Friday, March 31, 2006

Catholic music: meh

Think for a moment of what your favorite three or four hymns are. Then read this news from the (Catholic) National Pastoral Music Association:

"On Eagle's Wings," the musical reworking of the 91st Psalm by Father Michael Joncas, topped all other songs in an online poll asking which liturgical song most fostered and nourished the respondent's life.

Our choir sings some of the chirpiest music out there, and yet we mutter whenever we're asked to sing this for another funeral mass.

I guess I should be fair and say the survey didn't ask for "hymns," which most of the top choices are not. But. When I first started going to Incarnation, I was less than enthusiastic about the music. I joined the choir because I thought I'd enjoy singing more if I did harmonies (I'm an alto), and we do sing some really beautiful music--I was introduced to Rachmaninov's Vespers through the choir, we occasionally sing "real" music by Mozart and Rutter, and I genuinely like some of the contemporary stuff that traditional Catholics mock (like Bernadette Farrell's "Restless is the Heart"--flutter!--although that's not really suitable for congregational singing). Nevertheless, I sometimes wonder if I'd be happier singing at a parish with more traditional music, organs and Latin and whatnot.

When I was choosing music for our wedding, I deliberately selected two hymns I've only heard at Protestant churches: "All Creatures of our God and King" (which is in our hymnal, but in some awkward reworking of Draper's translation; I insisted on the traditional words) and "Be Thou My Vision" (whose lyrics are attributed to St. Patrick, but I've never ever seen it in a Catholic hymnal--what's up with that)? We also sang "The Servant Song" (apparently by a Protestant, #16 in the survey) for the sign of peace. The choir also sang "Restless is the Heart" before the processional, as well as another song Chris, the worship director, picked, and "Bogoroditse Devo" (Rachmaninov). And "God of Love" by Dan Schutte for the psalm, which I sort of wish I'd replaced with another thing because I don't even remember now how it goes, but whatever; our guests were mostly non-Catholic and non-Christian, so I wanted songs that wouldn't make them too uncomfortable...but I didn't care if "All Creatures" etc. were too particular; they're good. And by good I mean they've stood the test of time; I don't know if most music we sing now will. But I guess there's my snobbery, and there's what other people find moving, so there you go.

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