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.
The usual reason for neglecting to train choirs for singing with other singers harmonizing is the claim that “it’s too hard for them”. This neglects the fact that the practice of harmonization was the norm in even the most informal ensembles in past ages, from even just a few decades before the 1960s cultural revolution. “It’s too hard” for today’s choirs only because the players haven’t been exposed to it. “They can’t sing it…because, well, they can’t sing it” is a “just ‘cuz” excuse–a self-referential, circular argument.
In Search of the Lost Chord – A Vital Cultural Tradition Gone Down to Demise
Our people once vigorously celebrated the mirth of life in song. Our progenitors a century ago would never have tolerated being force fed cultural junk-food a la pate de foie gras by the likes of the St. Louis Jesuits or Marty Haugen.
Dan Schutte’s “My Little Pony” mass
The video below wasn’t a fanciful Hollywood mythologizing of of the tradition of four-part harmonization. It’s an accurate, nostalgic echo of the daily experience of the common people, casually repeated in dozens of old films, portraying the routine habits of the real people who once, actively, spontaneously, habitually performed vocal music as part of their ordinary cultural lives, in the period before the dominance of portable, transistor radios.
The social, artistic interaction of singers in an ensemble, even the most informal, contrasts vividly with the current experience of “music” through social media. Harmonic singers must listen closely to each other simultaneous with producing their own vocal output, maintaining their place in the key, concentrating on the implied leader, constantly moderating their volume, tempo and timbre, giving way to a temporary soloist or themselves preparing to take the momentary spotlight. This constant, dynamic, artistic socialization varies starkly from the social media experience, confined to the sometimes spaghetti-wide aperture into which the computer forces users.
The “everywhere” ubiquity of transistor radio contributed to the demise of active, musical-cultural life–in the 1960s, not “as-seen-on-tv” dance shows, people weren’t quite “Dancing in the Streets” to Martha and the Vandellas, just passively sitting around watching it on tv and mindlessly relegating music to the “atmosphere” via the pied piper of the transistor radio. By the 60s, the average person’s actual, living experience of music was more akin to elevator-“muzak” as wallpaper background, rather than the active, vital, social-personal emotion of live song universal just a generation prior.
As late as the start of World War II, most homes didn’t have radio, but very many did have a piano; they weren’t gathering dust unused in the living-room, they were a vital part of the center of family and social life. Prior to the introduction of radio in 1923, phono records were an expensive novelty, hit songs were propagated through vigorous sheet music sales linked to the example of singing stars’ live performances, or recordings displayed at music stores, popular sheet music titles commonly selling upwards of a million copies in the decade of 1910-1919, to be actively performed by many millions of people more.
Maxwellton’s braes are bonnie,
Where early fa’s the dew,
And ’twas there that Annie Laurie
Gave me her promise true.
Gave me her promise true,
Which ne’er forgot will be,
And for bonnie Annie Laurie,
I would lay me doon and dee.
In the generation before radio, there were 300 piano manufacturies in the U.S. alone. (Now there are perhaps five.) For leisure, my family would go to sing at their cousins, the Reddys, in ethnic Irish Chicago of the 1910s, where my Mother learned to sing almost before she could speak. Before radio, if you wanted music, you made it yourself. This was the age-old pattern throughout all human history, prior to the technological impoverishment of cultural life which is ubiquitous today.
In today’s technologically enforced, cultural desert, our contemporaries can’t begin to imagine the high level of the everyday person’s culture just 100 years ago. John Senior estimated that the average person was able to sing 200 songs in the period prior to radio, MTV and continual cell-phone music streaming.
Hundreds of people there were outside. The choir came up in a crowd and I could hear them singing as they walked up the Hill, beautiful indeed. Everybody joined in the hymn, the girls cooking out in the back, and Bronwen and Angharad and the others with me in the kitchen, and my aunts and uncles in the front room, and the women upstairs hanging the last curtains. Everywhere was singing, all over the house was singing, and outside the house was alive with singing, and the very air was song.
Charles Chaput, Cathoic Archbishop of Philadelphia, wrote of a young father’s comment about “banal modern liturgical music more suitable to failed off-Broadway theater”. This observation accords with the findings of a book “Why Catholics Can’t Sing“. The do-it-yourself guitar music revolution of the late 1960s, overthrowing the vigorous lay musical cultural life of prior generations in favor of questionable cultural revolution, over-emphasized needlessly complicated—without true intricacy—but uncultured Broadway show-style music that was consciously calculated to exclude the congregation from singing—low-grade vocal acrobatics the laity could never participate in. A people who had retained their own authentic, vital culture, would never have fallen for this anti-cultural ruse.
Fallout of the Cultural Nuclear Winter
Most keyboardists are no longer capable of following a sight-read, four-part hymnody arrangement. They can only make a cursory, superficial analysis of the chords, apply a narrow, homogenized, conventionalized routine of faking—in the pejorative sense—the deficiencies of which they can count on the congregation not to notice–because the congregation don’t sing anymore, and are themselves unaware of the culture they have lost. Nemo dat quod non habet, “no one gives what they don’t have”.
praise and worship. The attitude of disregard for the true place of music in culture and liturgy is reflected in customary attitudes toward long-settled 4 part arrangements as “stale” and “old”.There is more than passing similarity between the “faking, vs. harmonizing classic arrangements” conundrum, and the “worship” habits of non-Catholic Christians who eschew formal prayer, misunderstanding the Biblical “heaping up vain repetitions” (Matthew 6:7). Coming Home Network host Marcus Grodi remarks that supposedly “spontaneous” non-Catholic prayers are highly formulaic and repetitious–technically similar to supposedly “spontaneous” keyboard faking. (Whereas, the angels continually cry out “Holy Holy Holy”, and Jesus repeated His plea to His Father in the Garden of Gesthemane, “Father, let this cup pass from Me”.) This is similar to the issue of failing to distinguish between
Most faking practitioners posses only very modest improvisational skills. (It isn’t really “improvisation” at all; top Jazz artists report consciously avoiding ever repeating the particular execution of a performance, out of the sheer boredom that would entail; whereas, faking “music ministers” just want to get through it, doing the same inferior job over and over.) Traditional four-part arrangements in the best, old hymnals, peaking around the year 1940, reflect continual critical filtering of generations of active music practitioners, who as cultured amateurs were yet highly capable of mounting sophisticated, worshipful music performances to adorn Christ’s sacrifice of Himself in the Mass, based on tried and tested arrangements.
The Natural, Fervent Love of Tradition
The Music Department Secretary Had a Strong Emotional Reaction to the Exception of Hearing Traditional, Common-Practice Period Music, Showing Something about the Natural, Greater Yearning for Tradition.
In January, 2016, I heard an orchestral piece by Leo Delibes, interpreting a Renaissance vocal piece, Belle Qui Tiens Ma Vie. I applied the music to a 1,000 year old prayer, Soul of Christ Sanctify Me.
I needed to play the four-part keyboard arrangement on an acoustic piano. I sneaked into a piano practice room at a Northern California college, music department. The department secretary’s strong reaction to hearing the music occurred in the context of the the ambient hallway noise which demonstrates the limitation of the poor music to which most junior college students are exposed, all that they have to experience and try themselves to reproduce. (I hear young people in my own home, foundering their way around, unknowingly trying actually to find their tradition, without the firm backing of traditional culture to give them a foundation.)
As I departed the music building, the secretary started, impulsively running after me, with tears in her eyes, after having been sentenced to perhaps years of listening, night after night, to the cacophony of young people bereft of tradition. This common reaction tends to give lie to the idea that the cultural revolution of the past 50 years was really, sincerely motivated by the desire to jettison “dead, old tradition”, to allow space for “freshness” and “originality”—characteristics that have always been prominent in the great music periods of the past and in the wide breadth of traditional music cultures worldwide today.
The reader might share this basic reaction, craving of the love of great tradition, as with the Siciliano of Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances, number 3.
And the reader might have a similar reaction to Elizabethan composer Anthony Holborne’s Muy Linda–the structure of which is not distinct from the scope of vocal harmony, in this case, 5-part–it can be sung, in fact, composers in the Renaissance commonly had little instrumental music conception really separate from vocal music. (Do these young people seem particularly deprived for playing 400 year old music?)
Likewise is the primarily vocal structural orientation of the music of the qanun–after the Greek word “canon”, for a musical tuning scale–this vocal orientation despite the rhythmic brilliance of the instrument; nothing played here is unable to be sung. (The short explosions of vigorous sound, seem to be at the place for the “chorus” to sing out.) The greatness of authentic, traditional culture would be available to young people to be heard world-wide, if only our education were up to par for us to experience it.
A plausible theory to give a context for tradition was developed by Milman Parry and Alfred Lord, to account for the composite character of the Homeric Epic Poems in the original Greek: Early 20th century Serbo-Croation improvisatory poets, worked in a poetic scope with very strict literary rules, poetic lines divided either into 22 and 23 syllables, or the reverse, 23 and 22, so that there were only two ways to express any particular literary idea, such as “The Sultan’s white horse”. An expert poet would possess a decades-long repository of hundreds of thousands, upwards of a million of these poetic formulas. The essence of the poets’ improvisatory art consisted largely of combining these long-established, traditional phrases in original, dynamic recitations; but the formulas themselves were unlikely to be “original”–they were traditional.
Even a peerless improvisor like Art Tatum could be presumed to have personally originated only a small proportion of his grand arsenal of improvisatory riffs; his main forte would be to have accumulated a vast memory bank of formulary phrases, able to produce them at his own command within the improvisational flow in original and dynamic combinations.
Because the common people’s now-disappeared culture was in the leisure phase of their everyday lives, it’s worthwhile to consider the normal pattern of young people’s work lives: Prior to industrialization, it was customary for young people to take an at-home apprenticeship in their parents’ own vocations, learning the tradition of work in the act of doing it, with none of the rigid, age-peer segregation of the period of factory regimentation in education and first work experience. There wasn’t the alienation that young people cut off from their family and social traditions, universally face today. They knew who they were from intimate, everyday experience.
It’s a shame to consider now how the natural yearning for depth and originality in inspirational materials among young people, is strained by the lack of exposure to the great musical ideas of the breadth of world cultures and the long generations of traditions. They are like the man fighting himself in the Room full of Mirrors (Jimmy Hendrix).
Young people whose scope of “tradition” is limited, tired recycling of the past 50 years, to little music beyond that of the Rolling Stones, can’t even avail themselves of the idea of exploring the truly deep, African-American music tradition that rock music only parodies.
The Faking Dagger in the Heart of Harmony
Liturgical “music ministers” of the look-at-me-Hootenany generations simply, generally lack minimal technical competence to perform four-part singing and accompaniment; choir members today don’t even know what great vocal harmonization sounds like.
Unlike cultured choirs a century ago, today’s music-fake artists generally fail to inspire their “audiences” even scant attention to the great musical culture of the 500 year span 1450-1950. This is the substance of the fall and loss of a once-great culture, an eclipsed peak in the record of human accomplishment.
Thomstic philosopher Peter Kreeft has remarked that he personally knows of four atheists who were converted to the Christian faith simply by virtue of listening to the music of J.S. Bach:
“Bach exists, therefore, there is a God”.
Our ultimate destiny is to join the Seraphim singing with ever greater happiness moment by moment “Holy, Holy, Holy”. (Revelation 4:8; Isaiah 6:3)
“We’re going to sing, and never get tired.”
Self-taught “liturgical music ministers” of the period 1970-2015 have inspired scant zeal for the Good and the Truthful through the Beautiful.
In vain do they bemoan the state of the Church’s current musical degradation, who fail to remedy it in their home, family lives by singing with their children. (Do you sing at home?)