Wednesday, March 3, 2010

I may not know music...

...but I know what I like. I confess, as a baby my grandmother used to sing hymns while rocking me to sleep. I was probably the only kid who learned "The ABC song" and "To Jesus Christ, our Sovereign King" at the same time.

Of course I also grew up in the 70's, and so at mass, guitars and tambourines rang out in front of the silent organ, and songs like "Holy God, We Praise Thy Name" and "Immaculate Mary" were replaced by such favorites as "Kumbaya", "They'll know we are Christians" and "Smile on your brother".

Having experienced both ends of the spectrum, I guess you could say I have eclectic taste in liturgical music. Yet I am constantly amazed by how bad some of the "post guitar mass" music is. It wasn't until recently, as I was listening to some friends complain about Haugen/Haas music that I started reading the opthamalogicly sized writing below the songs in the hymnals to see who wrote the songs I detest. Sure enough, two names come up most often.

So why don't I like these songs? Well, the old hymns were all about God. We were praising God, talking about God, and when we talked about us, it was to mention how much we we praising Him, or how much He does for us. The imagery is very concrete, describing scenes of indescribable majesty. For example, from one of my favorites, "Holy Holy Holy":
"Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore Thee,
Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee,
Who was, and is, and evermore shall be."
The 1970s songs are very simple and singable. Since they came from popular rock and roll, they are unabashedly generic. They are all about us, of course, rarely mentioning God except indirectly.
Some will come and some will go
We shall surely pass
When the one that left us here
Returns for us at last 
but the new stuff is neither. The lyrics are still all about us, but they seem to try not to be about anything in particular, like some campaign speech for Jesus.  They seem to my untrained ear to consist of random sound bytes from psalms, gospels or wherever thrown together with various connections via symbols. The tunes are catchy and sometimes the lyrics, but they are neither cold nor hot, and so I spit them out.

That's not to say I don't sing them, for of course "he who sings prays twice" but on some of them I sort of cringe in places. The other week, as I was sitting listening to one of these tunes I thought about offering it up for Lent, and then a song of my own came to me. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it. I'd sing it, but I have few enough followers on this blog as it is:

Offer it up
(to the tune of "Gather us in")

    Here in this place, a new song is playing
    now is the silence vanished away,
    hear, in this space, our sound bites and sayings,
    brought here to You in the light of this day.

    Offer it up the trite and shallow
    offer it up the lyrics so lame
    call to us now, our spirits lie fallow
    cringing at songs that rejoice in our name.

    We are the young to whom worship's a mystery
    we are the old – who yearn to embrace
    hymns that were sung throughout all of history
    sadly it seems they have all been replaced.

    Offer it up the lyrics so haughty
    offer it up the messages wrong
    pray for the soul of poor brother Marty
    give us the stomach to finish this song.

    Here we will sing of wine and of water
    wish we would sing of the blood of our Lord
    here we shall sing with our sons and our daughters
    hoping they don't get confused by the words.

    Give us to sing, a song that is pious
    Give us to sing, a song about You
    let our music ministers buy us
    hymns that are holy with words that are true.


On this, I think what Mike thinks

Well said, Mike. Some day, maybe, people will come back to the realization that "because people like it" isn't justification to play a piece of music at Mass.

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