QUAERITUR: Jazz concert in a church during Lent

From a reader:

Could you please be gracious to me and comment on a recent happening at our parish church in ___ UK. A few days ago in the middle of Lent the Parish Priest led a Jazz Band in an evening of Gospel music. At the end they played ‘When the Saints go marching in’ There was cheers and clapping from the audience and a layman stood up to congratulate the priest. I think this was entertainment and an unworthy use of God’s House. What do you think.

I shared this question with a priest friend.  His response, for some levity:

I believe that “incitement to commit murder” is a crime in the UK, so be careful what you advise.

But, then again, it may not be a crime to incite the murder of a priest in the UK.

Seriously, I direct the questioner to the Congregation for Divine Worship’s document on “Concerts in Churches” which we have discussed on this blog several times.

It seems to me that jazz music is not a suitable musical idiom for invoking anything “sacred”.  Indeed the contrary seems to be the case: jazz is profane.  Since we cannot reasonably associate jazz with Catholic Church in anything but a shallow sense, or one which has a distorted understanding of inculturation, in my opinion jazz music must be excluded from churches, even for concerts… at any time of the liturgical year.

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  1. Gail F says:

    Jazz is inherently profane? The entire state of Louisiana will disagree with you on that one. And so do I. [Well… I guess I’ll just change my mind. Seriously, jazz is quite the opposite of sacred (which is “profane”. Perhaps it is the meaning of the word “profane” in this context that is confusing. “Profane” is not “obscene”. Many people fall into that trap.] As far as the concert itself goes, I don’t know enough about it to comment. Was it a tour, and that was the week the band was in town? Or was it just an arbitrary date? Was that the only venue in town, or on church property, that was big enough or had the right acoustics? All of these come into consideration about whether the church itself, and/or the Lenten date, was appropriate. [No. A jazz concert in church is wrong. I refer you to the document I mentioned, which I suggest at least glancing at briefly.]

  2. To be fair, there is no appropriate place to sing O when the Saints, except perhaps in the shower when no one else is home.

  3. Brooklyn says:

    Can we tell this to the church near me in Brooklyn that has a Jazz mass every week? Sigh. I also saw a report of a church in Manhattan that has a Jazz mass as well.

  4. SK Bill says:

    I wouldn’t think that jazz would be an appropriate accompaniment for the Mass because it puts the attention on the music and the performers rather than on the sacred mysteries. However, that said …

    Duke Ellington’s Sacred Concerts, which you can sample in abundance on YouTube, are (to this jazz lover’s ear and mind) inspired pieces of composition. I don’t care for the dancing and the big production that Ellington’s directions call for, but the music is beautiful and moving. Call ’em profane if you like, but they are worth a listen — somewhere other than in a Catholic church, particularly with the Blessed Sacrament present (after all, lots of Catholic churches host organ recitals and other musical performances — for the acoustics or for the instrument, in the case of the organ — and all that is done is to move the Blessed Sacrament to a chapel). If Ellington’s music can turn some listeners’ minds toward God, it can’t be all bad.

    I hope this doesn’t offend anyone. I believe a lot of faithful Catholics like jazz, in its place.

  5. Dr. Eric says:

    “SC 116. The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.

    But other kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony, are by no means excluded from liturgical celebrations, so long as they accord with the spirit of the liturgical action, as laid down in Art. 30.

    SC 119. In certain parts of the world, especially mission lands, there are peoples who have their own musical traditions, and these play a great part in their religious and social life. For this reason due importance is to be attached to their music, and a suitable place is to be given to it, not only in forming their attitude toward religion, but also in adapting worship to their native genius, as indicated in Art. 39 and 40.”

    Does dropping the Propers (I think that’s the right term) to sing local hymns constitute a major change in the Liturgy that violates the Letter and Spirit of the directives of Sacrosanctum Concilium (SC)?

  6. benedetta says:

    Blessedly, this means that we no longer must be forced to sing that Take Five “gathering” song at Holy Giant Puppets faith community…Believe it or not, you can find that as well as all the frequently foisted works of Haugen/Haas at a site called OLDIES.COM…

  7. don Jeffry says:

    This is in my Church but I have nothing to say about it:
    See the last definition…
    Jazz is great but it is not appropriate for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
    jazz [d?æz]
    1. (Music)
    a. a kind of music of African-American origin, characterized by syncopated rhythms, solo and group improvisation, and a variety of harmonic idioms and instrumental techniques. It exists in a number of styles Compare blues See also bebop, bop, Dixieland, free [7] hard bop, harmolodics, mainstream [2] modern jazz, New Orleans jazz, swing [28] trad
    b. (as modifier) a jazz band
    c. (in combination) a jazzman
    2. Informal enthusiasm or liveliness
    3. Slang rigmarole; paraphernalia legal papers and all that jazz
    4. African-American slang obsolete sexual intercourse
    1. (Music) (intr) to play or dance to jazz music
    2. African-American slang obsolete to have sexual intercourse with (a person)
    [of unknown origin]
    jazzer n

  8. don Jeffry says:

    As a side note… Msgr. Schuler taught me that!

  9. MJ says:

    “It seems to me that jazz music is not a suitable musical idiom for invoking anything “sacred”. Indeed the contrary seems to be the case: jazz is profane.”

    Since jazz is not sacred it is profane – not in the diabolical sense, but in the sense that it is secular.

  10. disco says:

    Oh father don’t be such a square.

  11. dcs says:

    One should not ask only if jazz is appropriate music to play in churches, but also whether there should be concerts of any kind in churches during the Lenten season. I’m inclined to think not.

  12. Massachusetts Catholic says:

    There are degrees of awful when it comes to concerts. In my opinion, “When the Saints Come Marching In” doesn’t sound so terrible. It mentions saints. Isn’t “Saints” often played for Christian funerals in New Orleans? And why is Gospel music wrong for a concert setting? Seriously. Especially if the music had been performed in a church hall (the post doesn’t say) and the musicians were not actually in the sanctuary. It’s not as if this were part of a solemn liturgy.
    A Gospel/Jazz concert conceivably might meet the Vatican document’s standard of turning people’s mind to God and things of religion.

    Compare this event to an upcoming Catholic church concert in the Boston ‘burbs which will feature Bernstein, European folk songs, love ballad, giant puppets of river creatures and a troupe of New Age improv artists …

  13. GirlCanChant says:

    dcs says: One should not ask only if jazz is appropriate music to play in churches, but also whether there should be concerts of any kind in churches during the Lenten season. I’m inclined to think not.

    I wouldn’t go quite that far. I think there could be a concert in church during Lent if it were appropriate Lenten music (just not on a Friday, obviously). That being said, the odds of their being a concert during Lent are pretty slim, as if you are a singer and/or musician, you pretty much spend all of Lent gearing up for Holy Week.

  14. GirlCanChant says:

    And the one time I don’t preview, I make a typo.

    *there, not their

  15. mike cliffson says:

    There’s something wrong going on when someone gets up at mass to praise the “performers”, een were it Thomas Tallis.What I like isn’t germane to the issue. Pace Groucho, I don’t want to go to a mass which IS framed around my likings. So following two cents worth is to be salted, it’s pure selfindulgence.
    I’d rather no ‘yms, period. Strikes me post vatII rise in their frequency absolute and relative is protestant. But given one seems to be given ANYTHING whatever to sing , Id rather have” all the saints” which has got a tinge of masculine giving-it- clog to it. Someone perfoming it at me?well.. . It says very little but at least it’s clearer than Decaff simon and garfunkel two octaves two high and at pagan funeral dirge speed and makes you think longily of whisky.
    If I may repeat .Have you ever been to a “bagpipe” mass? (I LIKE bagpipes, but once was enough.)

  16. Andreas says:

    I must respectfully disagree with those who believe that there should be no concerts whatsoever in Churches during Lent. Here in Austria and neighboring Bavaria, there are a host of sacred concerts being performed in beautiful churches throughout the area. The Passions of Bach, Elsner, Jominelli, Salieri, Telemann and many other composers will be performed during the days leading up to Easter. Concerts of Passionssingen, centuries old sacred Volksmusik (not ‘folkmusic’ in the American sense of the term) will be sung..much as sacred Adventsingen concerts during Advent. Thus, it is not the matter of having Kirchenkonzerte during lent; it is, as Father Z. notes, the difference between sacred and profane that should be the determining factor.

  17. PostCatholic says:

    Oh when the saints
    Go marching in
    Oh when the saints go marching in
    Oh Lord I want to be in that number
    Oh when the saints go marching in….

    (Okay, I take your point, profane in the sense of Catholic sacredness. I personally cast a wider embrace over what is sacred. I also consider it a poverty that new genres of music cannot be added to your church worship experience if they are appreciated in the secular world concurrently.)

  18. don Jeffry says:

    Oh when the saints
    Go marching in
    “I also consider it a poverty that new genres of music cannot be added to your church worship experience if they are appreciated in the secular world concurrently.”
    Well, the secular “of the ages” world should make no judgment on the eternal for one. The second reason I disagree is that I don’t want to feel like I am at a hockey game or a baseball game. Music call things to mind- sacred music for sacred spaces and times… Secular for secular spaces and times.

  19. trespinos says:

    Sadly, my old LP of Paul Horn’s “Jazz Suite on the Mass Texts”, composed and conducted by Lalo Schifrin, is lost and I can’t refresh my musical memory with it. However, as much as I do remember, I think it was a worthy effort. Still, yes, it should be classed as “profane”, better suited for performance and enjoyment “in front of the temple”, rather than inside it.

  20. JKnott says:

    How about a Polka Mass?

    Honestly, how can we get the Pope to view some of these?

  21. Andrew Mason says:

    There’s a parish in Washington, DC that has jazz music at the English-language Mass (the parish is multi-lingual, and as I recall only has the one Sunday Mass in English). It always disturbed me, certainly it didn’t strike me as being conducive to worship. Of course, this was also the parish where I heard people complain about a “somber” hymn being sung during Lent so I think that most other people there likely had no problem with the jazz band.

  22. Sixupman says:

    Who was the jazz pianist [white, heavy horned rimmed glasses] who after writing music for The Mass converted to Catholicism?

  23. Brooklyn says:

    Sixupman – are you thinking of Dave Brubeck?

    “Brubeck believed what he saw during World War II contradicted the Ten Commandments, and the war evoked a spiritual awakening.[citation needed] He became a Catholic in 1980, shortly after completing the Mass To Hope which had been commissioned by Ed Murray, editor of the national Catholic weekly Our Sunday Visitor. Although he had spiritual interests before that time, he said, “I didn’t convert to Catholicism, because I wasn’t anything to convert from. I just joined the Catholic Church.”


  24. albinus1 says:

    Has anyone else noticed the striking similarity between the opening notes of “Oh When the Saints Go Marching In” (often sung/played at funerals) and the opening notes of the chant “In Paradisum Deducant te Angeli” (from the burial service)? I have trouble believing the resemblance is coincidental. New Orleans was once heavily Catholic, after all.

  25. pelerin says:

    I just had a look at the beginning of the link given by JKnott. Isn’t it ironic that it was for the SOLEMNITY of All Saints? If that is a SOLEMNITY then I’m a Dutchman! I see that it was a Mass for ‘Shut ins’ which I guess is what we call ‘Housebound’ in Britain? Poor things – not only having the pain of being housebound but having to endure that music for the televised Mass.

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