As we bask in the holiday season, we’re pretty well deep frying in so-called Christmas music. (A guy was telling me about the latest Black Eyed Peas Christmas record. I dunno if he was kidding or not, but I sure hope so.) This in turn has gotten me thinking about ‘religious music’ in general.
As many of you know, I’m a practicing Catholic. Which doesn’t mean that I’m hoping to get a Learner’s Permit to say the Rosary by end of summer. Rather it means that I am active in my Church. I attend Mass and involve myself in various parish activities. I rarely mention this because:
a) It’s none of anyone’s darned business
b) It seems to scare people in our increasingly secular world
But I mention it today because I do attend Mass and when I do? I literally pop in ear plugs during the musical portion of the show. It’s that bad.
When did the ‘universal church’ go from having the coolest music ever to having the absolutely crappiest? (1348? 😀 )
In general, all religious music written in the past 100 years drives me nuts. Insipid lyrics. Infantile sentiments. The same tired chord changes. The Spinal Tap guys could’ve easily made an equally funny movie of an aging ‘Christian’ band.
OK, the same could be said for ‘metal’ and all other genres which have matured into a formulaic approach. It’s a tough slog because many fans don’t want the music to improve. Look at most orchestras? They play the same tunes year after year after frickin’ year. Why? People demand to hear Beethoven’s 5th for the 2,000,000th time.
But I set aside a unique ire for Christian music because it is not only bad and tired, but since it does have a function and a responsibility (namely inspiring people and attracting interested converts) that it has failed at most miserably.
When I go to Christmas or Easter Mass at a big place, I am just as likely to stand next to a ‘spiritual but not religious’ person as a person of faith. Why? Because it’s only on these days that they bring out the big guns… the full choir doing the traditional Latin Hymns. And even the most atheistic people tend to get all goose-bumpy when they get a load of that sound. I don’t mind. I like to think that something rubs off even though they’re there just to get some neurons firing in the ol’ amygdala.
I try to put ‘the message’ into my work but rarely do I make it explicit. Sometimes I wonder if I’m being gutless… not wanting to alienate those who do not believe and who are, in fact, turned off by anything that even smells like incense (well, except for those patchouli sticks you see burning in planters right next to the beaded room dividers.Â NamastÃ©, baby.) However, I usually feel like I’m trying to say something that I don’t want clothed in something limiting. I want it to be more abstract.
To bring it back to practicalities, what bothers me about the music at my parish? It’s a lame concoction of acoustic guitars and flutes singing ridiculous hymns that have been re-purposed to be ‘folksy’. As if being ‘catchy’ keeps people in their seats. What the powers that be don’t ‘get’ is that, despite it’s populist appeal and yes, in spite of it’s total sincerity, it’s a complete sell out. The music that endures; the Palestrina, the Bach, the Faure and Widor is the music that really reflects the message. I know that sounds elitist, but as Lenny Bruce once said regarding why people like to pray in great Cathedrals, ‘Hey the average guy lives in a shithouse. The last thing he wants to do is pray in one.’ Right. Most of the time I’m surrounded by crappy music. When I go into the Lord’s House, the last thing I want is more of the same.