am not in favor of renaming the persons of the Trinity, for example, as some feminist theologians have suggested. But insisting on retaining the “Father” language in reference to God does not exclude the possibility of other images (as we have seen, Jesus used female images for God).

    3) There is a good deal of evidence that the “Abba” language that Jesus used is not as “masculine” as many of you anti-feminists would like to think.

    4) COMPASSION IS NOT A “FEMININE” QUALITY. IT IS A HUMAN QUALITY. These bogus dualisms are precisely part of the problem. Let’s not perpetuate them.

    You have offered nothing other than insults and third-rate exegesis to support your point of view.

    5) You may not like my views, but I am not insulting anyone (save for the ever-charming Tito, I suppose, who does not really qualify as a dialogue partner in this case). Nor have I attempted any sort of “exegesis.” I guess it’s easy to call my exegesis “third rate” when I haven’t attempted any. Figures. It would be like me calling your “theology” third rate when you clearly haven’t engaged in anything remotely resembling theology.

    If you are unwilling (or incapable) of having a discussion on this topic…

    Once more, you might not like my views, but it’s absurd for you to suggest that I am “unwilling” or “incapable” of having a discussion on the topic. I never really intended a discussion on the topic (as I have said) but quite clearly have been bullied into it through a snarky response to my use of the word “she,” then accused of “derailing” the previous conversation. If ya’ll would LIKE to discuss the appropriateness of feminine images of God, fine, but you can’t then accuse me of “derailing” the conversation on liturgical music when I participate in the new discussion.

    Which is it going to be?

  • As you are no doubt aware, God is traditionally referred to in orthodox Christianity as masculine, just as the Church is traditionally referred to as feminine..

    If this is to imply that God is really masculine, and not feminine, then would it follow that we are all really feminine, not masculine…

  • 1) Agreed.

    2) There is a fairly clear distinction, as discussed above, between referring to God as having attributes typically described as feminine (like a mother hen…) to God, and referring to God as feminine. That is the distinction Benedict XVI articulates, and it is the distinction between your position and his (and mine).

    3) All well and good. Why do you refer to me as an anti-feminist? Feminism has a lot of different meanings. Is Benedict anti-feminist? Was JP II? If so, then fine. Otherwise, all I have done is cite Benedict’s position.

    4) Notice I put ‘feminine’ in quotes above; I agree compassion is a human attribute. Later in the passage I cited, Benedict XVI was describing the use of the word ‘rachamin’ in the Old Testament, which is a word for sympathy/compassion with corporal overtones referring to the ‘motherly body’ of God. That’s why I used compassion.

    5) You may not like my views, but I am not insulting anyone (save for the ever-charming Tito…) Nor have I attempted any sort of “exegesis.”

    5) Nonsense. You wrote, “But their god is Maleness. It’s connected to their love of war, their admiration of soldiering, their passion for guns.” Unless Tito is now multiple persons, you were insulting more people than Tito. And yes, saying somebody’s ‘god’ is ‘maleness’ (whatever that means) is an insult as is saying they love war.

    As to exegesis, you seem to think describing God’s attributes using feminine images (e.g. the woman and the lost coin – suggesting God desires and rejoices over every individual’s salvation; and the mother hen analogy- referring to a lament over the failure of people to respond), is identical with referring to God as female. This, as Benedict XVI and other commentators have noted, is fallacious. There may be a valid case for referring to God as ‘She’ or ‘Herself’, and perhaps these passages can be cited as incidental support, but these passages do something quite different than referring to God as feminine. This is not exactly ground-breaking, nor is it difficult to understand. That is why I referred to your interpretation as third-rate exegesis.

  • “If this is to imply that God is really masculine, and not feminine, then would it follow that we are all really feminine, not masculine…”

    It is fairly common in the tradition of the Church and Christianity to think of the soul as feminine in response to God. Even non-Catholic writers addressing a popular audience like C.S. Lewis discuss this, saying that there is a larger sense in which all souls are feminine/receptive in response to God’s initiative. Ever read the Song of Songs?

  • Sure. “Everyone” “agrees” on it but some insist on using language that says the precise opposite. And condemns anyone who uses a female pronoun for God — in casual conversation, mind you, not a liturgical formula.

    Because there’s a very big difference between the two points Mark made, which I fully agree with (That God transcends human sexes and that both men and women find their perfection as creatures in God, in whose image both men and women are made) and the peculiarly modern idea of alternately referring to God as “he” and “she”.

    Nor does consistently referring to God as “He” (which is, after all, the choice that God Himself has made in His interactions with humanity) serve to deny either of those points.

  • I’m working on an album of St Louis Jesuits songs played in a very stripped down format, with a sort of Appalachian old time feel. I am picking some of their more obscure songs for the most part.

    This has got to be one of the most unintentionally funny things I’ve read on St. Blog’s in a long time, all the more so coming from the oh-so-serious commenter who wrote it. Thanks for the chuckle.

  • Ah, come on, that project could be cool Rich…it all depends on which songs are chosen and the arrangements.

  • There is a fairly clear distinction, as discussed above, between referring to God as having attributes typically described as feminine (like a mother hen…) to God, and referring to God as feminine. That is the distinction Benedict XVI articulates, and it is the distinction between your position and his (and mine).

    […]

    As to exegesis, you seem to think describing God’s attributes using feminine images (e.g. the woman and the lost coin – suggesting God desires and rejoices over every individual’s salvation; and the mother hen analogy- referring to a lament over the failure of people to respond), is identical with referring to God as female.

    Right here you show that you can’t even control the “distinctions” you think you are making. In the first, you say that I can’t distinguish between using female images for God and describing God as “feminine.” In the second, you say that I don’t know the distinction between using female images and calling God “female.” These are two very different things.

    Note, however, that I never said “God is female.” All I did was to use the word “she” in reference to God. Just as using “he” in reference to God is not a claim that God is male — in orthodox Catholic thought, anyway — use of the word “she” does not imply that God is female.

    There may be a valid case for referring to God as ‘She’ or ‘Herself’…

    Then it’s interesting that no one here, save Mark, rushed to my defense for doing so in the first place. Because my use of the word “she” was seriously not done as a statement, but casually.

    …and perhaps these passages can be cited as incidental support

    Which is all I used them for. And yet you slam me for “third rate exegesis” when I was doing no such thing.

    …but these passages do something quite different than referring to God as feminine.

    Well, no. They do MANY things including referring to God as feminine. To say that these passages do not refer to God as feminine when they clearly do (in the course of telling us other things about God of course) is simply to have an allergy to comparing females with God. That is a huge problem.

    Nonsense. You wrote, “But their god is Maleness. It’s connected to their love of war, their admiration of soldiering, their passion for guns.” Unless Tito is now multiple persons, you were insulting more people than Tito. And yes, saying somebody’s ‘god’ is ‘maleness’ (whatever that means) is an insult as is saying they love war.

    Those are not insults, but observations.

    …the peculiarly modern idea of alternately referring to God as “he” and “she”.

    If you think referring to God using both masculine and feminine pronouns is “modern,” then you clearly have no familiarity with the history of world religions, the history of Judaism, or the history of Christianity. Blaming everything on “modernism” is typical here, but quite stuppid in this case.

    Nor does consistently referring to God as “He” (which is, after all, the choice that God Himself has made in His interactions with humanity) serve to deny either of those points.

    This “God himself used masculine words” is silly as well. Quite a fundamentalist Protestant approach.

    Nor does consistently referring to God as “He” (which is, after all, the choice that God Himself has made in His interactions with humanity) serve to deny either of those points.

    I agree with Mark’s points too, obviously, and I don’t think occasionally referring to God as “she” serves to deny his points either.

  • For those who are interested, I was just reading in Peter Kreeft’s The Philosophy of Jesus this little section….

    “Alone among the many ancient gods, the Jewish God was always ‘He’, never ‘She’ (or ‘It’ or ‘They’ or the Hermaphrodite). For ‘She’ symbolized something immanent, while ‘He” was transcendent. ‘She’ was the Womb of all things, the cosmic Mother, but ‘He’ was other than Mother Earth. He created the earth, and He came into it from without, as a man comes into a woman. He impregnated nonbeing with being, darkness with light, dead matter with life, history with miracles, minds with revelations, His chosen people with prophets, and souls with salvation (which John Henry referred to). He was transcendent.

    That is why only Judaism, of all ancient religions, had no goddesses and no priestesses. For priests are representatives and symbols of gods. Priests mediate not only Man to God but also God to Man. Women can represent Man to God as well as men can, for women are equally human, valuable, good, and pious. But women cannot represent this God to Man, for God is not our Mother but our Father. Earth is our Mother.

    Jesus always called God ‘Father.’ And Jesus was anything but a male chauvinist. He liberated women more than anyone else in His time. But He was also a Jew. He believed that Judaism was the revelation of the true God. He believed that God had taught us how to speak of Him. He not only believed this, He knew it, for He was there! He was (and is) the eternal Logos or Mind or Reason or Word of God. He was the Mind that had invented Judaism – unless He was a liar and Judaism was a lie.”

    By the way, I think Chant is the way to go… I would like to see more churches chanting the antiphons… the Intro, Gospel, and Communion… maybe a combination of them in Latin and then English… I think that would be cool. (as you can see; I’m a Medieval Modern.) 🙂

  • Bret,

    Peter Kreeft is one of my favorite apologists.

    That is why we don’t have priestesses as well in the Catholic Church. Though the Roy Bourgeois supporters and their SOA conspirators would beg to differ of Mr. Kreeft’s conclusion(s).

  • o say that these passages do not refer to God as feminine

    Again, when Jesus says that God cares about the lost sinner as much as a housewife might care about a lost coin, that is NOT “referring to God as feminine” in any way whatsoever.

  • Note, however, that I never said “God is female.” All I did was to use the word “she” in reference to God. Just as using “he” in reference to God is not a claim that God is male — in orthodox Catholic thought, anyway — use of the word “she” does not imply that God is female.

    The difference is that traditional Christian writing has always referred to God as “He” while not asserting that He is a male. Traditional Christian writing has not referred to God as “She”. When you go around referring to “God herself” you strongly imply a claim that God is female (or at the very least a strong rejection of referring to God with masculine terminology). By the same token, if you went around calling God “it” or “they” people would take you to be making a statement about your beliefs as to the nature of God. There doubtless are senses in which one could strive to justify such a usage, but since the usage would be contrary to all tradition using it (especially in passing when discussing other topics) would be taken as making a statement.

    Well, no. They do MANY things including referring to God as feminine. To say that these passages do not refer to God as feminine when they clearly do (in the course of telling us other things about God of course) is simply to have an allergy to comparing females with God. That is a huge problem.

    So does the “mother hen” passage consist of referring to God’s avian nature? I know the modern education can be a bit peculiar, but I can’t really imagine that you’re unclear on how an analogy or simile works.

    If I were to make an observation along the lines of, “In discussion, Michael is like a harpy. A harpy will follow her victim constantly, pecking and tearing, yet never engaging in a direct fight — hovering always just out of reach and flapping her wings in the face of her prey while screaming incessantly,” I would clearly be describing you in rude and unflattering terms, and imputing a number of characteristics to you, but one could hardly claim that I was saying you were female and could rightly be described as “Michael herself.”

    The passages in question certainly describe God, and they do so by drawing on examples and similes which describe women (or female birds, etc.) but that certainly does not mean that they refer to God as feminine.

    Our archetypal language is frequently gendered. For instance, if I said, “Michael cared for his son as tenderly as any mother could have,” I wouldn’t be saying you were female, but rather drawing on a cultural archetype which sees mothers as more tender than fathers.

    If you think referring to God using both masculine and feminine pronouns is “modern,” then you clearly have no familiarity with the history of world religions, the history of Judaism, or the history of Christianity. Blaming everything on “modernism” is typical here, but quite stuppid in this case.

    Read what I wrote. I said specifically that the tactic of referring alternately to God as “him” and “her” was very modern. You’re described yourself as having the habit of alternately referring to God as “he” and “she” more or less at random without attempting to make any particular theological point by it. I challenge you to point to any orthodox Christian writer living before 1700 who did the same. In this sense, yes, what you’re doing is very modern.

    And I continue to stand by my claim that there is practically no precedent in the history of orthodox Christianity for referring to God at all with the feminine pronoun, except in the middle of a analogy or simile. (Note: If you’d made some sort of statement along the lines of, “God watches over us with more care than any mother over her children,” no one would have challenged you. It’s the random “God herself” that’s causing disagreement.) If you want to shoot me down on that claim by providing specific citations, I’m perfectly happy to look at them.

  • If I were to make an observation along the lines of, “In discussion, Michael is like a harpy. A harpy will follow her victim constantly, pecking and tearing, yet never engaging in a direct fight — hovering always just out of reach and flapping her wings in the face of her prey while screaming incessantly,” I would clearly be describing you in rude and unflattering terms, and imputing a number of characteristics to you, but one could hardly claim that I was saying you were female and could rightly be described as “Michael herself.”

    Marvelous.

  • Bret (and Peter Kreeft, who is a philosopher, not a scholar of Israelite religion) has clearly never heard of Ashera, nor of the development of monotheism is Judaism.

    Though the Roy Bourgeois supporters and their SOA conspirators would beg to differ of Mr. Kreeft’s conclusion(s).

    Tito does not seem to have the intellectual capacity to distinguish movements and persons. I do not support Bourgeois’ actions with regard to women’s ordination. But that had nothing to do with his work to close the SOA.

    Traditional Christian writing has not referred to God as “She”.

    Julian of Norwich did. That IS traditional. When you use the word “traditional,” you are using it to exclude certain traditions from view. That’s dishonest.

    I said specifically that the tactic of referring alternately to God as “him” and “her” was very modern.

    No, it’s not. There are pre-modern instances of it. Julian of Norwich.

    ou’re described yourself as having the habit of alternately referring to God as “he” and “she” more or less at random without attempting to make any particular theological point by it.

    Who says I am not making a theological point by it? I most certainly am. What I meant above is that I am not attempting to derail the conversation here or to be “controversial.”

    And I continue to stand by my claim that there is practically no precedent in the history of orthodox Christianity for referring to God at all with the feminine pronoun, except in the middle of a analogy or simile.

    But masculine language for God (“he”) is an analogy as well. ALL RELIGIOUS LANGUAGE is analogy.

    It’s the random “God herself” that’s causing disagreement.

    It’s not random. And it should not cause disagreement if you acknowledge that God is neither male nor female.

    If you want to shoot me down on that claim by providing specific citations, I’m perfectly happy to look at them.

    I am fairly certain that some of the Church Fathers even used feminine images for God, but I am on vacation and don’t have my resources with me. Perhaps someone here who specializes in patristics (anyone?) would know.

  • If I were to make an observation along the lines of, “In discussion, Michael is like a harpy. A harpy will follow her victim constantly, pecking and tearing, yet never engaging in a direct fight — hovering always just out of reach and flapping her wings in the face of her prey while screaming incessantly,” I would clearly be describing you in rude and unflattering terms, and imputing a number of characteristics to you, but one could hardly claim that I was saying you were female and could rightly be described as “Michael herself.”

    Of course, there are clear difference between God’s being and my own being. So your analogy breaks down and is, in fact, irrelevant.

    Again, here we have a case of Protestant thinking: God is a being like us, only bigger.

  • Of course, there are clear difference between God’s being and my own being. So your analogy breaks down and is, in fact, irrelevant.

    Nah, you’re just being obtuse. DC is describing how analogies work. If you can’t follow the point that’s fine, but it is irrelevant for the purpose of his explanation who the subject of the analogy is.

    Again, here we have a case of Protestant thinking: God is a being like us, only bigger.

    So ‘Protestant thinking’ involves thinking ‘God is a being like us, only bigger’? Well, I guess there are more barriers to ecumenical dialogue than I realized. Or perhaps the barrier in this case is that you (and MM, for whatever reason) have an odd habit of describing anything ignorant as ‘Protestant’. Sure some Protestants probably think that. So, for that matter, do some Catholics. It’s a matter of education and reflection. If you are going to describe something as ‘Protestant,’ it would be better if you limited yourself to what educated Protestants believe. In my opinion, it is embarrassing for a grad student in theology to make such an ignorant generalization. But then, you also believe people who refer to God as ‘Him’ do so because they ‘hate women.’ What a subtle and nuanced appreciation you have of those who differ from you!

  • Julian of Norwich did. That IS traditional. When you use the word “traditional,” you are using it to exclude certain traditions from view. That’s dishonest.

    I can’t speak to Julian of Norwich as I haven’t read her Revelations of Divine Love. My understanding is that she consistently uses feminine familiar imagery in speaking about God (thus talking about the senses in which Jesus and God the Father nurture us like a mother) but I do not know linguistically how she refers to God. My suspicion would be given what I’ve read about her and given that she was never formally censured and the general theological tenor of the 1400s, that she used a lot of feminine imagery (and thus has been much cited and misused by modern feminists who are driving at a wholly different point) but that she did not habitually refer to God as “She”. However, I’d have to read Revelations of Divine Love to know.

    But yes, I do mean to be restrictive when I say “traditional” because I try to write with a certain degree of precision and I don’t want you to be able to wiggle into supporting your claims by going all Eileen Pagels on me.

    I said specifically that the tactic of referring alternately to God as “him” and “her” was very modern.

    No, it’s not. There are pre-modern instances of it. Julian of Norwich.

    Again, you seem rather stubbornly to ignore the different between using feminine imagery (in Julian’s case, recounting mystical visions of God) and referring to “God herself” in passing.

    Plus, if Julian is the only writer who did this (and again, I’ve no where read that she simply alternated referring to God as “he” and “she” as you said that you do) one uncanonized anchoress hardly makes for a tradition.

    You certainly know a lot more about trendy and avante guarde modern theologians than I do, and it wouldn’t surprise me if a certain number of the works you’ve read make the claim that alternately referring to God as “he” and “she” in order to express the idea that God is not “a male” has precedence in traditional Christianity. However, so far as I can tell, I’ve studied linguistics and language rather more than you have, and I’m pretty confident in asserting that this is a rather modern use of language.

    Of course, there are clear difference between God’s being and my own being. So your analogy breaks down and is, in fact, irrelevant.

    Again, here we have a case of Protestant thinking: God is a being like us, only bigger.

    There is most certainly a big difference between your being and God’s being, but prose composition is the same either way. Using feminine imagery to describe you is not linguistically any different than using feminine imagery to describe God — in neither case is it then appropriate to in a completely unrelated place talk about “Michael herself” or “God herself”.

    And while you are a male in a sense in which God clearly is not (aside, of course, from the obvious fact that Jesus was himself a human man, while at the same time being fully divine) it is equally the case that you and God are traditionally referred to using masculine pronouns. And thus in either case it would be seen as making some sort of a statement to do otherwise.

    Essentially, through use the usage of “He” to refer to God has become the standard neutral usage. When we talk about “God himself” we use the standard usage which Christians have used for 2000 years and which Jews used before that from a fairly early period. (Though obviously, there are linguisticly plural usages in some of the earliest parts of the Old Testament which present their own issues — but that’s another topic.) To refer to God as “she”, “it” or “they” instead thus strongly indicates a desire to disagree with the traditional understanding of God — asserting that He is female or is neuter or is plural.

  • That said, I recognize that we’re all on vacation right now (and I promised Eric that I’d use that vacation to, among other things, write a substantive post on gun control) so with the assurance that I’ve said everything I can several times over I’ll give it a rest and offer you the last word if you want it.

    Though others should, of course, feel free to do as they like.

  • If you are going to describe something as ‘Protestant,’ it would be better if you limited yourself to what educated Protestants believe. In my opinion, it is embarrassing for a grad student in theology to make such an ignorant generalization.

    I’m quite serious. The Protestant tendency is to think of God as if God were a being in the world, whereas the Catholic distinction is to place God radically outside the world. This is why Protestants tend to have problems with understanding the Catholic principle of mediation. I realize my way of explaining it was not very sophisticated. But I did that on purpose.

  • o refer to God as “she”, “it” or “they” instead thus strongly indicates a desire to disagree with the traditional understanding of God — asserting that He is female or is neuter or is plural.

    This is simply not true. In fact, using “she” from time to time is precisely a way of stressing the traditional, orthodox understanding of God. I have not asserted that God is female. God is neither male nor female. And God is both one and plural, by the way. That whole “Trinity” thing.

  • “Hey, by the way, do any women read this blog?? ”

    My wife does 🙂 But I’m sure she’s bored with this particular thread already. *yawn*

    Getting back to topic – Here’s a reminder about the Chant Workshop at St. Theresa’s in Sugar Land in February, presented by CMAA:

    http://www.musicasacra.com/sugarland/

    Beginners welcome! Merry Christmas to all.

  • Thanks, Alan. I’ll let my wife know about the workshop. Maybe she and one or two others from the St. Elizabeth’s schola can make it.

  • Still looking for some female commenters on this blog. Can’t find one.

  • Still looking for some female commenters on this blog. Can’t find one.

    You don’t have many female commenters on VN either, dude. Sure, there’s the occasional female blogger or commenter, but easily 90% of the posts and comments are written by males. So if you’re trying to impress feminists for some inexplicable reason, you’re failing too.

  • I suppose everyone needs a hobby, but you don’t seem to be very good at this one if you assume that commenters with names like MissJean, Esther, and Kathy are all men.

    Or were you laboring under some sort of patriarchal illusion that because you asked on this particular thread if there were any woman commenters that they were then obliged to come and announce themselves to you here?

  • Michael I. I thought you were married? I hope your wife doesnt’ know that your trolling around for women on The American Catholic.

  • Pingback: Adios Heretics, Hello Orthodoxy! « The American Catholic

10 Responses to La Marseillaise

  • How many were slaughtered and martyred by people singing this song?

  • No doubt far fewer French Catholics than died in wars fostered by French kings often for dubious reasons. The heroic revolt in the Vende was far in the past by WWII, and de Gaulle, a serious Catholic, and other French Catholics fully embraced La Marseillaise which had been banned by the Vichy regime. De Gaulle sang the song at the liberation of Paris in 1944. The Republican regime of the Terror was an evil regime. The Vichy regime that the Free French forces fought against was likewise an evil regime. The wheel of history turns and old symbols can become attached to new causes.

  • “No doubt far fewer French Catholics than died in wars fostered by French kings often for dubious reasons. ”

    Such as the American War of Independence?

    I don’t mean to be too snarky, but there is a deep paradox in the American Republic’s dependence upon the French Monarchy.

    The sentimental revolutionary spirit unleashed by the French Revolution has also done untold damage to the world, even to this day. Brief but regular acknowledgment of its victims might be warranted.

  • Monarchies can commit evil just as republics can. I do not regard revolution against tyrannical governments to be a sin, no matter what the tyrannical government calls itself. The idea that Catholic monarchy is some sort of ideal form of government is amply refuted by history. Napoleon was a tyrant, but so was the Sun King. Poor Louis XVI, excellent family man, good Catholic, hapless and feckless monarch, was living proof of the limitations of hereditary monarchy. The Altar and Throne combo has no charms for me.

  • It’s one of the ironies of history that the French monarchy and Tsarist Russia fell to revolutions during the reign of basically well intentioned (if ineffective) rulers. And that while many reasonable people could have wished to see those regimes reformed or abolished, it was the very worst people available who took the opportunity to take power.

  • Quite right. There were decent elements in both revolutions: Lafayette in the French Revolution and Kerensky in the Russian Revolution that deposed the Tsar. Unfortunately they proved singularly ineffective in the internecine struggles that ended in Napoleon and in Stalin. America was very fortunate indeed in the Founding Fathers.

  • I know one brave group of soldiers that fought the people who began singing that terrible song…

    http://travelguide.all-about-switzerland.info/lucerne-lion-monument-pictures-history.html

  • I’d have to respectfully disagree with Donald on this one.

    But the Sun King did not systematically kill frenchmen such as the Committee of Public Safety did. I hope you were just making generalizations and not making “moral equivalency” charges between the Sun King and the anti-christ that was Napolean.

    I’m not a monarchist nor am I a proponent of the Bourban line, but I would like to see the French Republic less hostile to the faith and make some reperations to the Church. Granted there was the concordant between Napolean and the Church, but it would be nice to see the Fleur-de-lis replace the tri-color to represent Catholic France (not necessarily the Bourbons).

  • The comparison actually Tito was between the Sun King and Napoleon. In their indifference to liberty and their faith in authoritarian rule I find little to choose between them. Napoleon actually modeled his policy towards the papacy on the Gallicanism of the Sun King. The Declaration of the Clergy of France of 1682 definitely has a Napoleonic ring to it.

    “Kings of France had the right to assemble church councils in their dominions.
    Kings of France had the right to make laws and regulations touching ecclesiastical matters.
    The Pope required the king’s consent to send papal legates into France.
    Those legates required the king’s consent to exercise their power within France.
    Bishops, even when commanded by the Pope, could not go out of the kingdom without the king’s consent.
    Royal officers could not be excommunicated for any act performed in the discharge of their official duties.
    The Pope could not authorize the alienation of landed church estates in France, or the diminishing of any foundations.
    Papal Bulls and Letters required the Pareatis of the king or his officers before they took effect within France.
    The Pope could not issue dispensations “to the prejudice of the laudable customs and statutes” of the French cathedral Churches.
    It was lawful to appeal from the Pope to a future council or to have recourse to the “appeal as from an abuse” (“appel comme d’abus”) against acts of the ecclesiastical power. ”

    The “Eldest Daughter of the Church” has been in rebellion for a very long time indeed.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Declaration_of_the_Clergy_of_France

  • I knew there had to be more than just a disagreement. That makes more sense. Again I like the democratic structure of France over an absolutist rule.

    My only point was the many killed during the French Revolution.

    The French still don’t get it right after so many centuries in my opinion.

    Thanks for the document, I’m a history buff so this is certainly enlightening.

What Makes Music American?

Sunday, November 23, AD 2008

Tito and Donald have instituted a worthy tradition of posting music on the weekends here at American Catholic, and so as the weekend winds to a close I thought I would attempt by own contribution to the genre, though with a characteristically analytical slant.

I’m not sure how it is that one can say that a piece of music “sounds like” a particular country. And yet some pieces of music very clearly have a regional tone. For instance, Vaughan Williams orchestral music simply sounds like English countryside.

While I don’t think I could describe what it is that makes something sound American, the following are some of the most American-sounding pieces of music that I know of.

Jerome Moross received an Oscar nomination for the score he wrote for Big Country, the outstanding 1958 western staring Gregory Peck, Charleton Heston and Burl Ives.

The movie itself is very much worth watching, and the score is one of my favorite movie scores. This video illustrates the main theme with scenes from the movie.

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