Monday, April 17, 2006

Do we really need drums during the Kyrie?

Of course the answer is no. But in the midst of the Easter festivities at St. Stephen the Martyr church, there they were, providing an insistent and repetitive snare-snare-cymbal. And not just the Kyrie, of course. Memorial Acclamation, Great Amen, heck, everything but the Our Father (which was mercifully said, not sung) had the malapropos beat in the background. Perhaps I need to give a bit of exposition about St. Stephen to assist the reader in understanding how ludicrous this really is.

The church is named after the saint who is historically credited for being the first Christian martyr. That's a perfectly appropriate person to name a church after--and it's not like there's any contoversy over that. Now enters Father Patty. If not for the fact of there being a church in the diocese by the name of "St. Patrick," though, there's no doubt in my mind that the Archbishop's desk would be flooded with requests to rename the parish. We've even got a seven foot statue of St. Patrick (complete with clover and shillelagh) near the entrance to the church. Yes. Fr. Patty is that Irish.

And so, for special occassions like Christmas and Easter (which, incidentally, mark two of the past three times I went to church...) the mass setting is done in the Sacred Story. A mass setting is a collection of related melodies to which the various aspects of the mass are intended to be done, and the Sacred Story features melodies based off of traditional Irish music.

Is it just me, or is a drumset not particularly traditional Irish?

To be fair, I understand the limitations of musician volunteers. Where you need a couple dozen string players, a handful of woodwinds, a few brass players, and a percussionist or two, you're likely to get about one violin, another string if you're lucky... and from an orchestral balance standpoint it goes downhill from there. And because this is not auditions for the Chicago Symphony, you take what you're given and make the most of it. So yeah, if the percussionist has his heart set on playing for Easter mass, I understand the argument that you're got to let him play.

To be even more fair, I understand the trends in current church services, both Catholic and non. There's an effort to move past "church music" as the music sung at church services, mostly in an effort for churches to maintain a sense of contemporaneousness (contemporeity?) and to attract a crowd of people that might not otherwise have an incentive to go to church at all. Therefore, instead of an organ and hymns, you're more likely to get a guitar and syncopation. And some people like it. I happen not to. I prefer your set of standard-issue Lutheran hymns (do I go to hell for that, being Catholic and all?), no organ required, but without too much bizarre modernization. But if that's what the church thinks is in its best interest, to keep the worshippers happy and ultimately better serve God, sure, contemporary music makes sense.

Using drums for a song in the mass, while I might not be too crazy about it, is ultimately a stylistic difference. At some point, though, "stylistic difference" becomes "distracting." I'll summarize with a Nortonesque form-function argument. The function of a church is to expose people to the particular faith of the church, and to achieve that, people have to be attending the services. Therefore, the form of the service needs to be such that people feel encouraged to come. But for most of the Catholic mass, especially the parts of it defined by a mass setting, the function is to give focus to specific parts of the faith, and how the current celebration of the mass relates to and defines that faith. So the form needs to be one that encourages thought, contemplation, and reverence.

Not one that sounds like it could be the background track to something playing at the gym.

Currently listening: Franz Ferdinand, Franz Ferdinand


Andrew said...

Being a heathen Protestant, the only thing I would have to offer is that I have been to many different [Protestant] churches and I have come across essentially completely different ideas as far as that goes. There is a Presbyterian church here in Rochester (pronounced "roge {as in roger}-ster} that uses not a hymnal, but a psalter. They exclusively sing psalms and use no instruments and they usually have a full house. The church that I go to here kind of goes the way of the congregation's choosing. they have us mark down on a little card what particular kinds of songs we would like to sing the next week and put it in the basket. every now and again i get to smile at words like "bulwark" and "fount." however, i have studied the mass proper (being a geek musician forced to take music history) and i do understand how one could prefer bach to ... well...death by drumset. it is my opinion, however, that music within a service of any kind, whether it be catholic or (dare i say) baptist, is to offer worship and praise to God, and to prepare our hearts not to make noise, but to listen. if that makes any sense. i mean, i am sure that schisms have happened over such things, and i think it is utterly ridiculous. while i can understand your annoyance (i went to annistown road baptist for a while. trust me. i understand), i feel that there are far more important things than the kind of music. lack of sound doctrine is more of a sticking point for me.

anyway. just some thoughts before class.

Matt Pavlovich said...

I think that "lack of sounds doctrine" would be a huge annoyance for me if I weren't Catholic; one of the Catholic Church's strongest points is its consistency and unity over all its churches. You're not going to find a Catholic church that doesn't espouse sounds Catholic doctrine. I'm not intimately familiar with them, but I'd assume this is a bigger potential problem in Protestant churches.

Still, point well made regarding the role of music within the service. Thanks for the input.