In Our Parish Church Music
SER.-May I be permitted to add a few words to what C. D. B. Chepmell said about Catholic Church Music in your Letters' columns (16.6.61)?
Although I am fortunate to live in a parich (Holy Redeemer, Chelsea) where the music is of the highest order. I cannot help agreeing with your correspondent as to the appallingly low standard generally found in Catholic churches up and down the country. Why should this be? It seems to me that the answer lies in the fact that no encouragement is given by the Church to musicians who might be willing to help.
In the first place, there is no financial encoutagement, with a few exceptions. In the C.o.E., an organist and choirmaster of a largish parish can depend on an annual income of, say £200 or £100 p.a., and the standing which this Post gives him will probably bring in some piano and organ pupils as well. This does not obtain in the Catholic Church, parity because the P.P. is not willing to spend so much on an organist and choirmaster, and partly because there is rarely an Organ worth the name to be found in the church.
This is really the second main reason for the dearth of Catholic church musicians. There are few organs, so that few Catholic music students trouble to take the organ its a subject when they are in college. This in turn leads to a dearth of Catholic church musicians, and so on, in a vicious circle.
When I was an Anglican, after some years of piano lessons (given by the organist of the parish church, and an F.R,C.0.), I took up the organ, and from the age of 13, to my leaving home for seminary training at the age of 16, I was frequently called upon to do Sunday duty at the parish church-and got paid for doing so.
Since becoming a Catholic, have hardly touched the organ, and have lost completely my technique, simply because (a) I have never been asked to play and (b) because there have been no organs on which to practise. Perhaps 1 ought to say that I have been asked to play on one occasion, but since the organ was an electronic travesty of that noble instrument, I refused.
But supposing I were offered a post as organist and choirmaster with a reasonable organ and a reasonable stipend: what then?
I should immediately be at loggerheads with the P.P. because I should certainly refuse to teach or play such hymns as "0 Mother 1" or any of the other trash which is constantly churned out in our churches. Being a musician, I could not, in loyalty to my musical conscience, be a party to maintaining the tradition of such maudlin tunes as are customary in our churches. Having some sense of the English language, I could not be a party to maintaining the tradition of the sickly, sentimental words which they accompany.
And knowing something of, and having a love of the Liturgy, I would not be a party to singing hymns throughout Mass, or, even worse, throughout the Holy Week ceremonies, which I was once asked to do in a certain parish. I was expected to lead the singing of the Stabat Mater (in English) throughout the Veneration of the Cross. I was also, on another occasion, asked to lead the singing of the Pange Lingua during the Good Friday ceremonies. When I pointed out that the words they proposed to use were the hinge Lingua gloriosi (for the Blessed Sacrament) RS opposed to the Pange Lingua gloriosi, Laureatn ceriaminis (for Good Friday), 1 was told that "It didn't matter, as long as we had the tune"! So I didn't sing that, either, and managed to get it scrapped altogether. Do people ever trouble to think what they are singing? I wonder.
There is a hymn (No. 49 in the Parish Hymn Book), to St. Joseph, which begins: "Father of Christ". And it's approved for Catholic usage! This same noble compilation also contains Fr, Faber's barrel-scraper, "0 Happy flowers", one verse of which begins: 0 hPuytx 1. and Lights, and Flowers!
Through envy of you will not die: Nay, happy thing..I what will you
For I am better off than you.
Bette ego sum. Joanne! (I'm all right, Jack!).
And yet, in spite of this appalling parody of verse, when, some years ago. I tried to obtain approval for the use of a hymn in Ancient and Modern (Christiens, sing the Incarnation) which is not only a perfect statement of doctrine, hut ie also very fine verse, and for which I could obtain a very fine tune, it was refused.
Is it not time that we became less narrow-minded about these things. I'm not suggesting that we use heretical hymns 4c/trod absit). although I have quoted one above, but at least there would be no harm in using hymns by a nonCatholic author, or translated by a non-Catholic. There are a few of the latter in the W.H. (which tor‘dly needs revising from both a musical and a literary standpoint), but there arc far too many by Catholics who just have not got the tradition of fine English, in which Anglicans are soaked.
What is to be done about Iraproving the standard? In the first place, we must be prepared to pay for expert service (do we expect architects, builders, cleaners, painters and decorators, or anyone else in our churches to give their services free?) and in the second place we must be prepared to pay for decent organs.
I'm not suggesting that all churches should have four-manual whoppers with everything from bird-calls to five-rank mixtures: but at least let us have a decent pipe-organ. One firm supplies them for a little over £1,000, and I believe I am right in saying that they can be enlarged as more money comes in. No-one would expect a bricklayer to set about building a church with a teaspoon and a butter-pat as his sole tools. Why should a musician be expected to attempt to play on a harmonium which sounds like an inebriated donkey?
We have music for our liturgy. either plainchant or polyphony. which is absolutely superb, and beyond compare. We have fine hymns in excellent translationsalbeit by non-Catholics (see the English Hymnal) which are nothing short of perfection. Why. then. must we constantly put up with second-rate translations or tawdry originals? Let its cast off the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light. Horn eat jam not de sonata surgere, Did I say "Ritmo"? It is more like the "noctium Pltantasmaia" Donald Beswieh
106 Oakley Street, Chelsea, London, S.W.3.