The dominance of Faking (streamlined keyboard “improvisation” cutting out 4-part vocal harmony) serves to undercut choirs’ practice of harmonic intricacy, reinforcing the broader, general trend toward relegating the laity to the status of permanent spectators in the liturgy and the Priest as merely “presiding” over a “meeting” or “dinner”, inhibited from participating actively in their proper, respective roles in the ultimate, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
The Second Vatican Council called for active lay participation in the liturgy, including and especially in its music, attending devoutly on the Priest in persona Christi re-presenting Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary in an unbloody manner in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. But prior to the Council, the laity had long, routinely brought their vigorous home song-culture to Church, as ordinary, highly-cultured common people, devoutly and reverently to sing fine-art sacred music, from memory, without the interference of a permanent class of non-expert, specialist “music ministers” taking center stage in a “performance”. Now, under faking, very few of the laity in the pews are singing at all, as the Priest waits upon the “music ministers” really leading the “meeting”–but the choir is usually performing dumbed-down, kintergarten-crayon singing, uglyfying what should be the solemn beauty of liturgical music, conditions all based upon the cultural impoverishment of the era of canned-music in which people have stopped their natural daily cultural exercise of singing just for the pleasure of it in their personal lives.
Do you sing at home?
Test audiences laughed at what should have been a highly dramatic moment in “The Lost Weekend” (1945), during protagonist Ray Milland’s suicide-attempt scene, in which Jane Wyman wrestles him for a gun. They Laughed.
European-trained film composer Miklos Rozsa was brought in to save the film production from what amounted to disaster, with the application of a fine-art musical score. After Rozsa’s intervention, The Lost Weekend was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won four: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay). It also shared the Grand Prix at the first Cannes Film Festival, making it one of only two films (the other being “Marty” with Ernest Borgnine) to win both the Academy Award for Best Picture and the highest award at Cannes.
The overwhelming influence of music in film bears witness to the predominating influence, for better or worse, of music in the Catholic Mass. Rather than a fluke, the dominance of music in cinema is the norm, in terms of setting the emotional tone, almost as if the visual component of cinema is secondary accompaniment to primacy of the music score. This is shown by the career history of the dean of golden-age Hollywood film composers, Max Steiner. Working from King Kong (1933) to A Summer Place (1959), Steiner defied David O. Selznick’s direction to use existing classical music for Gone With the Wind, independently composing more than 3 hours of original film music and hiring an 80-piece orchestra on his own recognizance. (No other division of the film production process has ever had such independence from budgetary oversight.)
The domineering place of music in American Cathoic liturgy is highlighted by a Mass of the “Women of Grace” apostolate, which I saw in Sacramento: The proceedings were dominated by the presence of a live rock band playing the group’s theme song. During the Gloria in the Mass, the staff Priest Fr. Ed Sylvia sat watching the rock choir until it was time to perform his part, when the band relinquished the spotlight. The Gloria in the Women of Grace liturgy, used the first line as a chorus repeated after every phrase block and at the end. (The rubrics place the Gloria as a thorough-composed, single continual stream of prayer without a repeated chorus; the first phrase should not be given greater predominance than other phrases in the prayer. Repeating the first phrase of the Gloria, as if the laity were incapable of following it without repetition, is one of the most common instances of distorting the liturgy of the Mass.) Yet Women of Grace is considered one of the most influential, orthodox Catholic apostolates.
This is a special instance of the impoverishment of the music of the Ordinary Rite of the Mass in the American Catholic Church. At the local parish level, the standard liturgical music practice would be typified by the actions of the pianist-leader of a competent Filipino choir, in which all the members harmonize quite adequately. On a Sunday last year, the pianist applied fake marks to a traditional four-part arrangement of a hymn, for playing in a Jazz style.
(This despite the fact that Jazz, from “sexual arousal”, bred in the bordello and nurtured in the drug den, is unsuitable for liturgical music which should always be reverently adorning Christ’s unique central sacrifice of Himself through the person of the Priest.)
I recovered that player’s fake sheet from the trash, removed the fake marks, refactoring it back to traditional four-part arrangement, which I regularly play.
The common practice of using faking as the permanent, regular basis for choral support, serves actually to cripple choirs’ ability to practice harmonization. Faking’s severe reduction in harmonic intricacy undercuts choirs’ ability to learn the basic musicianship of harmony–most choirs never even get to hear real, four-part harmony, much less begin to practice it.
Prior to the Council, organists customarily, exclusively played from four-part arrangements, supporting choirs in their practice of vocal harmony; four-part arrangements, intimately linking keyboard practice with vocal harmony, are the total content of most pieces in keyboard hymnals. The organist plays exactly what each of the individual four parts sing together–soprano, alto, tenor and bass; the organist’s playing serves as a lattice for the singers’ accurate performance of classic hymn pieces, often composed by major classical composers, a lay cameo of high-art music.
Under the tyranny of faking, which cuts out four-part harmony, all choirs ever get to hear is homogenized, vanilla, plain-Jane chords, of oversimplified harmonic rhythm, performed under the restricted regime of bare-bone, chords-melody-&-lyrics, accompanied by low-grade, standardized keyboard “riffs”, dead, background props which involve very little actual improvisation. The limited technique of the faked accompaniment of hazy, opaque playing, even many educated listeners fail to notice, exactly as intended. “It’s easy to fake; they’ll never notice the difference.” Even with OCP’s obligatory publishing of four-part versions of recent compositions on the faking model, there is general lack of the great harmony that choirs vigorously practiced before the Council. Faking mutilates the once-fine adornment of Christ’s sacrifice of Himself in the Mass.
Unlike that Filipino choir, most choirs cannot handle singing harmony! If one singer starts harmonizing ex tempore or from the memory of fine traditional arrangements, other, more-nearly average choir singers will falter in their execution of the main melody, often ceasing singing altogether, because they find the unfamiliarity of vocal harmonization radically distracting. Continue reading