There is a smart and well-written article at The American Spectator on liturgical music by Patrick O’Hannigan, whom I have mentioned before.
The piece is longish, so here are a few bits to whet your appetite.
Can Liturgical Music Be Saved?
By PATRICK O’HANNIGAN on 6.17.13 @ 6:07AM
Reassessing the quarrel between the power ballad and the hymn.
Remember the power ballad? It was a subgenre of rock music pioneered by Boston in 1976 and Styx a year later. From near-symphonic beginnings in “More Than a Feeling” and “Come Sail Away,” the power ballad elbowed its way to prominence in the early Eighties.
Tom Scholz of Boston and Dennis DeYoung of Styx welded songwriting craftsmanship to imaginative orchestration and “wall of sound” microphone placements, mixing electric and acoustic guitars in tunes that did more than build to crescendos. Artists like Bonnie Tyler and REO Speedwagon then parlayed their own examples of the form into successful recording careers.
Power ballad pioneers play now in places like state fairs. But when the power ballad fell out of fashion, it found a home among the “praise bands” of “Christian Rock.” Where power ballads go, praise bands follow. [!] That unabashedly Christian lyrics can be heard on FM radio is a good thing, but that power ballads also enabled praise bands to displace so many church choirs ought to give us pause. [Along with headaches and indigestion.] Power ballads are not hymns. That is precisely the problem with singing them during church services, even — perhaps especially— services aimed at younger people. [GRRR]
Praise bands replaced many traditional choirs in part because church musicians were not always conscious of their own assumptions. They listened to car radios while driving to rehearsals. Like everyone else, they smiled at the playful grunge of “Spirit in the Sky” and the crypto-Christian bonhomie of “Get Together.” Hook-laden songs on the FM dial were more fun to play than old-timey hymns that required little or no instrumental accompaniment, and so garage bands at every conceivable talent level reasoned that only cranks would be critical of Sunday services enlivened by rock, jazz, and reggae rhythms.
[… See where he is going? … I skip here…]
Praise bands took longer to find acceptance in Catholic parishes, but find it they did, when “Guitar Masses” became a chew toy in the perennial argument between traditionalists and progressives. [Great image.] The praise band influence might have been more decisive in the pews had it not been for a pair of distinctively Catholic attributes: First, the doctrine of the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist emphasizes reverence in Catholic worship to a greater degree than is usually cultivated by Protestant assemblies. Second (and also by design), the Catholic Church is incapable of rapid change. Despite those constraints, praise band and power ballad influence made itself felt.
People who never used works like “immanence” and “transcendence” nevertheless realized that Jesus-among-us thinking had outpaced Jesus-beyond-us thinking, [I think I’ll steal that line.] and composers smitten with concepts like “inculturation” and the “spirit of Vatican II” did what they could to shoehorn new music into the liturgy of the church, with decidedly mixed results. What Anthony Esolen once called “the necessary hypocrisy of small talk” was raised to the status of a liturgical act. Meanwhile, among Christians of all confessions, advances in technology spawned by arena rock also created cheap amplifiers that could fill a room with sound.
Architecture was part of the same populist impulse.
[… must skip more…]
Motivation for excellence has seldom been phrased so pithily. [Guess who that would be?] Following that example and the pope’s ringing July 2007 reaffirmation of the continuing validity of the Mass in Latin, [Ooops. He put his foot slightly wrong here. It isn’t just an affirmation of Mass in Latin, it is affirmation of a form of Mass that is in Latin.] Catholic writers are more willing to question the songs on Sunday morning playlists. Jeffrey Tucker wrote about the dangers of catering to musical fads. Marc Barnes regaled readers of his column with “Five Reasons to Kill Christian Music,” by which he meant not the work of Palestrina, but the power ballad dragooned into worship duty. The first reason that Barnes offered was all but unassailable in its logic: writing “Christian” songs has the regrettable effect of reducing Christianity to a modifying adjective. [!] Barnes was also caustic enough to say that “If your music is bad, and you’re praying that God will do something great with it, stop praying and make better music.” On an academic note, the University of Saint Anselmo created a master’s-level course in liturgical music, complete with kind words for Gregorian chant, earlier this year.
He even name-dropped the right people… with one notable omission, of course.
Fr Z Kudos.