May 12, 2008

Gratuitous Musickal Posting - Trans-Tiber Division

Damian Thompson has an amusingly horrifying post up over at the UK Telegraph today about Catholic Hymn-Writers Behaving Badly:

Please, please don’t imagine that this blog doesn’t appreciate the riches – nay, the treasures – of modern Catholic worship. A light-fingered friend of mine has just “borrowed” a hymn sheet from the back of a go-ahead parish. Prepare to have your spirits uplifted. The hymn is called “God is Good”. Here’s the chorus:

“God is good, we sing and shout it/God is good, we celebrate it
God is good, no more we doubt it/God is good, we know it’s true.”

But the real poetry is to be found in this verse:

“And when I think of his love for me/My heart fills with praise
And I feel like dancing/For in his heart there is room for me
And I run with arms/Opened wide/Hoo Hoo Hoo Hoo”

Yes, that’s an exact quote. Hoo Hoo Hoo Hoo. (Presumably during Holy Week the formula is changed to Boo Hoo Hoo Hoo.)

Alas, I can’t identify the latter-day Charles Wesley who wrote these words. There’s no name, merely a note indicating that the hymn can’t be performed without paying copyright. That’s so characteristic of post-Vatican II worship leaders-cum-hymn writers, many of whom have good reason to Praise the Lord every time they check their bank balances.

This is just an idle fantasy on my part, but if we end up with one of the right-on “magic circle” bishops as Cormac’s successor, perhaps Paul Inwood could compose a toe-tappin’ ditty to accompany these lyrics at the enthronement in Westminster Cathedral. All we’d need then would be a few willing souls to perform a Nicaraguan-themed liturgical dance in the aisles. How about Ma Pepinster and her team?


Just goes to show that awfulness is truly ecumenical.

As a matter of fact, I have been almost uniformly lucky in my church-going experiences. Over at RFEC, most of the rector's occasional forays into 20th Century stuff - over the strident objections of the musickal director - are met with confused silence. It's true that he sometimes sneaks in "Go Tell It On The Mountain" or the odd Spiritual, but for the most part it's Charles Wesley and Isaac Watts, and a string of solid 19th Century Brit composers.

Meanwhile, in my new Catholic digs there is no nonsense whatsover. The hymns that accompany the "modern" Mass could come straight out of the Anglican hymnal (the pastor seems to have a particular fondness for Bach).

I happened to attend High Mass this weekend, where we were served up musick by one Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937), a French organist and composer of whom I'd never heard who rubbed shoulders with Saint-Saens and Cesar Frank. I must say that his musick didn't impress me all that much, despite the fact that Widor felt he needed two choruses and two organs to get his point across. On the other hand, while it wasn't particularly moving, it also didn't require any tamboureens, guitars or liturgical dancers. And had anybody burst out with "hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo" in the midst of the Kyrie or the Gloria, they'd have been immediately turned over to the Inquisition.

Posted by Robert at May 12, 2008 02:30 PM | TrackBack

There's a Widor piece that shows up a fair amount as a postlude in Episcopal churches: the toccata from his Symphony No. 5. Does this sound at all familiar?

Posted by: ScurvyOaks at May 12, 2008 02:50 PM

Nope, doesn't ring any bells. But it is very much in keeping with the style of what I heard - very French and right on the edge of getting bouncy.

Posted by: Robbo the LB at May 12, 2008 02:57 PM

OK everyone, a rousing session of Kumbaya!

Hey, put those pitchforks down, someone could get hurt.

Posted by: rbj at May 12, 2008 03:35 PM

I find it ironic that among my fellow evangelicals, I often have to defend the old hymns, yet now I find myself troubled by the depth of your scorn for moder praise music (regardless of the denominational setting). Yes, a lot of it is pablum, but there are also some wonderful songs being written. Not all are the doctrinal-lessons-to-a-tune that the great standards of the faith are, but a few are, and many do a wonderful job of expressing back to God the gratitude and devotion he deserves. As examples I'd offer up Rich Mullins, or Phil Keaggy.

Posted by: Boy Named Sous at May 12, 2008 08:16 PM

Now it isn't really fair to find fault when people want to get paid for their church music.

Bach, one of my favorites, got paid - in that he was basically on retainer - for most of the organ music he wrote, including the liturgical music. And of course every era saw a lot of schlock. We only remember the ones that were good. Not surprising really.

Posted by: Zendo Deb at May 15, 2008 09:35 PM