John Ainslie in The Tablet

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Re: John Ainslie in The Tablet

Post by presbyter » Mon Apr 18, 2011 7:14 pm

NorthernTenor wrote:Presbyter: I believe you are asking liturgical musicians for things that are outside the scope of their role as such, which is to help ensure the Mass is sung.

Helping to ensure that the Mass is sung is a painfully and woefully inadequate description of the role of a liturgical musician. The role of the liturgical musician is to enable the assembly to enter into full, conscious and active participation in the prayer of the liturgy. It is a pastoral ministry.

NT, you seem to me to want to reduce the role of a liturgical music to that of a technician and functionary. Well if that's all a liturgical musician is, how far would you go? Let's take, for example, those few churches that can afford to employ professional or semi-professional singers in their choirs (and thinking particularly of three such establishments, the majority of adult singers in those choirs are not Catholics). Could we not, then, apply the same principle to other liturgical ministries? If all we need are competent technicians and functionaries in the celebration of the liturgy, why not buy in non Catholic - non Christian even - Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist? Anyone could easily pick up how to distribute Holy Communion, after all.

I’m sorry to say that your comments are a good illustration of the kind of attitudes that have driven many Catholic musicians away from liturgical music. On the one hand is the suspicion of beauty in excellence; on the other, the ill-defined demand for a commitment to non-musical responsibilities and party enthusiasms.

NT - go and watch this: It's just a little something I put together and directed last September for the Bishops. If after watching, you still think I am suspicious of beauty and excellence or am partisan in my approach to liturgical music-making, by all means come back at me.

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Re: John Ainslie in The Tablet

Post by musicus » Mon Apr 18, 2011 8:16 pm

There are two thousand choristers in that video who can personally attest to Presbyter's commitment to supporting and encouraging them to serve the Church through their music, and they represent but a small fraction of those he has helped throughout his ordained ministry. I am happy to say that I am one of them. Driving people from liturgical music? Quite the reverse.
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Re: John Ainslie in The Tablet

Post by nazard » Tue Apr 19, 2011 6:48 am

I suspect that the problem is one of degree. I would love to be in Presbyter's position with regard to music and to be using music and choral singing to strengthen people's faith. However, down here at St Hernia's music is far more a nuts and bolts type affair. Getting through to the end without a major error is a cause for celebration. It really is a question of lack of trained resource. From a congregation of 130 we have a choir of 8, none of whom can play a musical instrument, read music or have ever sung anything but the melody in a choir singing in parts. It is difficult to get them to believe that not everything should be sung fff and prestissimo. This was not helped by our previous parish priest who believed that was how things should be done, and if he wasn't satisfied used to press the microphone to his lips and bellow out the tune. Occasionally I go to mass elsewhere, and it seems to me that our parish is fairly typical. It is against this sort of background that some of us are calling for help and investment in basic skills. We are not ready for anything else yet.

On Sunday we managed to sing the Passion Chorale at a reasonable speed, faster than Furtwangler used to take it, but slow enough to have dignity, and kept together with no one pressing the speed in spite of being accompanied quietly on a piano, and the congregation joined in and sang well too. If any of the choir read this, I am pleased with you all.

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Re: John Ainslie in The Tablet

Post by John Ainslie » Tue Apr 19, 2011 8:29 am

I sympathize with you, nazard. I'm sure most of us are all too aware of our lack of musical skills as well as spiritual calibre at a personal level, to say nothing of the resources we have at our disposal. But I do think we should have clear ideas - a vision, if you like - of what we should aspire to and lead others to aspire to. Yes, feel relieved and pleased when "things go well" - in the hope that it has led those taking part, orally or aurally, to participate in the liturgy of which our offering, our ministry, was part.

The matter of training has been discussed by the SSG trustees. Given that the resources of the SSG are voluntary and limited, we suggest that, for musical skills, the courses run all over the country by the Royal School of Church Music deserve attention. We wondered whether an additional course, specifically on Catholic liturgy for musicians, might be something that the RSCM might be interested in taking on board, which would be of interest not only to those of the Roman rite but also to those of the Anglican rite, both within and outwith the Roman communion.

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Re: John Ainslie in The Tablet

Post by SAUnison » Tue Apr 19, 2011 3:45 pm

Returning to John's letter... I think he made an excellent point in saying that while there are a number of opportunities for the formation of musicians via Diocesan organisations and the SSG, they only attract those who are aware of their need for training. The question of how to encourage musicians in these parishes (and, perhaps, schools...) is a difficult one, but should be addressed.

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Re: John Ainslie in The Tablet

Post by NorthernTenor » Wed Apr 20, 2011 1:01 pm


Your suggestion that I believe the role of the liturgical musician to be “merely technical” is telling. It simply did not occur to me to think that those whose wish is to help have the mass sung might be acting in such a way; and nor should it have done, because that would be to pretend to see into their souls and thank God I am not as them. I love the liturgy (despite the flatness of the English through which it has been mediated for forty years, and the crassness of much of the music to which it has been set). I love to sing those parts proper to congregation and schola, and to hear the congregation sing, especially when the music reflects the ethos of the Rite. I use my skills to serve this enterprise, and to help others use theirs, and the fact that we don't pretend to pastoral or spiritual direction while doing so doesn't detract from the value of our activity. Quite the opposite, in fact – to do so would be to impose ourselves on the liturgy and others in a way that would obscure the Object of the liturgy.

Your analogy with the extraordinary minister is interesting. It seems – forgive me if I misinterpret - to develop the permissive use of lay people to help distribute communion when there are insufficient clergy, to a point where the ministers have a quasi-clerical function, however ill-defined; that is, the word “minister” begins to take on the clerical overtones it is given by protestants. It is, as you suggest, similar to your views on the role of the liturgical musician. I have observed this in others, and I suspect such views reflect a post-Conciliar over-reaction to clericalism, and a loss of confidence in the distinctive sacramental, pastoral and ritual roles of the priesthood and diaconate. I find this merely irritating in those laity who use this trend to become little pontiffs in their own spheres (those who style themselves pastoral musicians and liturgists are especially prone to this failing), In the clergy, however, it is troubling.

Thank you for the link to some of the music from the Holy Father's recent visit and congratulations on your part in it. I trust that that your evident regard for beauty in that hymn will be accompanied by a respect for those musicians who do not think as you do, and may differ in their interpretation of the meaning of active participation, but who nonetheless are dedicated to hearing the liturgy sung, and encouraging the congregation to sing the parts proper to them.
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Re: John Ainslie in The Tablet

Post by JW » Wed Apr 20, 2011 2:57 pm

All of us, lay or ordained, have a vocation and a specific role to play in building up the Church, as enshrined in Canon Law:

Can. 229 §1. Lay persons are bound by the obligation and possess the right to acquire knowledge of Christian doctrine appropriate to the capacity and condition of each in order for them to be able to live according to this doctrine, announce it themselves, defend it if necessary, and take their part in exercising the apostolate.

It's worth drawing attention to "appropriate to the capacity and condition of each". In music, some of us have the capacity or are in the condition to concentrate on producing liturgical music of beauty, whereas others will have the capacity and condition to do other things as well, such as explaining the Church's requirements to others, encouraging others to get involved, thus expanding this 'exercising the apostolate' through liturgical music. I recently accompanied several items in a parish social concert, something I dislike doing, but for me it was part of my particular function as a church musician in this particular church.

We should value and respect and encourage everyone's contribution - but, as John Ainslie points out - these contributions need to be informed by proper formation.

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Re: John Ainslie in The Tablet

Post by NorthernTenor » Wed Apr 20, 2011 3:16 pm

A good summary, JW.
Ian Williams
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