music and meaning

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(in honor of St. Cecilia)
I have a 45 mile commute (one way) to the clinic and hospital where I work. That works out to spending anywhere from 7 to 9 hours a week in the car. I listen to a lot of radio. I split my time between listening to NPR (Maine, New Hampshire, and 2 Boston stations) and WXRV out of Boston.
I have noticed that there are times when listening to certain songs will bring me back to a time in my life when I was in the car, listening to that same song. Since WXRV isn't ruled by corporate America, its play list isn't limited to the Billboard charts or the focus groups - it is more radio as I remember it. For example, they are the only commercial station I have heard play Mindy Smith's hauntingly beautiful song "Come to Jesus" in the regular rotation. But I digress. Actually, sitting in the car my thoughts often digress quite a bit. A bit of music can be for me as compelling as Marcel Proust's fragrance of Madeleines and I am off in a revery of some kind.
Music is a powerful tool. I learned my ABCs to music and I bet that you did too. I learned my multiplication tables by singing them long before I knew their meaning - and I was using the tool of multiplication at the age of 6. I don't remember not knowing so many of the things I learned through music. I learned the seasons of the church year through singing "Advent Tells us Christ is Near". I acquired an unfortunate distaste for Sts John Bosco and Therese of Liseaux through being forced to learn certain schmaltzy 'hymns' to sing on their feast days. Sappy 40's Tin Pan Alley tunes, yuck!
I think we have all had tunes stuck in our brains from time to time. I think so musically that most of the time I feel like I have an entire radio station in there! That is why liturgical music is so important. Some of the stuff that has crept into Catholic hymnals, both of the throwaway and the other kind, is not worthy of the traditions of the Church. Some of it is downright heretical, to boot. I can handle bad music better than I can handle bad theology. One is a matter of taste, the other of doctrine and dogma. Kumbaya may be boring and not terribly appropriate, but it is theologically correct to ask God to "come by here" when we are in need. It is not, however, correct to assert that we become bread and wine or that we can raise ourselves up without the help of God. I wonder which came first - bad catechesis or bad church music.
It isn't, for me at least, an argument against recently written hymns. My taste in musical genres is eclectic - dare I say catholic? - and Gospel, folk, polyphony, antiphonal chant; Latin, Greek, Spanish, English; a capella, guitars, piano, organ or full on orchestra - I think that these can all be a part of worship and prayer (maybe not always at Mass, but we have lots of other ways in addition to Mass to praise and worship and call upon our triune God. Nope, my concern is for the messages that are percolating into our brains through the music. 'Inclusive language' with its message that the only way to equality is sameness; First person God where we speak as if God's creation is on the same plane as God (get a clue, we aren't); and the aforementioned subtle heresies of language. Those are my concerns.
Liturgical music should be aimed upwards and outwards. The melodies should waft upwards like incense spiraling to the heavens. The words should reflect the eternal truths of our faith. The musicians - singers, instrumentalists, composers et al - should not be seeking applause or self aggrandizement but rather the glory of God. If the congregation applauds the music, we have not done our job.

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3 Comments

My taste is catholic, small 'c' too. And I totally agree about liking bad music better than bad theology.

Lasik

http://www.lasikcom.com/

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This page contains a single entry by alicia published on November 22, 2004 7:27 PM.

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