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 jamesmacmillaninscotland.com.
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.