John Ainslie in The Tablet

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Nick Baty
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John Ainslie in The Tablet

Post by Nick Baty » Fri Apr 15, 2011 9:54 pm

Interesting letter from John Ainslie in this week's Tablet.
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Re: John Ainslie in The Tablet

Post by presbyter » Sat Apr 16, 2011 6:51 am

If, like me, you are not sure what John is responding to, this is it:

The Tablet, 9th April 2011

JOSEPH CULLEN
POLYPHONY TO POLYFILLA
The director of the London Symphony Chorus argues that the Church has ignored its musical tradition and often preferred mediocrity to a heritage that shaped Western art music


After his recent visit to Britain, Pope Benedict spoke warmly of the excellence of some of the Catholic liturgies which he celebrated here
and of the ecumenical service of Evensong in Westminster Abbey. Sadly such excellence is untypical of the vast majority of our Catholic churches. There is a glaring lack of sympathy for the heritage which should be the bedrock of worthy sacred music in today’s Church and it is hard to discern any attention to the 1967 instruction Musicam Sacram, the “Instruction on Music in the Liturgy”.
Music is vital to the liturgy. Yet it receives less attention than the other liturgical arts and the Church is less exacting in its required standards of ability and training than it is with architecture, the making of vestments, catechesis and the formation of the clergy.
When the Mass in English was introduced in the 1960s, there was a dearth of suitable ritual music in the vernacular. The first need was for Mass settings – for those intrinsic parts whose texts are already there but which rely on being set to music to solemnify them. One effect was that hymns started to be used as filler, anything to sing which was in the “new” language. Hymns intended for use in devotions, Benediction and Holy Hours came to be used inordinately – often inappropriately – at Sunday Mass.
There was a second effect. New settings of the Ordinary of the Mass were urgently needed. Some, composed by monks, had a certain dignity. But the 1970s were mostly characterised by a free-for-all when unsuitable settings used the same trite tunes for the dif- ferent parts of the Mass Ordinary, illicitly paraphrasing the texts to fit and lacking any affinity to the words.
The Church guards the texts of its rites with diligence. Less diligent are the checks on the texts and settings used in liturgical music. Low-quality material in both inspiration and facility is commonplace. Hymns are set to popular music (for example, “My God Loves Me” to the tune of “Plaisir d’amour”) with
little regard to the inappropriateness of the original and well-known words. Double stan- dards in the scrutiny of musical repertoire are baffling in an organisation which lets some away, with no leeway at all in other areas. This it to say nothing of the ineptness of much melody-writing, the stultifying limitation of harmonic treatment of accompaniments and the unhappy marriages of syllables to musical notes in so much current repertoire. The mis- use of one booming voice behind a microphone, an ecclesiastical karaoke, seems to have killed off unified congregational singing.
This is not an argument about categories – so-called classical music versus pop versus what we call folk. The music of the Catholic Church should not be necessarily allied to Western art-music any more than any other type, but much of it has been de facto best served by conventionally trained musicians. There is also, of course, an official church music which is dedicated to its purpose. Much of it is simple, incanted music, one note to a syllable (Preface, Introductory Rites) or chanted to a simple, recurring tone (Psalm verses) and its more ornate, longer-lasting form is plainsong, or Gregorian chant. It has existed for centuries but, as a contemporary Catholic, you might hardly know it. It seems culturally ironic that the beauties of “our” chant (for it really does belong to the Church) are now sought out in recorded performance by those who probably have never heard it in church. There also happens to be the role that plainsong has played in the development of at least five centuries of Western music. This is surely a measure of its richness.
Few capable or sensitive musicians would wish to be involved with the current norms of Catholic music. I say this with the personal proviso that much of my inspiration and experience was gained from the Church and its nurturing musicians, teachers, clergy and Religious. The heritage of its language and its music was crucial to my musical formation. The Church has always been a breeding
ground for musicians and the melting pot for much in the arts down the ages and this should not change.
As to instrumental accompaniment of the liturgy, the official line is that the organ is to be held in the highest esteem for this function. Organs and organists are affected by the same spiral of despair as above but a lead is being given in many quarters as to the unique role which this king of instruments offers. I see a revival in the commissioning of new organs, and in the transplanting of suitable redundant organs of quality.
There is a way forward. To begin with, nobody who has any part in the liturgy should begin without studying the “Instruction on Music in the Liturgy”. Bishops’ conferences have to authorise an adherence to the highest attainable standards of quality in liturgical music. The elected church music committees of the bishops’ conferences cannot have vested interests in promoting their own music, or type of music. This would be regarded as cor- rupt in any other field.
Then there is training. There are many musicians out there who could do this work and some are already working in the field. I don't think it is viable to establish a full-time Catholic establishment for the purpose, but rather to offer specialist formation on an in- service basis and also to send those who are moved to use their gifts for the Church's good to existing musical establishments for the groundwork.
Disaffected Anglicans might be able to defect to Rome, but the disenchanted Romans have nowhere to go, and their rightful place is within the Church and not in some minority faction. We can all see resurgence in choral activity in this country; it needs to be nurtured in the place of its birth.

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Re: John Ainslie in The Tablet

Post by Southern Comfort » Sat Apr 16, 2011 8:44 am

The elected church music committees of the bishops’ conferences cannot have vested interests in promoting their own music, or type of music. This would be regarded as corrupt in any other field.


What on earth is Cullen talking about? There is no church music committee of the England and Wales episcopal conference (though there once was, in the 1980s-90s when Fr Edward Matthews was in charge of the Liturgy Office), and if there were, it wouldn't be elected but rather selected. Cullen is tilting at windmills here.

The only "musical" body of the conference is the famous recently-appointed approval panel whose doings we have been debating in other threads. It, too, has been selected, not elected. Since no one knows who is on it, any accusation that it might be promoting its own music is standing on very shaky ground.

What would be corrupt would be if any composer at all were on that panel, because that would clearly be a conflict of interest. The publishing trade seems convinced that in fact there are composers on the panel. One name has been mentioned with absolute certainty, and several others are also in the frame. If even one of those names is true, then there are grounds for complaint, but otherwise not.

In the days of the National Music Commission (late 60s - very early 70s), everyone knew who was on the body that was making decisions about what Mass settings could and could not be published. There was no concealment. They were all church music practitioners. None of them was a composer, although it is fair to say that some of them (now deceased) were "wannabe-composers" and this may have affected their judgment. That is why there was a great deal of public acrimony surrounding their "squelching" of composers who were household names. One could have been forgiven for thinking that there was some vindictiveness at work.

It is difficult to know what the Liturgy Office can do about full disclosure. In the current situation, it is damned if it does, and damned if it doesn't. The same kind of situation obtained in Germany in the 1970s in the context of the compilation of their national hymnbook, and eventually legal action on the part of publishers and composers resulted in an unpleasant explosion. I think we want to avoid that kind of thing happening here.

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Re: John Ainslie in The Tablet

Post by presbyter » Sat Apr 16, 2011 9:04 am

One effect was that hymns started to be used as filler, anything to sing which was in the “new” language..........


Mr Cullen seems to be somewhat in error here and doesn't seem know his history. He should read Pius XII.

You'd think that the Tablet would commission articles from people who can get basic facts correct, wouldn't you?

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Re: John Ainslie in The Tablet

Post by Nick Baty » Sat Apr 16, 2011 9:34 am

John makes a point: "Published settings of the Ordinary of the Mass will now require vetting for textual accuracy in order to obtain Icel copyright permission, so hopefully para-phrases of mandatory liturgical texts will become a thing of the past."

But I think this is wishful thinking on John's part and there is something of loophole. Only publishers wishing to produce the correct text will need the two-stage clearance from the Panel and from ICEL. So there is nothing to stop the continued publication of Israeli Mass and its impious brethren. And so many parish musicians believe that, if it's in the book, it must be sanctioned.

As John says in his letter: "Diocesan commissions and organisations like the Society of St Gregory and the National Network of Pastoral Musicians provide music days and courses, but they only attract those aware of their need for training". There must be a way for these groups to work together and get the message out: There's no need to continue singing crap!

However, I suspect I'm repeating myself and I can't blame the scotch as it's only 10.34am – too early even for me! And I must pop out to get my eyebrows trimmed.

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Re: John Ainslie in The Tablet

Post by johnquinn39 » Sat Apr 16, 2011 11:19 am

'There's no need to continue singing c***'.

Absolutely, Nick. However, on a parish level, the singing of the above will almost certainly continue.

The Liturgy Police will insist on 'As I kneel before you' , the 'clappy Gloria' etc. because:

It's for the young poeple.

We've always sung it / it's traditional

It is the work of (a member of the Trinity)

There has to be a hymn to Our Lady at every Mass.

Sorry, perhaps I'm getting off topic here, but will any initiative or legislation break the tyranny of the Liturgy Police / Daleks / Bottom Inspectors, who will no doubt EXTERMINATE!!! / wipe out any good music at Mass.

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Re: John Ainslie in The Tablet

Post by NorthernTenor » Sat Apr 16, 2011 12:05 pm

Southern Comfort wrote:The only "musical" body of the conference is the famous recently-appointed approval panel whose doings we have been debating in other threads. It, too, has been selected, not elected. Since no one knows who is on it, any accusation that it might be promoting its own music is standing on very shaky ground.


I'm afraid anonymity invites that suspicion, SC. The solution (short of abolishing the Panel as unnecessary and undesirable) is to publish the names of the boys and girls to whom these jobs have gone, together with details of costs and manner of operation. I know the Church doesn't do transparency, and Ecclestone Square is no exception to that, but the Liturgy Office only has itself to blame for the the furore surrounding this whole business.
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Re: John Ainslie in The Tablet

Post by festivaltrumpet » Sat Apr 16, 2011 12:46 pm

How disappointing it is to see that contributors here chose to strain at the gnats in Mr Cullen's piece rather than address the broader issue, which he, and Mr Ainslie summarise most accurately. Mother Church and her Bishops are found wanting in the matter of formation for those who have a role in providing music.

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Re: John Ainslie in The Tablet

Post by NorthernTenor » Sat Apr 16, 2011 1:59 pm

Hear,hear, FT!
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Re: John Ainslie in The Tablet

Post by presbyter » Sat Apr 16, 2011 2:28 pm

festivaltrumpet wrote:How disappointing it is to see that contributors here chose to strain at the gnats in Mr Cullen's piece rather than address the broader issue, which he, and Mr Ainslie summarise most accurately. Mother Church and her Bishops are found wanting in the matter of formation for those who have a role in providing music.


With respect FT, I think readers of the Tablet are entitled to accuracy. Admittedly it would be unfair to expect any author of a one page article in the Tablet to give his readers references in the way that an academic rigour would demand and I also take into account the constraints that are imposed by the required word count and the discipline of concinnity. Content has to be limited.

Yet, for example, Cullen - who in his generalisations gives the impression that hymn singing at Mass is a post-Conciliar phenomenon - also does not advert to our Bishops far from being found wanting, actually trying to implement a programme of formation for church musicians in the 1960s and early 1970s. The then Church Music Association even had office space at the Royal School of Church Music, Addington Palace. All right, that particular project melted away but, in my opinion, it is unjust to the Bishops to imply that they have never formally addressed the issue of church music.

I myself don't think that the style of Mr Cullen's article is at all helpful to the Bishops, who are well aware of the standards of music-making in our parishes and institutions and would dearly love to improve them.

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Re: John Ainslie in The Tablet

Post by JW » Sat Apr 16, 2011 2:40 pm

I haven't read the Tablet article yet but I'm not sure why the Bishop's Conference can't/won't set up a compulsory training course for English Catholic musicians and require parishes to ensure that all new musicians have passed it. There could also be some sort of exemption system for experienced musicians of good repute? Perhaps the PANEL could move on to this, once they have completed their existing brief! Cost may be an issue but we found the money for the Papal Visit!
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Re: John Ainslie in The Tablet

Post by presbyter » Sat Apr 16, 2011 2:41 pm

NorthernTenor wrote:I'm afraid anonymity invites that suspicion, SC


It invites rather pointless speculation too. I see that the we are not the only blog discussing the Tablet article and responses to it. On another blog, a certain IanW refers to the recent Seminar for Composers in Hammersmith and implies that both Fr Peter Jones and Paul Inwood are members of the Liturgy Office's anonymous panel for vetting music for the new Missal texts. Had Mr IanW been at the Seminar, he would have discovered that neither Fr Jones nor Mr Inwood are members of the panel.

I wonder if by any chance IanW also reads this blog. Perhaps, if he does, he would be kind enough to state he is in error on the other blog?

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Re: John Ainslie in The Tablet

Post by alan29 » Sat Apr 16, 2011 3:02 pm

JW wrote:I haven't read the Tablet article yet but I'm not sure why the Bishop's Conference can't/won't set up a compulsory training course for English Catholic musicians and require parishes to ensure that all new musicians have passed it. There could also be some sort of exemption system for experienced musicians of good repute? Perhaps the PANEL could move on to this, once they have completed their existing brief! Cost may be an issue but we found the money for the Papal Visit!


How could that happen? What would the criteria be? Grade 8 and 'A' level Religious Studies?

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Re: John Ainslie in The Tablet

Post by NorthernTenor » Sat Apr 16, 2011 4:14 pm

presbyter wrote:I see that the we are not the only blog discussing the Tablet article and responses to it. On another blog, a certain IanW refers to the recent Seminar for Composers in Hammersmith and implies that both Fr Peter Jones and Paul Inwood are members of the Liturgy Office's anonymous panel for vetting music for the new Missal texts. Had Mr IanW been at the Seminar, he would have discovered that neither Fr Jones nor Mr Inwood are members of the panel.

I wonder if by any chance IanW also reads this blog. Perhaps, if he does, he would be kind enough to state he is in error on the other blog?


One IanW at least reads this blog, comments on it under the name NorthernTenor, and has posted elsewhere on this matter. I can assure you, though, that he is not the IanW who has made the claim to which you refer (though I saw it made by one with an entirely different name). This IanW thinks the names of the Panel members should be publicised, along with some other measures, in the interest of transparency, but he has not publicly speculated as to who they are. Perhaps you would be so kind as to provide a link to the relevant place, Presbyter, so that I might see my namesake's comments?
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Re: John Ainslie in The Tablet

Post by presbyter » Sat Apr 16, 2011 5:00 pm

NorthernTenor wrote:Perhaps you would be so kind as to provide a link to the relevant place, Presbyter, so that I might see my namesake's comments?


The other blog is very confusing now (structurally different in the way it appears to this one). It has, as it were, overgrown since I was directed to it by a friend yesterday. I seem not only to have committed a capitalisation error in the poster's nickname - and thus failed the panel test - but ascribed the entry incorrectly to "ianw". The original speculative entry was by someone else and it is quoted by yet someone else later on. So my apologies to whoever IanW is. I am in error. I'm sure anyone who wants to will find the other blog with Google. I have no direct interest in it.

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