The perennial parish pop combo problem

I understand that if a President of the United States is reelected, all cabinet officers resign so that the President can be freer to choose new people.  When the Pope dies, virtually all the offices of the Vatican dicasteries cease.  Their holders must be reconfirmed by the new Pope… or not.

I know any number of priests who long… long… for the choir director to quit or to move or… you get the idea.

Read this, the first part of an entry at Chant Cafe and see if this doesn’t describe some situation you have experienced:

I know a high school group of liturgical singers and strummers [… or aging hippies…] that might mean well but makes a terrible mess of the music at Mass, week after week. There are thousands of such groups around the country. I’m sure you too know of a few.

The archetypes are common. There’s a drummer, a singer, a backup singer, a pianist, and a guitar player. None of them can play their instruments well. The singer can’t sing without being heavily miked and without musical emoticons strewn throughout. The repertoire is bubble-gum pop ballads with a Jesus theme. People fear going to Masses where they play, and they are the constant brunt of negative mutterings, though the players themselves are not aware of it.

Of course they have no idea what they are doing. No one has ever discussed with them anything about the musical demands of the Roman Rite. They know nothing about the proper orientation for making music at Mass. The liturgical calender is an abstraction. Terms like propers or dialogues are gibberish to them. Most of the players can’t even read music. To them it is an opportunity to see and be seen, a weekly talent gig, and they probably don’t mind it that people give them credit for their service to the parish.

The pastor and celebrant don’t like it any more than anyone else. But the parents of these kids are important people in the parish. The band doesn’t charge any money for their services, such as they are. The director of music has nothing to do with them, and no adults are really involved at any level. At least that teen Mass slot is covered, so, in the balance, it seems to make more sense to tolerate them and endure. Again, it is well known that they mean well, and surely that is enough.

I’m looking at this situation and it seems like an impossible nut to crack.

Some people might look at this and say that the answer is obvious: toss these ill-educated, amateur noise makers out on their ears. Well, that’s an interesting proposal if not exactly pastoral. In fact, I don’t think this approach really works. It does not foster a stable parish environment. It’s not realistic. It doesn’t draw on the existing talents in the parish – and they are thin indeed – and there remains the question concerning who or what would replace them. The Catholic world isn’t exactly crawling with Gregorian choirs waiting in the wings to sing.

[…]

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64 Responses to The perennial parish pop combo problem

  1. raitchi2 says:

    Why wait for retirement? Just give the ultimatum either use the graduale or pack your bags for the next parish. Unless I’m mistaken, the pastor has ultimate control of parish funds. Once someone (cleric or lay) works for the church starts to impede the mission of the Church, they should be let go. Why can’t the Church work like any other corporation?

  2. basilorat says:

    The problem with the logic is that no priest…understandably, wants to be the bad guy. Even if the new guy comes in he simply can’t say Sorry, it’s Church law, you’re all fired…because people take it all personally…regardless. Even when my dear friend who is a pastor wants to follow the book liturgically, he has to take steps otherwise he loses everybody. So he has effected change, but it has been slow.

    I have some very good friends who are either Episocopalian priests or involved in their respective deaneries. They have a VERY GOOD SYSTEM. When a rector or dean leaves his parish, an interim is appointed for a year or two. In this way, he/she/he-she can fix all the issues that the last one could not, do some house-cleaning, and then it can move on and make way for the new rector/dean who will be able to proceed unencumbered. Not a bad system, and there is nothing wrong with it ecclesiologically for Catholics.

  3. The Astronomer says:

    This reporter must go to my parish on a regular basis….“On Eagle’s Wings” anyone?

  4. Fr. Basil says:

    I was a music major. In the departmental handbook, there were guidelines about those who accepted positions as parish musicians in anybody’s church, be it as an organist, choir director, or singer. The professional ethics were specified.

    1. A signed contract with specified duties remuneration, and term of engagement specified.

    2. We were told we were to submit our resignations upon appointment of a new pastor, music minister, or the like.

  5. Hans says:

    Surely, the solution to such a problem would be for the director of music to get involved and take a slow and steady course toward improving the state of music at that Mass. If nothing else, by the time they graduate from high school they will have a better sense of what good music is. Where else these days are they likely to learn about it? Most children aren’t going to learn about it at home or in school, after all.

    I’ve seen it work so many times. People exposed to good music will come to appreciate it over time, especially if they’re the one performing it. The choir I’m in now grumbled about some of the chant and polyphony pieces (especially one by Tallis) we were practicing, until they got used to them. Our music director has just kept pushing them a little more And a little more. Now they seem to enjoy the music and look forward to the challenge. We still haven’t got to the Byrd Ave Verum she has been planning, though. Patience is the key here; these students can take what they learn and spread it elsewhere.

  6. I’ve been on every side of this issue: as a callow youth, I was briefly in just such a group. It didn’t take long for me to get out. Then, as a music director, I had to deal with an aging hippy who could not imagine anything better than the St. Louis Jebbies – I was attempting to get the usual small motley crew of good people who could kinda sing to do some chant and polyphony (actually succeeded to some extent) while she couldn’t see why we weren’t doing Be Not Afraid every week. But she was enthusiastic, so I didn’t want to chase her off. Later still, I had a job (I needed the money, pittance as it was) leading a “Contemporary” group at a large nominally Catholic university. I was the only guy there who could read music. I though it was telling that, despite thousands of students, I had maybe 5-6 show up to sing music that was supposedly ‘contemporary’ – contemporary with the Mommas and Papas, maybe.

    Finally, at our parish, we have the exact situation described: the oddly titled ‘Teen Life’ Mass on Sunday afternoons features a rock band that couldn’t get a paying gig outside of a church if their lives depended on it rockin’ us to the hits of the ‘Jesus is My Boyfriend’ school of liturgical music. The driving force seems to be a middle aged woman with a classic 60s folk music type voice – the band has maybe 2 members who could be teens – the others are closer to getting social security than getting acne. The only reason I know this is because, for reasons that remain a mystery, my eldest daughter’s confirmation was held during a Teen Life Mass. That was an experience.

    What kills me is that, in my experience, there are almost no teens at the Teen Life and similar Masses – how stupid do people think teens are? You think they can’t tell they’re being pandered to? That the music is just an excuse for wannabe rockers to turn up their amps and wail?

  7. momoften says:

    I think it is wrong to continue to sit back and let things be. But priests do have an opportunity to perhaps implement more changes (in the singing as well) with the new corrected translation coming. Perhaps that would be the time to point out that the music as well has to change and to offer them..well, lessons to be a better traditional choir-especially if they had the ability to bring in the teens to teach them to sing good music. Ultimately… I think it IS WIMPY for a priest to sit back and let it continue. Do we bend in the wind as a Catholic, or stand firm for what is right and proper ?

  8. Jordanes says:

    We’ve got one of those youth bands too — scant musical talent, none of them can sing. It’s excruciatingly painful to be at Mass on the Sundays that they are doing their thing. I and my family always make sure we go to another Mass when we know they’ll be disturbing the peace, but every now and then they change things up on us, or we forget, and then we just plug our ears, grit and teeth and pray really, really hard until it’s over.

  9. Jordanes says:

    Grit “our” teeth, I mean.

  10. None of this would happen if somebody didn’t appreciate it well enough, and I don’t mean just a few families with deep pockets and culturally-deprived kids. I know we hear about how young people are attracted to tradition in worship and all that, but there is a phase through which some of them go, occurring in the 18 to 25 age range, where they actually love this sort of thing. The most common time for a Mass of this sort is Sunday evening. There are two such Masses I know of in the DC area, one in Georgetown and one in northern Arlington. Both are very well attended, and the Mass is celebrated by a priest who “knows how to reach young people.” There’s usually a “young adults ministry” at the head of this.

    In my experience, some of them eventually outgrow this type of worship. They go for the “meet market” aspect of it, truthfully. Eventually, boy meets girl, one thing leads to another, and they march down the aisle and begin a life together. Somewhere in all of that, they grow up. Next thing you know, a string of little ones is following them to a more proper form of parish Mass.

    It doesn’t happen all at once though.

  11. Supertradmum says:

    The problem is that the priests think that they are not pastoral if they put up with the status quo. Why is honesty not pastoral? I have noticed with a certain generation that “being nice” is more important than having try outs, requiring liturgy courses, and opening up the repertoire. Priests should be more directive, not less, for the good of all.

  12. AM says:

    The solution is available if the priest wants to solve it : he can get involved with the music and those musicians, begin to educate them in real liturgical requirements, and slowly the situation will improve. If he wants to. No-one but the priest – pastor can solve the problem, though.

  13. Mike says:

    We’ve got these guys at our “Youth Mass”, but as bad, we have the ballooning egos of the “Lion King” Liturgy. Our pastor loves it. Our elderly retired priest puts up with it. Our new priest from Rome is “open” to it.

    It’s trash, and as such, hides the face of Christ.

  14. Young Canadian RC Male says:

    I say big deal. So what if these people can’t sing their Hippie music? The era of “peace and love” is long over. Kick em out, and if they cause a stir and take some other parishoners with them, at least we can then tell who the liberal/modernist/CINO “catholics” are and who the real devotional Catholics are of the bunch.

    And if you absolutely must sing “On Eagle’s Wings”, at least get it sung by a proper or a children’s choir (like I used to do in elementary school) so it gets is respectful due and don’t botch it with the hippie bands.

    And finally One Vatican Document Two Words: Musicam Sacram!

  15. The real problem is that most people attend Mass at a convenient time. They don’t care what sort of music is foisted on them as long as the time is right. They may also assume that all the Masses are alike, never having been to any of the others at the same parish. If people voted with their feet, the silliness would disappear fast. The pastor won’t have to fire anyone, because the performers won’t relish performing to an empty church. But most people in the pews just don’t care. The irony of this is that they would probably also have no problem with good liturgy either.

    Our pastor just announced that the 12:30 PM Mass on Sundays would be discontinued for the summer because he’s having trouble getting summer help, and that Mass has fewer people in attendance than the 9 AM Mass on Saturdays. The 12:30 Mass is straight organ and cantor, no choir or other silliness I know as far as I know, so the numbers count. Why is that Mass so sparsely attended, especially in the summer? Bad timing, plain and simple.

    The other lesson here is not to start anything silly, because it is much harder to stop something than it is to start it. There’s lots to be said for “don’t burden your successor.”

  16. anna 6 says:

    Did anyone see the Mass offered by the pope in a parish in Rome this morning? The only thing worse than an American folk group choir is an American-style folk group sung by an Italian choir!
    It was painful to watch, but probably a good expose of what actually goes on in so many churches. Pope Benedict look bewildered at times, but it was somehow very charming hearing him try to sing along to the happy-clappy guitar version of the Sanctus. He has the patience of Job.
    Poor Papa!

  17. It describes quite well situations at parishes, and when I wanted to be Youth Minister (and bring in chant and the like to the so called teen Mass, I knew I was going to face this problem, fortunately, I had a solution I thought might work.

    1. Immediately, move the praise band to the choir loft if one is available (if not, move them to the back of the Church)…don’t change anything, just move them back to de-centralize the focus.

    2. After a month of them being used to being in the back, allowing them to keep the instrumentation, request that they use the Communion Antiphon in the Missalette (stages). There would be catechesis explaining why these are being used obviously.

    3. Request that the amplifier be unplugged, et cetera and slowly going until the Parish Music program has the propers incorporated for all Masses.

    Unfortunately the word pastoral has been associated with weakness, when in reality it is just the merely how to of things. I have to admit I don’t mind being the bad guy. If I face persecution for doing the right thing, so be it.

  18. EXCHIEF says:

    Joe of St Therese
    You’ve hit upon the solution which likely will consist only of step 1. Take the performers out of the view of their adoring audience. Put them in the choir loft (if your church has such a thing) or at least put them in the back where they cannot be seen. One might be surprised at how quickly members of such groups will resign. The group may well dissolve on its own thus opening the door for some sacred music.

  19. To follow up on AM‘s comment:

    The priest must first lead by example.

    If the Church says that music is integral to the rite, it necessarily follows that the priest must chant his parts.

    They, according to Musicam Sacram 29, are to start with the Sign of the Cross, the Opening Prayer, the Prayer over the Offerings, the Postcommunion, and the Dismissal. At the very least. They are to chant these prayers unaccompanied, and as often as they celebrate Mass. If anyone complains, the priest must say to them, “I’m doing my job (and learning what I was never taught about it).” From there the discussion can commence — if the complainant is willing to dialogue.

    For a priest merely to specify what music is to be done “at” Mass helps little. The priest who sings the Mass — at least his parts according to the highest desires of the Church — has much more credibility to educate and in fact to exercise his legitimate authority on the liturgy over others, because he has exercised it on himself first.

  20. Mary Bruno says:

    I wish we had a choir loft. There’s no place else to put them. We have a few different choirs. When the children’s choir performs the adoring parents sit up front and take video and pictures and keep looking at their children. It becomes more of a concert than worship.

    I get easily distracted by our music director and some cantors who swing their bodies back and forth or the music director playing the piano reminding me of Ray Charles.

    I have a very hard time with the responsorial psalm being sung to a rockin piano tune which sounds like a preschool sing a long.

    Our parish tries to mix in Latin and use the pipe organ, but we have a variety of music, which might all happen during the same mass.

  21. Former Altar Boy says:

    Pastor = shepherd = leader. When pastors start being leaders and exercise the authority granted them by the Church as pastors, and make decisions which they alone should make instead of running everything past some lay person, or parish counceil, or doing nothing because they are afraid someone’s “feelings’ might be bruised, then we will start seeing necessary improvements.

  22. manwithblackhat – yes, the maligned guitar/folk/contemporary/youth mass does have an appeal to many people. High school students, in particular, seem to often be looking for belonging and social acceptance, which a touchy-feely liturgy can provide at least a sense of. I know I was. Plus, you can go sit with the old folks in the ‘adult’ choir, or hang with the cool (well, comparatively) kids with the guitars. AND – ya know, the traditional liturgy can be off-putting, especially when many of the people involved seem to have a chip on their shoulders. It’s not like many kids are given any sort of clear, pure choice in liturgy – they get whatever they get. My only question: are those youth mass people really maturing into general mass-attending Catholics, or simply drifting away? I suspect the latter, unfortunately.

    I’ve long suspected that the Mass is asked to carry too much – not only is it supposed to offer us the food of salvation, it seems many suppose it should take care of our need for human contact and bolster our sense of self esteem, among other things. The appeal of guitar masses is, I think, related to this view that the Mass should be a social gathering that reinforces our social ties – for lonely people – and a lot of teens are lonely – that’s not nothing. When the Mass is the only time and place where almost everybody ever does anything related to Church, it becomes tempting to load it up with all our lesser obligations to each other, even to the detriment of communicating its essential nature.

  23. Dorcas says:

    Ok, music experts, help me out if you can! I attend a migrant worker parish in Korea, where we have an English mass. English is a second language for almost every person there, including the priest. We have a selection of music that basically consists of the 10 worst songs list that was posted here a few months ago. The choir has some people who can sing, but none read music. I can read basic notes, but I can’t sing well, and I can’t play an instrument. We recently got a new chapel space, which unfortunately came equiped with a drum kit. Because I am the only one who seems bothered by the music, I have been trying for awhile to change things. Fortunately the people who do the music stuff are happy for me to try introduce some changes. However, what can I change to? What would be the best way for us to learn new music? And what it the communion antiphon, and are you supposed to sing it? Any advice for resources would be appreciated! I need liturgy and music 101…

  24. Traductora says:

    I think Ishmael made a good point: The Mass is one thing (formal liturgical worship) but people keep trying to make it serve other purposes (paraliturgical prayer service and social event, for example). Personally, I can’t stand Protestant-style preaching and hymn services, but a lot of people like them, and I think creating some kind of parish events that would let people indulge these tastes might take the pressure off the Mass. It could be combined with a traditional devotion (the Rosary, for example) but in a way that would permit the horrible combo to do a few numbers, let people sway to their favorite syrupy religious-pop ballad, and let Father indulge his desire to give fluffy motivational talks or quasi-AA therapeutic musings.

    I’m not sure it could stand on its own, however. It would probably have to be scheduled after a Mass that “counted” for the Sunday obligation (I’d say the Saturday or Sunday evening mass would be the best) because Catholics seem to go only to things that take care of their mass obligation. But maybe having a blow-out sentimental wallow once a week would concentrate all these things together and let the Mass go back to being the Mass and not a performance vehicle, while at the same time placating the egos of the performers who have spent decades now thinking that it’s all about them.

  25. Gaz says:

    Dorcas. I’m guessing that you’re talking about the Ordinary Form of the Mass, and (if you’ve posted your question here) Latin is OK for a try. Starting with the “common”, Missa de Angelis + Credo 3 are a good first option because you might be surprised how many people have heard them. The “common” consists of the Kyrie (Lord have mercy), Gloria (Glory to God in the highest but not in Advent), Credo (I believe in one God), Sanctus (Holy Holy) and Agnus Dei (Lamb of God). These chants (printed and mp3) can be found here and here (great project, Watershed!) After that, work up to the “propers”. The propers are the parts that change each week. They can be found here. Music 102 (i.e the propers) is for another posting but in answer to your particular question, the “Communio” or “Communion” chant is the sung version of the communion antiphon. The advantage of the Ordinary Form of the Mass is that you can start with as little as you can manage and gradually let the Latin chant take over. As you learn more, you’ll find out that there’s little in the choosing of the texts to sing so you’ll have more time to practise. St Cecelia, pray for us!

  26. Ed the Roman says:

    I liked having a loft. It made many things better, including having our eldest with us when we both sang and he was two.

    The one time I disliked it was in a cathedral in which the organ console was adjacent the sanctuary and the pipes were behind the throne, which meant we had a hard time using the big organ from the other end of the nave.

    And a loft is a great filter to exclude people who want to be looked at.

  27. benedetta says:

    I agree that theoretically it’s a fine idea to have some sort of outreach to teens and/or young adults but the question is whether a bad rock band at a Sunday evening Mass is the way to do it. In most places where they have this the band is working off a 20 year old collection of tunes. So maybe it started with teens identifying contemporary Christian rock songs but in most cases they are not staying up to date. Christian rock has some decent offerings as an alternative to secular pop music, sometimes the music can be pretty good (generally it is not great) and the message obviously much better than the commercial pop alternative.
    But teens have so much “noise” in their lives at this point that an argument could be made for offering them something, different. Really different. And still a part of their heritage. I think that teens if offered something of beauty and quality might really appreciate it. They don’t necessarily need jarring electric guitar, a crooner and a drum set at this point.
    The history of LifeTeen is somewhat dubious as well, I would be inclined to ditch the entire enterprise as a result but some might disagree and say that no matter the sinfulness of its founder that it is worth purifying and retaining.
    At these masses it is not as if the teens love to attend. Much of the time they are required to attend as part of confirmation, they have scheduled meetings before or after. The website for this program says that traditional music is mixed in with pop but I sort of doubt that occurs very often. But they clearly concede it is not the exclusive or necessarily ideal way to reach teens at a mass.
    American youth in general lack exposure to the arts and beautiful culture, relative to other teens in other parts of the world. Perhaps we “lead” in this regard since the rest of the youth world consumes much of our commercial pop product with abandon. But teens in this country are into this stuff not because they necessarily choose it but because, for one, it is heavily marketed to them, and two, more importantly ,there is a vacuum of tradition and culture by virtue of being a melting pot. In other countries, teens like the pop stuff but also learn folk dance with traditional costume and music from their respective tradition. In the U.S. there is no such thing, 60’s “folk music” is certainly not anything like it nor is, um, square dancing.
    But I think there may be a place for teens such as at a retreat with adoration or a prayer service to have, good, contemporary music. But it must be of excellent quality otherwise why bother, we are just cheating them. That’s why I would think that when the Holy Father visits a parish in Rome the choir is actually able to hear some beautiful traditional songs that are perhaps centuries old as opposed to the Marty Haugen hit parade in American parishes. There are some beautiful contemporary compositions that are not folk-y at all but are reverent. The movement Communione e Liberazione often showcase what is beautiful in contemporary Catholic culture, as well as the old. As Catholics it would be a great service to our American youth to try to offer to them beauty as an alternative to the coarse, crass culture presented to them at every turn. It would sustain them through the trials we all know will come as they face trying to live their faith in the typical college environments we are all too familiar with. Young people, even the littlest, are certainly capable of engaging with the mystery of the sacred and the way to the human heart for this is through beauty.

  28. Torkay says:

    So uh, what’s so hard about training them in Gregorian Chant? Or are we stuck in Bishop Trautman mode?

  29. benedetta says:

    I agree that theoretically it’s a fine idea to have some sort of outreach to teens and/or young adults but the question is whether a bad rock band at a Sunday evening Mass is the way to do it. In most places where they have this the band is working off a 20 year old collection of tunes. So maybe it started with teens identifying contemporary Christian rock songs but in most cases they are not staying up to date. Christian rock has some decent offerings as an alternative to secular pop music, sometimes the music can be pretty good (generally it is not great) and the message obviously much better than the commercial pop alternative.
    But teens have so much “noise” in their lives at this point that an argument could be made for offering them something, different. Really different. And still a part of their heritage. I think that teens if offered something of beauty and quality might really appreciate it. They don’t necessarily need jarring electric guitar, a crooner and a drum set at this point.
    The history of LifeTeen is somewhat dubious as well, I would be inclined to ditch the entire enterprise as a result but some might disagree and say that no matter the sinfulness of its founder that it is worth purifying and retaining.
    At these masses it is not as if the teens love to attend. Much of the time they are required to attend as part of confirmation, they have scheduled meetings before or after. The website for this program says that traditional music is mixed in with pop but I sort of doubt that occurs very often. But they clearly concede it is not the exclusive or necessarily ideal way to reach teens at a mass.
    American youth in general lack exposure to the arts and beautiful culture, relative to other teens in other parts of the world. Perhaps we “lead” in this regard since the rest of the youth world consumes much of our commercial pop product with abandon. But teens in this country are into this stuff not because they necessarily choose it but because, for one, it is heavily marketed to them, and two, more importantly ,there is a vacuum of tradition and culture by virtue of being a melting pot. In other countries, teens like the pop stuff but also learn folk dance with traditional costume and music from their respective tradition. In the U.S. there is no such thing, 60’s “folk music” is certainly not anything like it nor is, um, square dancing.
    But I think there may be a place for teens such as at a retreat with adoration or a prayer service to have, good, contemporary music. But it must be of excellent quality otherwise why bother, we are just cheating them. That’s why I would think that when the Holy Father visits a parish in Rome the choir is actually able to hear some beautiful traditional songs that are perhaps centuries old as opposed to the Marty Haugen hit parade in American parishes. There are some beautiful contemporary compositions that are not folk-y at all but are reverent. The movement Communione e Liberazione often showcases beautiful contemporary Catholic culture. As Catholics it would be a great service to our American youth to try to offer to them beauty as an alternative to the coarse, crass culture presented to them at every turn. It would sustain them through the trials we all know will come as they face trying to live their faith in the typical college environments we are all too familiar with. Young people, even the littlest, are certainly capable of engaging with the mystery of the sacred and the way to the human heart for this is through beauty.

  30. benedetta says:

    I agree that theoretically it’s a fine idea to have some sort of outreach to teens and/or young adults but the question is whether a bad rock band at a Sunday evening Mass is the way. In most places where they have this the band is working off a 20 year old collection of tunes.
    But teens have so much “noise” in their lives at this point that an argument could be made for offering them something, different. Really different. And still a part of their heritage.
    At these masses much of the time they are required to attend as part of confirmation, they have scheduled meetings before or after. The website for this program says that traditional music is mixed in with pop but I sort of doubt that occurs very often. But they clearly concede it is not the exclusive or necessarily ideal way to reach teens at a mass. And it can be problematic where it is still a mass offered which all may attend.
    American youth in general lack exposure to the arts and beautiful culture, relative to other teens in other parts of the world. In other countries, teens like the pop stuff but also learn old dances with traditional costume and music from their respective tradition.
    But I think there may be a place for teens such as at a retreat with adoration or a prayer service to have, good, contemporary music. But it must be of excellent quality, the song, itself, music and message, and vocalists, instrumentalists. As Catholics it would be a great service to our American youth to try to offer to them beauty. It would sustain them. Young people, even the littlest, are certainly capable of engaging with the sacred.

  31. benedetta says:

    Sorry for the above: you can thus see the editing process at work. Would be interested in others’ viewpoints on this…

  32. Marcin says:

    @manwithblackhat
    The most common time for a Mass of this sort is Sunday evening. There are two such Masses I know of in the DC area, one in Georgetown[…]

    Holy Trinity at Georgetown? Oh my, that had always been an experience, and not a noetic one. We went there good couple of times in “the last Mass in the town” situation. I has been always a mortification rather that glorifying God. When our son was about 3 or 4 years old we stopped out of fear of bad influence on his liturgical taste. Now he is quite tolerant of the Melkite Divine Liturgy, although the length remains an issue ;)

    BTW, which northern Virginia church you had in mind? (so it can be avoided..)

  33. A close friend was once in the Lutheran ministry, many years ago. (Things may have changed, for all I know). In his day, EVERY staff member submitted letters of resignation upon the call of a new pastor. The new pastor could then choose to staff his church in the manner he best saw fit.

    If such guidelines were well understood by everyone, it would certainly limit the potential “hurt feelings”. In the Archdiocese in which I live, pastors typically serve one or two 6 year terms. I would most likely think twice about accepting a staff position at a parish in which I knew that the pastor only had a year or two left to serve, so as not to find myself in the situation to begin with!

  34. traditionalorganist says:

    Benedetta, I could never agree that Christian Rock has any “decent offerings.” It’s really not accurate to compare bad to worse. However, I do agree that we don’t need to focus on solely old hymns. However, if anything new is to be written, it must follow those standards of good music that Fr Z mentions in previous posts. I think that attempting to “engage” the faithful through contemporary music springs as a result of the priest facing the people. His focus becomes them, instead of Christ. A prayerful countenance may often appear as boredom and so certain energetic priests may seek to get their parish more visibly (key word) involved.

    Nowadays, there is definitely a hunger among young people for a true sense of participation in the Liturgy. They, along with almost everyone else, are actually being polite in not objecting vocally to the noise they hear in such abominations as a youth Mass. Basically, youth don’t need youth Masses, they need social time with good Catholic youth AFTER Mass, not during.

    I hope and pray that priests will be better formed in seminaries to know and love good music, and perhaps be able to teach it. A good Movie comes to mind: “Going My Way” with Bing Crosby. Although a different time indeed, recall how the priest played by Bing is able, through his talent, to cause the troubled kids of the neighborhood to learn and love traditional Church Music. He has them sing fun pieces too, but these are never sung in Church, but outside. I don’t think I’m being too nostalgic in referencing that.

  35. benedetta says:

    Something funny going on when I post…it doesn’t go through but apparently posts anyway! C’est la vie!

  36. Torkay says:

    If the Novus Ordo is an abomination, then a teen/contemporary Novus Ordo is an abomination of abominations. Our SSPX parish is full of teenagers, but none of them are clamoring for a “relevant” Mass. In fact, many of them are singing chant in the choir. Apparently it depends on what culture they are raised in: the culture of death (sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll) or the culture of life, which begins with the Domestic Church and Tradition.

  37. Sid says:

    Teen Mass? Teens should go to Mass with their parents.

  38. frsbr says:

    From a pastoral point of view, one cannot simply be content to sweep away the “old order,” even if, objectively speaking, that is warranted. One must aim to lead people to the truth, and this often takes time. If it were a question of egregious liturgical abuses, these would have to be corrected immediately, of course. Some flexibility in approach may be afforded to questions of music – which does not, after all, effect the validity of the Holy Mass.

    The place to start is in giving formation to the musicians. A thorough review of Church documents is in order here. Readings from Cardinal Ratzinger on music and the liturgy are quite helpful and enlightening. Recordings of chant – many available for free on-line – can help to illustrate the liturgical principles of the Church.

    A good starting point is to include at least one traditional hymn among those chosen for Sunday Mass. This helps the congregation to become familiar with the classical Catholic repertoire. Then perhaps a Kyrie, a chant Alleluia, etc… It takes time, but my experience shows that it works, and that young people, especially, come to appreciate chant and sing it enthusiastically.

    One has to be patient and remember that our current liturgical-musical maelstrom has been decades in the making. We don’t need to wait forty years to turn things around, but it may take a little time in order to bring people along in an organic way, rather than them feeling “beaten over the head” with music they don’t understand.

    In my own parish, the LifeTeen Mass has progressed from one that was fully into the “Happy Jesus Music” mode to one in which the Kyrie is chanted a cappella (lately, Mass XVII for Advent), chant Alleluia, latin Agnus Dei, Salve Regina for the recessional, together with a few traditional hymns and even some contemporary “praise and worship” music.

    Our fall youth retreat, just concluded, featured Mass ad orientam, chanted ordinary (both Anglican gradual and Latin), and the option of kneeling for Holy Communion. All of this was at the initiative of the youth group leaders. It has taken nearly ten years to reach this point, but we have arrived, and with very little acrimony or hurt feelings.

    Be patient. Teach clearly. Work hard. Be cheerful.

    P.S. I like to tell other priests that we are the only LifeTeen Mass on the planet that chants the Kyrie of the Misa Orbis Factor. The choir loves it and the mostly-young congregation (1000+) belts it out.

  39. Sam Schmitt says:

    “Be patient. Teach clearly. Work hard. Be cheerful. ?

    Thank you father. The “throw the bums out” attitude of some of the above posts is certainly much easier but can result in more harm than good.

  40. TJerome says:

    Maybe parishes with these sorts of problems should take Father Z’s approach: brick by brick.

    ps: I remember the Teen Masses from the 1960s. Then, as now, it is the older folks in their 50s and 60s who think these sort of Masses are what the teens want but the truth is, it is what liturgically ignorant 50 and 60 year olds want, the kids could care less.

  41. Alice says:

    It’s not an impossible nut to crack. It’s time for the pastor to sit down with the music director and say “this is the direction we need to take music in this parish” and then require that the music director approve of all the music choices for all the Masses and check up periodically on all the ensembles (even if he/she isn’t personally directing them). Then they agree on a plan for ALL the choirs and ensembles. It can go something like this:

    1. All musical choices must fit with the liturgical season and be approved by the music director.
    2. The Psalm and Gospel Acclamation must be from the lectionary. (Some publishers sell learning CDs for these, so reading music is not a requirement.)
    3. All the Masses use the same Mass parts.

    I suppose at this point, you could start introducing a Proper (either Offertory or Communion) to the entire parish or something. It just takes time and the pastor and music director being on the same page. If it had been the parish where I was music director, one pastor would have backed me up completely, another couldn’t care less about music, and still another would have started a praise band of musically illiterate kids and I wouldn’t have known until I showed up to play one day and found that I was no longer welcome at that Mass.

  42. Catholicman says:

    I agree with all those who advocate for good and proper music for Mass and count myself as one of a pretty traditional liturgical mindset. But on the question of whether or not people in leadership positions at a parish or diocese should tender their resignations on appointment of a new pastor or bishop, I pause. Now some people might be part-time or more full-time volunteers but most are full-time, paid lay people with families to support. I work for a large Archdiocese and it would certainly be stressful and perhaps a bit unjust if a new Archbishop is appointed and I’m expected to voluntarily put myself out of work. Of course, my resignation might not be accepted but the point still stands…how is this type of policy just toward lay workers with families? The same is true in a parish…if a priest comes in and his music director is a bit off or even way off, that person should still be respected and given opportunity to change before being invited to leave. Imagine knowing that every 6 or 12 years you had to purposely put yourself out of a job just in case the new boss had a different philosophy then yours?

    I’m all for changing the liturgical and musical culture to be more in line with tradition and what the Holy Father and Rome are calling for, but we do still have to remember the people and their families (no matter how screwed up liturgically they are).

  43. AnAmericanMother says:

    Dorcas,

    Somebody may have already answered this – but I would think in a situation where English is a second language already, you might as well use Latin. And chant is easier than you think, really.

    You can go very slowly, introducing something new one item at a time. Get hold of a book of simple chants and start with the Kyrie or Gloria. For folks who don’t read music, you can get CDs. And YouTube is a great resource, surprising some of the stuff that’s on there, our choir director recommends it highly and it DOES work for learning. I used it Fri and Sat to iron out some difficulties I was having with one of the anthems for Sunday.

    The inimitable Jeffrey Tucker did a seminar at our church and was able to get folks chanting who were only familiar with the “10 worst songs”. What I would do is just Email him, explain your situation and ask for his help. He is a very nice man, quite approachable, and he knows a whole lot more about teaching elementary chant than I do (I didn’t encounter chant until we converted from the Episcopal Church in 2004). He’s at Musica Sacra, and all the contact Emails are here:

    http://musicasacra.com/contact-the-cmaa/

  44. maynardus says:

    Desperate times call for desperate measures: is there a trusted electrician in the parish who can be relied upon for his discretion? Have him “temporarily” run 220v to the outlets where they typically plug-in their guitars and amps, and put a sign next to the outlet “Attn: Youth Band – do not use!”. Being naturally rebellious teenagers the odds are that they’ll plug-in anyway, and won’t there be a joyful noise once they power-up their elecronic nuisances for the last time! Of course this won’t take out the drums…

    Maybe the parish’s insurance policy would pay for the instruments – or maybe not, but (being an insurance company) once notified of the “accident” they’ll probably write a stern letter to the pastor warning that any future use of electrified, amplied musical instruments which have not been permanently installed would constitute an unreasonable hazard which would violate the terms of the policy… Game, set, match!

  45. Catholicman,

    You make a valid point, and it is easy enough to see ways in which a “submit letter of resignation upon change in leadership” could well be abused. On the other hand, a pastor (or bishop, for that matter) does have the right, it seems to me, to surround himself with a staff who would share his views and goals with regard to ministry. If I’m a pastor, and am trying to lead my parish in a more orthodox direction, should I be forced to deal members of my pastoral team whose objectives are directly opposed to mine?

  46. Ed the Roman says:

    If you want to eliminate full-time music directors as a class, require a resignation on change in pastor. The analogies don’t apply.

    Cabinet secretaries are highly succesful, usually well-to-do types in high demand in the private sector who took a pay cut to work in government and never expected to do that job for more than eight years, if that. Heads of dicasteries are senior churchmen who will be provided for in any case, and are not responsible for families.

    Parish music directors are not like either of these groups at all. They studied music hoping to be able to serve the church, but it’s not as if we pay them so much that they can go a year or two between jobs without their likely abandoning church music as a career. And we should consider how many will study church music seriously once kids and parents know that it’s only reliable as a hobby.

    If you don’t like the music director, educate him or fire him, but don’t make him hand you a knife and an invitation to cut his throat.

  47. catholicmidwest says:

    The older model for church music is that the church sponsors artists work by work, contract by contract. Musicians were not “hired for life” or any such nonsense. They were commissioned for works on the merit of the works.

  48. AnAmericanMother says:

    I wish I knew how to get the same devotion to good music in the Catholic Church that we had with the Episcopalians. Music directors live high on the hog there. In fact, rumor had it that the music director at our former TEC parish would tell the vestry what he needed for the music budget for the year, and everyone else would fight over what was left . . . .

    I think part of it is that the TEC seminaries include a significant amount of music education. You will rarely find an Episcopal rector that doesn’t understand the basic nuts and bolts of English church music. Most are well aware of the 16th c. masters, the Victorians, and the moderns like Tavener and Rutter, as well as having a good basic grasp of Anglican Chant. This means they know enough to hire good music directors — and because they are well paid the good musicians tend to flock there.

    Part of it also is that Episcopalians are, au fond, snobs about music as they are about almost everything else. We certainly don’t want to go THERE . . . but it does mean that you rarely find a decent size TEC parish perpetrating “Jesus is my boyfriend” music or tacky pseudo-folk. There are of course always the superannuated hippies, but at our former parish they were relegated to the 9:15 a.m. service once a month. People who tried out for the choir and didn’t get in usually wound up there.

    I wish we had to have choir auditions. Everybody gets very serious when you have to work to get in.

  49. dap says:

    The original post makes many assumptions about the motives of the musicians in question as well as the aesthetic values of the parish community. Perhaps the teens love their Catholic faith and are doing the best they can. They may have a truly service-oriented mindset even though they are not aware of or in agreement with the liturgical aesthetics of other readers of this blog. This style of liturgical music is widely accepted and popular because of its perceived cultural relevance and accessability. Maybe these perceptions are not properly informed, but they are obviously widely held or these “contemporary” style masses would not be attended as enthusiastically as they are.

    The Torkay comment posted at 9:50 is viscious and un-Christian. This hostile screed has no place on a Roman Catholic forum or in polite society.

  50. Maxiemom says:

    I wouldn’t mind the contemporary music if we had a priest who could give a decent homily.

  51. Centristian says:

    It’s a dilemma. It originates with “Father Groovy” from the late sixties and early seventies, who began the folk choir in the first place, and continues with a succession of “Father Pushovers” who, even if they do realize (unlike the folk group) that the 70s ended on January 1, 1980, aren’t of a mind to be confrontational and aren’t liturgically-minded enough to care much about the quality of liturgical music, in any case.

    For the concerned pastor–one who is both liturgically astute and pastorally sensitive–the problem is going to be a major headache, no matter how he tackles it. But, so what if it’s a headache? Nowhere in the Scriptures does God assure us that life will always be a bowl of cherries resting on a featherbed. The year is 2010: instructing the outdated folk group to, finally, turn in their guitar picks is a necessary decision to make. Their music wasn’t liturgically appropriate in 1970, and it isn’t even culturally appropriate today. It is not pastoral to avoid making hard decisions. Feathers will be ruffled. Parents will gripe. People will become upset. Eventually, however, all the commotion will eventually cease, and the folk mass will be but an unpleasant memory.

    Or just keep the folk mass, but reschedule it in the 8:00 am time slot in the dead of Winter…and see how long it takes to evaporate on its own. If a priest cannot be confrontational, he must learn to be clever.

  52. Ed the Roman says:

    @catholicmidwest, in the old model who rehearsed the choir during the presumably long and frequent periods when a newly commissioned piece was not being prepared?

  53. Henry Edwards says:

    Alice: It’s time for the pastor to sit down with the music director and say “this is the direction we need to take music in this parish” . . .

    The times I’ve heard of this actually happening, it’s been that the pastor wanted the Latin and Gregorian chant stopped because of complaints that the music director is trying to take the parish baaak.

  54. everett says:

    This is the situation where Fr. Z’s brick by brick approach is absolutely crucial. The whole throw the bums out just isn’t a workable solution in most parishes. That approach ends up with severely hurt feelings and often a hostile laity. The solution isn’t throwing them out, the solution is properly catechizing them. As others have mentioned, start small. The priest can started by chanting/singing the Canon. He can require the use of the traditional Agnus Dei and the Kyrie. He can introduce chanted versions of the Our Father and Creed. These “changes” can be introduced each time you hit an Advent or a Lent so that there is a clear delineation and an opportunity to catechize. As people become familiar with these things, you can replace the St. Louis Jesuits with some of the more “classic” hymns that have been translated into English (my personal favorite Advent hymn is “On Jordan’s Bank.” Once they’re familiar with more traditional melodies and chords (rather than 16th notes and strange upbeats), its an easy leap to straight chant. Its the whole cliche of tossing the frog in a pot of cold water and letting it heat up slowly.

    Sure, a priest could come into a parish and make sweeping changes, but that often results in hostility and a difficult working environment. There may be times where doing what is right requires stepping on toes, but it isn’t always the case.

  55. Banjo pickin girl says:

    dap, in my experience the Life Teen people do indeed have a service mentality and are the first ones in my old parish to volunteer for heavy lifting type jobs like driving trucks for St. Vincent de Paul, marching around in the rain and snow at the abortion place, etc. While I am at a more conservative parish now and I now intensely dislike the music I used to love (go figure) I also try not to be mean to people who disagree. Not everybody in our culture can make the big leap right away to understanding or wanting what some on this blog prefer.

  56. Aengus Oshaughnessy says:

    Myself has a bit of insight into this, as I am one of the musicians at my church.
    Firstly, before I ever played a single note at Mass, I discussed with my priest what his expectations were, and what my own capabilities are. We talked about the hymns, the correct atmosphere, etc., etc. Every musician considering performing at Mass should do this.
    Secondly, myself would want to be told if I wasn’t performing up to snuff–especially as I play the fiddle, which has an alarming capacity for making people wish they were deaf (if played by an amateur). People need to leave their egos at the door, and stop taking the whole thing so bloody personally.

  57. Banjo pickin girl says:

    And isn’t everybody glad the banjo is not approved for liturgical use? (I fiddle too). The Bible says, “the murmuring sound of the harp,” not “the raucous hard noise of the banjo,” or “the loud metallic drone of the dobro.”

  58. catholicmidwest says:

    Ed,
    The commissioned help. It was part of the composition.

  59. Ed the Roman says:

    And when that composition rotates out? That was my point. If you don’t have someone on retainer, you’re commissioning an awful lot of stuff, or you don’t have a professional director.

  60. AnAmericanMother says:

    Ed,

    A lot of these guys were on retainer at the big churches and cathedrals. Oftentimes they had a choir school on the side, which was good because bringing up the kids to sing properly is the “farm team” for the adult choir.

    Our choirmaster came up through the old Catholic school system in the Northeast, as did his mother, and he has regaled us with tales of all the little third-graders learning Gregorian chant and polyphony.

    This is actually possible in modern times, by the way, because I went through an independent cathedral choir school myself starting at age 6, and my daughter went through a parish choir school in association with the Royal School of Church Music (America). This is a great system imported from England – the kids have achievement levels and get badges and ribbons, kind of like a musical Boy Scout Merit Badge system.

    I’m trying to talk our youth choirmaster into investigating the RSCM/A (you don’t have to be Episcopalian/Anglican to participate). I think it would really encourage the kids (and their parents) to get involved in the choir. Note for busy parents: from a purely self-interested standpoint, a RSCM Ribbon or Award looks quite attractive on a college application. I know that my daughter’s college interviewer expressed interest, and she got a call almost immediately from the school chorus.

    This goes hand in hand with making sure the priests get some music instruction in seminary.

    In other words — education is the key. Teach people proper music, and they will abandon the St. Looey Jebbies and OCP and never look back.

  61. catholicmidwest says:

    Ed,

    The day-to-day job of liturgical music in most parishes, particularly the small ones, is not all that terribly complex. You have to have the normal service music that is part of the mass, and then a few hymns, and then some holiday music. Most people know these songs very well and have great favorites. People in the congregation will help you vocally if it’s approached properly. And believe it or not, most people in the general population can carry a tune quite well if given the right conditions and a decent opportunity (ie are given singable music and not made to feel like they’re somehow tiptoeing through some kind of ideological minefield or performance spectacle).

    If you want a choir, you need a music teacher from the local Catholic school, and a collection of volunteers &/or school children who are willing to submit to a very easy audition and about 2 practices a week. Practice is cumulative. The longer the choir is in existence, the better you get on 2 practices a week because you get a repertoire. Get some sheet music or some xerox copies from the internet and you are on your way. I’ve belonged to choirs since I was in grade school, including traditional Catholic choirs in the choir loft. It’s a joy and it’s not that hard. People just like to spend money and be snooty about these things nowadays.

  62. Ed the Roman says:

    AnAmericanMother and Catholicmidwest: I didn’t say you couldn’t have choirs if directors had to resign on a change of pastor.

    I said you wouldn’t have full time directors.

    Which seems to be OK with you, but in my experience (25 years in choirs ranging from military chapels to suburban parishes to cathedral, directors ranging from energetic folks who took piano in high school to world famous composers) you have a better program (liturgically and artistically) with a better trained musician running it, and the better trained musicians don’t show up for free. Your mileage may vary.

  63. Young Canadian RC Male says:

    AnAmericanMother , your school sounds quite interesting indeed. I didn’t know that such a thing existed! So far in Canada the only one I know is St. Michael’s Choir School, however that sadly only goes up to gr. 8 although I am unsure if it is just a specialty Catholic private school or it has a British history.

    While I definitely think your education solution would be good for open-minded or traditional/right-leaning parishes, your solution may not bode well with the liberal/left-wing parishes (and/or pastors) and they would fight you to a tee. Education only works insofar as the minds who want to be open to what the teacher is teaching. If the mind is shut off, even in general education, you will not reach the closed mind of the uninterested student.

  64. jcn0903 says:

    Honest, I didn’t read them all, but so sorry, there are too may. What’s it? do you think we have no ability to persuade people with good music? Co opt the hell out of these ridiculous semi musicians! I mean that. People respond to good music. Join the choir. Suggest this and that. Detach yourself from the fruit of you actions. Your suggestions may not always be heeded, but we need to persevere. And when they are rejected, suffer fools gladly. I think we lack faith. I am a traddie, I know chant, I know music, I know the history of music in the west and how much the church has directed it. I know I need to be selfless. I must hope and pray. We must all. Praise God and let his will be done.