Composer James MacMillian explains what happened before the Papal Visit

Here is a story from The Telegraph about the trouble distinguished composer James MacMillian had with the liturgical establishment before the Holy Father’s visit to Scotland and England.

James MacMillan is a Scottish composer whose symphonies, concertos, operas, sacred music and many orchestral and instrumental works are strongly influenced by his Catholic faith. His St John Passion was premiered by Sir Colin Davis and the LSO in 2008; his specially commissioned congregational Mass was performed when Pope Benedict XVI beatified Cardinal Newman during his visit to Britain in September. He and his wife are lay Dominicans and live in Glasgow. He also blogs at

My emphases and comments:

How trendy ‘liturgists’ tried to stop my Mass being performed for the Pope

By James MacMillan Music Last updated: October 27th, 2010

Writing music for the recent visit of the Pope to the UK was one of the most exhilarating but strangest experiences of my life. I was initially contacted by Archbishop Mario Conti, on behalf of the Scottish Bishops who had decided they wanted a new setting of the Mass in English for the huge celebration in Bellahouston Park. Also, it was to be the new English translation of the Mass which will be introduced, more generally, in the Catholic anglosphere next year some time. In the wake of this, the Bishops of England and Wales came on board so that the new setting would be used at the Beatification Mass at Cofton Park too.

There was not much time. A meeting was called in Glasgow where a group of clergy in charge of planning the papal visit and liturgical music for Bellahouston spoke with me and outlined the task at hand. I had to start quickly and, more or less, deliver immediately! This I did, after using my church choir as guinea pigs for the first drafts. [Here we go…] Then the problems began.

Unknown to me the new setting was taken to a “committee” which has controlled the development of liturgical music in Scotland for some time. [For God so loved the world, that He did not send a committee.] Their agenda is to pursue the 1970s Americanised solution to the post-Conciliar vernacular liturgy, to the exclusion of more “traditional” possibilities. They have been known for their hostility to Gregorian chant, for example, but have reluctantly had to get in line since the arrival of Benedict XVI. They also have a commitment to the kind of cod-Celticness that owes more to the soundtracks of The Lord of the Rings and Braveheart, than anything remotely authentic. There has also been a suspicion of professionals with this committee, and many serious musicians in the Church in Scotland have felt excluded from their decisions and processes, or have chosen not to become involved in territory which is felt to be hostile.

It became clear that my new setting had not gone down well with this group. The music was felt to be “not pastoral enough” [Read: It was too good.  Read: It didn’t make you feel as if you were drowning in Lyle’s Golden Syrup.] and there were complaints (yes, complaints!) that it needed a competent organist.  [Because “pastoral” music can be played by incompetents.  The “Americanized” solution?] The director of music for Bellahouston, a priest and amateur composer, whose baby is this committee, was also informing all who would listen, that the music was “un-singable” and “not fit for purpose”. There seemed to be ongoing attempts to have the new setting dropped from the papal liturgy in Glasgow.

However, spokespeople for the Scottish Church had already been talking to the press [What would we do without the press these days?  There are drawback, but without the press the old guard would get away with a great deal, just as they always have.] about my new setting, and the English were gearing up to use the music as well, at the Birmingham Mass. Any retraction of the new setting was going to fly in the face of the Bishops’ wishes and result in an almighty media car crash, which would not just be humiliating for me, but for the Scottish Church too. Fly-on-the-wall reports from the committee meeting confirmed that there was general anxiety of the consequences if the English went ahead with the setting at Cofton Park, and the Scots dropped it or reduced it drastically for Glasgow.

When word of this reached me and my publishers (who had negotiated with Church representatives in Glasgow) we were astonished. There had been no mention of a “committee” which was to pass judgement, aesthetical, liturgical or musical, on the Mass that had been requested by the Bishops. An almighty row erupted behind the scenes. The men who had met me hastily in Glasgow to initiate the whole thing now seemed to be backtracking. The Bishops didn’t know anything about it – until we raised it with them. Obviously, not having heard the music, they were in a quandary. What if the “liturgists” were right? What if the new music couldn’t be sung by ordinary people? What if the organ accompaniment was, in fact, a concerto for organ? What if the pastoral concerns of God’s people had been totally ignored by this elitist composer? MacMillan might know how to write operas and symphonies, but congregational music was totally different. (I have, in fact, written simple music for Catholic congregations for the last 30 years). [Part of the problem here stems from the insanity of thinking that everyone has to sing everything.] But they had put their faith in me, knowing what I had done for the Church so far, and they were to continue in that faith. I was contacted, separately, by four members of the Scottish hierarchy, directly or indirectly. The one who phoned me allayed my fears and confirmed their full support. Another met me on occasions to communicate the trust and goodwill of the Conference.

Only one of them seemed to have fallen to the subterfuge of the ideologues, and he sent me an upsetting letter. It was similar to another from the original meeting who blamed me for manipulating the media and using the whole episode as an exercise in self-glorification. In all their years of facilitating the commission of new music, Boosey and Hawkes had never dealt with such rudeness and shoddy behaviour. They were deeply shocked; and I was embarrassed because of how my Church was being seen by my professional representatives and colleagues. I had dealt with all of them in good faith from day one. I worked professionally, delivering the music in days and continued to offer the Church my services to see the project through to a fruitful conclusion.

To further allay any bad feeling, I waived my fee. I love the Church and was determined that the papal visit should be a success. It was! Now we wait for the various Bishops’ Conferences to ratify the new translation. Then my publishers hope to get the music out and about the parishes of the English-speaking world. It is a relief that it will now not be known as “The Mass the Scots wouldn’t sing!

In retrospect, it does seem a sad business, and I can’t quite get to the bottom of all the shenanigans which nearly scuppered the new Mass setting. I had to pinch myself on occasions when I was being accused of obscurantism. Were they right? But I rehearsed the work on many occasions with ordinary people in the pews in various parishes. They all picked the music up gradually. Not all parishes in Scotland could introduce the setting, I suppose. It requires competence in the accompanist and music leader. But this was a papal Mass – it had to be special. But I can imagine it being used enthusiastically in many countries around the world. There is a different “sound” to the new setting, which perhaps owes something to my love of chant, traditional hymnody and authentic folk music, and nothing at all to the St Louis Jesuits and all the other dumbed-down, sentimental bubble-gum music which has been shoved down our throats for the last few decades in the Catholic Church[Do I hear an “Amen!”?] And therein might lie the problem…


WDTPRS kudos to Mr. MacMillan.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. JP Borberg says:

    Is there a recording of the new setting available?

  2. Ben Yanke says:

    JP, here’s a recording of the Kyrie (not his setting), the gloria, scanctus, agnus dei.

    I think that the word “Pastoral” is one of the most abused words in today’s church, besides “The Spirit of VII“. Ug….

  3. Ben Yanke says:

    Just looked it up, and the Kyrie is from Mass VII:” De Angelis.

  4. JP Borberg says:


  5. mairead says:

    I sang James McMillan’s Mass for Bellahouston in Glasgow. We had a rehearsal beforehand in our neighbouring Church and while I wouldn’t say I was perfect in every note I didn’t have a problem following the music. I thought it was a beautiful new setting and enjoyed singing something that felt Holy.

  6. steve jones says:

    McMillan’s music is not very good and the issues involved are far more complex than he is suggesting. His fanfare for the opening of the Scottish parliament sounded like it had been composed in the toilet and I saw politicans smirking at the sound of it as in, “yet another piece of modernist rubbish …”. His music for Glasgow was no less awful.

    The complexity of the situation rests on how on will build up a musical tradition for the vernacular liturgy? The Italian language is innately more musical than English and yet I have heard no decent Italian settings for the Mass. In the end they resort to appalling folk hymns for they have no tradition of hymn writing in their own language. No more than the Spanish or the French. At least the Anglo-Saxons have that. Newman for example, very ‘kindly’ wrote his own hymns for his own beatification! There is even a choice of settings for “Praise to the Holiest”! We are in a cul-de-sac and McMillan is not leading us out of it.

    Only answer: go back to the Latin Mass.

  7. berenike says:

    Steve Jones, do you take the inhabitants of the Numptorium as a guide to musical taste?!

    You may not like it, and no one says you have to, but his stuff rocks. I’m not yet sold on the congregational Mass setting, but I’ve only heard it once, and haven’t looked at my recently-acquired copy of the congregational line.

    Tu Es Petrus, however, is a fantastic piece of contemporary music that is neither tinkly nor pastiche nor pop-musical nor just horrible, and, unusually, also a perfectly-judged piece of writing for the liturgy (did you notice how perfectly it led into the chant introit? no bathos, as is so often the case when shifting to chant), and for that particular church (Monteverdi eat your heart out).

    Though I’ve never been deeply involved in parish music in Scotland, and would never be involved on such a high level, everything he says chimes with my own little experience and observation of the church music scene in Scotland.

  8. Scott W. says:

    As I’ve said so often that people will shove a sock in my throat: Save the Liturgy, save the world? Yes! BUT to save the liturgy you must save the music. All the canonically and rubically-correct liturgy in the world is for naught if the underlying music (even if the lyrics are theologically sound!) is the usual worldly sentimentalist “just believe in yourself!” crud.

  9. AnAmericanMother says:

    steve jones,

    Not sure what you’re listening to but everything I’ve heard of James MacMillan’s music (I certainly haven’t heard it all over here across the pond) is excellent.

    More to the point, our music director/organist/choirmaster is a musician of exquisite taste and extensive education (BA and MA Oregon and PhD Juilliard) and a composer himself, and when I asked him about MacMillan, he said, “He’s very very good.” Our man is a little ‘out there’ in his own compositions (he loves the early 20th c. French composers), and he thought that the Papal Mass was a bit too restrained — but then it has to be ‘sing-able’ by choirs and the people and ‘play-able’ by somebody who can’t just pop off and play Mulet or Vierne letter perfect from memory.

    And what’s this about complaining that the music needs a competent organist? What do the bishes want, an INcompetent organist? Sheesh, I haven’t taken a piano lesson since high school, and I can play what passes for accompaniments with the St. Looey Jebbys.

  10. Philangelus says:

    I’m dizzy from the thought of having competent musicians.

    Back when I was learning guitar, my goal was to be “just as good as the church lady.”

    (My current parish has a “competent” organist and no guitars.)

  11. SimonDodd says:

    It has been said that committees are a cul-de-sac down which ideas are lured and quietly strangled, a point vividly illustrated by MacMillan’s experience.

    What really leaps off the page here is that the bishops had no idea that this was going on. The bishops asked MacMillan to compose a setting; he did. So why was it sent to a committee of faceless philistines in the first place? Here’s what sprung to mind when I read the story last night: Hans Urs von Balthazar’s observation that “Jesus always designated persons for service, not institutions. The persons of bishops belong to the fundamental structure of the church, not bureaucratic offices. There’s nothing more grotesque than to think of a Christ who would want to establish committees!” Quoted in Richard Gaillardetz, Teaching with Authority 171 (1997). To some extent, an organization of the Church’s size cannot avoid a level of, well, organization. Bureaucracy. Nevertheless, shouldn’t the institutional church always be (1) an auxiliary to the ministerial church, and (2) under the direction and supervision of the bishops? I’m glad MacMillan prevailed, but the situation should not have been allowed to develop in the first place. If the bishops didn’t know about this committee, just where does it get its jurisdiction, and why was MacMillan’s music sent to them in the first place?

  12. Kerry says:

    There is a joke lurking here…St. Peter, Pearly gates and a committee. Heh.

  13. frjim4321 says:

    Segments of some MacMillan settings can be found on Youtube. Currently listening to “Tu es Petrus.” It’s rather stunning. I would love to hear a clear recording of it. The “Gospel Fanfare” was spectacular. It seemed like both pieces were better suited to a film score (such as “Star Wars”) than a Eucharistic Liturgy. But they are very beautiful. I could not find clips of the parts of the mass featuring the new English translation.

    From my browsing I came across the beautiful Vierne “Ave Maria,”
    ( )
    and would like to share this little gem, even though it is off topic.

    Back on MacMillan . . . I don’t think the fact that the scores are demanding should rule them out for a pontifical mass. I don’t think anyone expects amature musicians for such an occasion. That being said, I agree that all parish musicians should be professionally trained, yet with musican salaries being what they are, how could that goal ever be reached?

    Thus, I found it symbolic that MacMillan donated his services . . . even for a pontifical mass there is no budget for fine music! All those nice things being said about MacMillan, his letter does seem to have a bit of the flavor of “sour grapes.”

  14. Rich says:

    Musical taste aside, there was one thing this guy did which none of the liturgists or idealogues would have ever done – he waived his fee.

  15. Scott W. says:

    What really leaps off the page here is that the bishops had no idea that this was going on.

    Good catch Simon and reminds us that many diocese are run by lay cabals that treat the bishop like a mushro0m–kept in the dark and fed lots of…you know. Ever been told, “Oh, don’t bother Father with that!” ? Same sleaze at the local level. Never be reticent about contacting your bishop (politely of course), most want to hear about stuff going on and sometimes they will actually do something about it.

  16. Sid says:

    Reply to Fr.’s remarks: You do hear an “Amen”, Reverend Father, orchestrated in the manner of Berlioz!

    As for “Lyle’s Golden Syrup”, I think we can say that what has passed for liturgical music in the past 40 years is really a variation on kitsch. Someone roughly defined kitsch as saying that excrement doesn’t happen. So the kitsch of the faux folk mush which Catholics hear today; so in a different way is the kitsch of “The Old Rugged Cross” and “How Great Thou Art” and “Amazing Grace”.

    Seen purely aesthetically, there is the bad music, bad in that it has no place in worship, and maybe just plain bad, the character of which I take from the fine Vimeo video Can You Tell the Difference? :

    unsettling, jagged rhythms
    excessive syncopation
    no use of church modes
    goofy, uninspired melodies
    rhythmically-composed (lack of sophisticated melody)
    short notes tied to long notes
    melodies not based on chant
    bad harmonic structure (tonality)
    only emotional, gushy tunes

    Thus the “life is a beach” types force upon the rest of us the music of a beach party.

    See theologically, kitsch (that excrement doesn’t happen) is against Scripture and Tradition. The Church already has a hymnbook; it’s called the Psalms and Canticles. 40% of the Psalms are laments. And because the Psalms teach us how The Lord wishes to be sung to, that means that it is fine to tell Him that “things are going just terrible; would You do something about it?” Yet the lament has fallen out of the Christian hymnology, and for several centuries. Go to any Christian worship today, and don’t expect to hear the 88th (87) Psalm.

    Hymns ought be modeled on the Psalms. The Psalms have to be chanted, because they are non-metrical. Chant therefore has to be the Catholic/Biblical way of singing. Enough.

  17. Sid says:

    Does the writer at 27 October 2010 at 2:46am regard the music of Olivier Messiaen “composed in the toilet”? Or Stravinsky’s “Symphony of Psalms”? Granted Schoenberg may have been a musical dead end, but not Messiaen!

  18. lacrossecath says:

    [For God so loved the world, that He did not send a committee.
    Father, you crack me up!

  19. mike cliffson says:

    Hmm , let me see , this blog post you’re reposting, reminds me of something. Since it’s most obviously hmm hunting and mm unsettling the church ? Yes, I remember, a few posts down/apnews-catholic-bloggers-aim-to-purge-dissenters.
    NB Anybody who Does not like Macmillan’s music, no law you should, if you can’t believe the alternatives were the bland leaders, check up Damian Thompson’s blogs and twitter in the months preceding the ( un -settling) Pope’s visit to the UK. Or listen to a politicaly correct choir singing Lennon’s imagine adapted for first grade and piano. Or ..I expect you’re familiar with it. Very.

  20. Supertradmum says:

    This entire episode is “totally embarrassing”, as kids would say. The composer showed that he has class and faith by waiving his fee. Amazing. Can we imagine some of our prima donna laity doing that here?

    I am a classical music buff and love the Latin Mass, but I thought the settings of MacMillan were first rate for modern, contemporary music. God bless him.

    As to the bishops involvement or lack of involvement, this is so sad as to make one cynical, which I am not. How can our young people look up to those laity and the bishops who act like kids fighting over sandbox toys? And, as the composer noted, this all was for a Papal Visit.

  21. AnAmericanMother says:

    I dunno if I’d call it sour grapes, fr jim.

    It brings to mind more the old “provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against” the shadow committee that interfered in an agreement that had already been made between MacMillan and the bishops (who are supposed to be in charge, ne c’est pas?)

    If you think you have an agreement, business or otherwise, and people who are strangers to the contract start interfering, even going so far as to write your boss and your associates and make nasty accusations against you . . . I think a little irritation is justified. If I thought like Msgr. Loftus, I would say there was grounds for a tortious interference with contract action (even though MacMillan waived his fee).

    And as long as we’re riffing on the French organ composers, here’s Virgil Fox playing Mulet’s Tu Es Petrus . Ignore the kind of oily minister (and the iffy sound quality) and enjoy Mr. Fox, he was splendid even in his old age.

    It was the postlude at the St. Patrick’s Papal Mass. And thereby hangs a tale, we listened to the Mass on line, there was a program but it didn’t identify the composer. I asked our music director and he hadn’t watched so he didn’t know. So I adopted the expedient of Emailing St. Patrick’s music director and asking – he identified this piece. I told our music director the name of the piece on choir practice night (it was Thursday then I think) and guess what our postlude was on Sunday? He IS good. We are awfully lucky to have him.

  22. irishgirl says:

    I went back using Ben Yanke’s link to re-listen to the Mass settings from Scotland-it was one of only two events on the trip which I watched ‘live’ via EWTN-and I thought they were pretty good for a ‘contemporary’ setting of the Mass. But then, I’m not a professional musician.
    Supertradmum @9:48-what you said!

  23. chironomo says:

    The problem, of course, was that he wrote SACRED MUSIC and not “songs”. The so-called “composers” of the American Liturgical Establishment of the past 40 years are songwriters – tunesmiths who would otherwise be unemployed with such meager skills to present. When the “songwriter” mentality, with it’s emphasis on copyright and marketing , arrangements. instrumentations, recordings, etc… is done and gone, at that point the music of real composers (who have always been there, but have not participated in the rather tawdry game of liturgical songwriting) will be heard and distributed and will take its place.

    But first we have to get rid of the songwriters…

  24. TNCath says:

    I was not overly impressed with the English settings of the parts of the Mass and would have much preferred chants instead, however, I think this story is a preview of what we are about to experience here in the U.S. when some of the new settings specifically composed for the new translations, good or bad, are introduced into parishes.

  25. puma19 says:

    Well this is just amazing. What an exposure by Macmillan on these subversive liturgists who have no clue as to what the Catholic faithful across the Uk and Europe really want in their liturgies. And the composer’s Tu Es Petrus has to be the greatest piece Ive heard of late. When watching the Mass at Westminster this rendition sent shivers down my spine. As BXVI entered it was like watching something so unique, dramatic and uplifting. Music indeed for the Vicar of Christ and successor of Peter. This piece was truly special, stunning and liturgically sacred. The vatican could and ought look to this style of sacred music for papal ceremonies. But I am not optimistic.
    This month’s canonisations had some of the worst music ive ever heard. When will the new Sistine director just throw away the screaming kids who are just a universal embarrassment and bring in some strong music for papal liturgies which reflect the place of the pope and the centrality of the papal liturgies?
    It is well past time when great music was heard in Rome. The music for the pope is just poor and terrible and that is a judgment held by millions.
    But back to Macmillan – what a man, what a composer. His expose of the hidden liturgists is just spot on and I hope the bishops of the UK will listen and learn. They have much to lerarn on this matter. Macmillan has focused on the truth and necessity of Church leaders to see and know what is required for Catholic liturgies today.
    The ‘bubble-gum’ music that has infiltarted and submerged parish masses for the last 30 years needs to be expunged and thrown out. Time for action now for the sake of all of us who worship.

  26. xgenerationcatholic says:

    Q. What’s the difference between a liturgist and a terrorist?

    A. You can negotiate with a terrorist.

  27. Warren says:

    As a professional musician who has served his time directing parish choirs, I entirely sympathize with maestro Macmillan. When I hear stories of hack liturgists and ideologues dumbing down the Church’s liturgy because they have such a low view of the human capacity for beauty, my blood boils. Thankfully, a younger set of Catholics who I have employed to present music at Mass, and who themselves are budding professional musicians, do not buy into the limp music of recent times. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – we need a solid Catholic hymnal endorsed by bishops’ conferences that excludes PC bastardized texts and lame settings. We need a music equivalent to the Vox Clara Committee, which means we need clergy who themselves are highly trained musicians possessing a deep sense of the rich treasury of Catholic music who would adjudicate content for inclusion in such a hymnal. Furthermore, it wouldn’t hurt to have priests receive better formation in seminary. Courses on music appreciation, philosophy of aesthetics and voice instruction should be mandatory.

    The hacks have made themselves look entirely silly by making things difficult for MacMillan. The sooner the Church invites MacMillan to be on a commission for renewing music of the liturgy, the better. And, every composer of stillborn music – need we mention the most common offenders? – should retire or reeducate themselves by kneeling at the foot of a master.

  28. thereseb says:

    Steve Jones

    It is fine to dislike MacMillan’s music, and to prefer the Latin, but you state:
    “..the issues involved are far more complex than he is suggesting. His fanfare for the opening of the Scottish parliament sounded like it had been composed in the toilet and I saw politicans smirking….”

    This suggests to me as a casual reader that you have some connection with the Scottish Church and Political Establishment. Certainly to be sitting near enough to people to see them smirk suggests you were an invitee, and therefore have some official position or interest in the current power nexus in the Church. If so – please be frank about this and declare an interest. Also, as your remarks imply that Mr MacMillan is being economical with the truth, I feel in fairness to him that you should either retract, or lay these complexities on the table for public scrutiny.

  29. priests wife says:

    At least they didn’t use “gather us in.”

  30. He’s an OPL? No wonder he’s so cool.

  31. Tantum Ergo says:

    [For God so loved the world, that He did not send a committee.]

    They say that a camel is a horse designed by a committee.

  32. cyrillist says:

    I’d grudgingly take MacMillan over the prevailing current of liturgical music since Vatican II, but where’s Arvo Part when you need him? (In the Orthodox church, that’s where…)

  33. steve jones says:


    I shall declare my interests. I live in England and have visited Edinburg once in my life for a 3 day course on visual basic. MacMillan’s music is not very good and I have sympathy with those who question its suitability for the parish. Much of it IS totally unsingable.

    All we need is plainchant.

  34. thereseb says:

    Ah Steve – goto, goto. (basic joke)

    I’m not trying to “out” your identity, but you share a name with someone who I know to be involved in the Scottish Musical Establishment. Why do you think there are hidden complexities in the Macmillan saga, then?

  35. Mitchell NY says:

    It is hard to believe that there is no salary that compensates an excellent musician for his skills being that the music during Mass is so intrinsically linked to the Liturgy. And for a Papal Mass no less ! That is something that has got to change. Committes like this will test any man’s patience. I feel bad for his experience with them. As far as the American solution. It has been a dismal failure. I guess the “pony express” has not arrived in Scotland yet with the message.

  36. steve jones says:

    Not that complicated. His music is bad end of story. Modern music is never going to be any good. That explains why the ‘establishment’ resort to popular banalities because they find MacMillan’s (and others’) tuneless rubbish an embarrassement. MacMillan has plenty of friends on the trad blogs and is causing trouble accordingly. Fr. Z has been suckered in. The trads have boo words and MacMillan is deploying them. Frankly, he has become a bore.

  37. Melody says:

    I’m so embarrassed that he had to go through this. I just went and listened to it, and the choir I sang in at my Novus Ordo church could learn that setting in 2-3 practices. It’s very, very simple! And weren’t professionals in any sense of the word.
    After all the controversy, I’m actually disappointed. I was hoping for something a bit more intricate.

    BTW, Ben Yanke is correct in saying that the Kyrie is from Mass VII. The TLM here uses the setting frequently.

  38. AnAmericanMother says:


    I think you’re resorting to rhetorical hyperbole here.

    “his music is bad end of story” —

    I’m just an amateur musician, although I come from a fairly musical background. I have sung in good choirs — cathedral, university, and touring as well as my former Episcopal parish before I swam the Tiber — since the age of 6. My parents were both cathedral choir singers as well, and my paternal grandmother held a degree in music and was a professional opera singer (with the Met). We had Bach before church and opera after for my entire childhood. So I do really have the background to make a considered judgment.

    While I have not heard all of MacMillan’s music, I’ve heard what I think is a fairly representative sample as I went looking for it after he was tapped to compose the Papal Mass. The Mass, at least the vocal parts, are on the simple or straightforward end of his music, but it’s well constructed and well thought out. You say you want chant — there’s a significant chant base to the melodies and I was able to identify several of them out of the Parish Book of Chant, plus a little bit of a Celtic modal flavor entirely appropriate for a Scots composer. And it’s eminently singable – I could sight-read it off the scores that were put up by one of the local Scottish dioceses for rehearsal purposes.

    “Modern music is never going to be any good.” —

    While I kid around at church about being “suspicious of everything composed after 1850”, you can’t lump all recently-composed music into the same bin and dismiss it as bad. Lord knows there is enough bad stuff floating around, most of it perpetrated by OCP and the other commercial publishers with a copyright stake in the dreck they sell to unsuspecting priests, but don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

    There is a ‘hermeneutic of continuity’ in music as well as elsewhere, in which the present builds on and continues the past. There are good modern composers writing good music for Mass that has a connection with chant, with medieval and renaissance polyphony, even with the Baroque and the Romantics. And MacMillan is firmly in that tradition.

  39. sejoga says:

    I actually agree with Steve Jones that MacMillan’s music isn’t great. But I also have to agree with everyone else that at least it’s still much, much better than most NO crap.

  40. mike cliffson says:

    For Steve Jones and others:Is Macmillan’s music eternally brilliant? I don’t know .
    Is MacMillan’s story true, false, or incomplete? Idon’t know.
    But it jibes so much with a family member’s experience on the fringes of papal preparations, which jibe with Damian’s blog and others, which jibe with decades of family experience in fields touching directly on faithand morals , on abortion, on “catholic” (doesn’t deserve the capital “C”) education, let alone the liturgy.
    Perhaps a sadder aspect of this post is precisely that: it has the ring of truth, and could (I don’t think it is)be totally fake, being no more than has come to be expected.And 90% or more simila r stories have never seen the light of day.

  41. AnAmericanMother says:


    We don’t know if music is great, let alone ‘eternally brilliant’, until it’s passed the hundred-year test.

    While I don’t think all modern music is bad, I reserve judgment on whether it’s great until some time has passed. But you can still tell good from bad — as Duke Ellington said, those are the two kinds of music, and you tell the difference by listening.

  42. Supertradmum says:

    If there are votes being taken here, I am on the side of good, contemporary music for the Church as well as the ancient. I love Durufle, Goddard, Penderecki, Downes, Part, Panufnik, Messiaen, Poulenc, Britten,Pizetti, Vaughan Williams, Elgar, etc., and one only needs to attend one of the Masses or Vespers in Westminster Cathedral to hear superb contemporary choral music.

  43. Supertradmum says:

    And, without filling the combox, may I highly suggest a visit to the yearly Edington Festival of Music within the Liturgy, which I have attended, and which is, simply glorious? May I suggest a look at the archives?

  44. Pingback: Liturgical Troubles in England at Being Frank

  45. The-Monk says:

    Obviously, Mr. Macmillan has never worked for the USCCB, (arch)diocesan liturgical commissariats, or liturgy-nazi apparatchicks. They are holding their collective breath in preparation for the 50th anniversary of the Ray Repp festivus, which will feature heart-warming foreshadowings of the 50th anniversary of the liturgical contributions of the St. Louis Jesuits to the sacred liturgy. It’s a Woodie Allen orgasmitron of liturgical disproportions!

    The Monk.

  46. thereseb says:

    Fr Z was right to raise this issue – whether you are a solus cantus, or modern enthusiast – it still matters. The introduction of the new liturgy could be strangled at birth – or at least lose impetus, if self-elected or Magic Circle-stuffed liturgical committees retain a veto over musical settings, mass leaflets, or catechesis. This is a battle for the heart and soul of church congregations in the English speaking world. We have just seen a minor skirmish – but more is to come.

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