Why Catholics Can’t Sing (revised edition) by Thomas Day — Review

Why Catholics Can’t Sing: Revised and Updated with New Grand Conclusions and Good Advice. Thomas Day, Crossroad Publishing Company, xvi + 256 pages, paperback, $24.95

This book caused a furore when it first appeared in 1991. The author, in biting prose, did a demolition job on what he saw as “the Culture of Catholicism and the Triumph of Bad Taste” (that subtitle has now been dropped). With great gusto he aimed his barbs at Catholic musicians and clergy across the USA. He took a large tilt at Father Hank, with his casual lack of formality and propensity to behave like a game show host and a pathological need to be the center of attention, and at Mr Caruso, the parish song-leader who bawls Be Not Afraid into a microphone and silences the congregation with the sheer volume of his magnificent voice. Many other targets also came in for savage handling beneath his basilisk stare.

While his critiques (some would say caricatures) were largely accurate, Day made the mistake of taking a small number of limited experiences and elevating them to the status of universal truths. While he had undoubtedly had a number of unpleasant experiences, he assumed that these were the norm across the entire country. Operating out of Rhode Island, it was clear not only that many of the phenomena he was trashing were principally East Coast manifestations but that they occurred in city parishes. He had not visited a rural parish in deepest Montana, for example, nor a multi-ethnic parish on the West Coast. As far as we can tell from this revised edition, he still hasn’t.

In 1991, composers were almost lining up to be pilloried by Day. If you hadn’t been on the receiving end of one of his attacks you really hadn’t made it! At the same time, it was noted that the most recent collection mentioned was the 1984 edition of Glory and Praise, and the most recent composition to be given the Day treatment was Marty Haugen’s Gather Us In, which had also appeared in 1984. People started to ask where Day had been during the intervening seven years, during which there had been quite a revolution in the North American Catholic music scene. Yes, he quoted the Notre Dame Study of Parish Life (1984-9) and Francis Mannion writing in 1987, but did he really know anything of the repertoire since 1984? Was his book really a reflection of where the Church was now?

That question can still be asked, as not only is Day still vilifying the same old foes in this revised edition but there is some uncertainty about when it was completed. Although the copyright date is 2011, and although Day includes a critique based on experience of the new Missal texts and more especially the new Missal chants, and even toward the very end of the book seems to be citing something from 2013, it seems clear that a lot of repertoire developments since the turn of the millennium have once again passed him by.

In 1991, Day answered his own question by pointing primarily at the material Catholics were being asked to sing. His views have not changed a great deal, and it seems that his ideal form of assembly singing is a good foursquare hymn. He has relaxed a little, mentioning Marty Haugen in approving terms (for his hymn We Walk by Faith) and, incredibly, Jesse Manibusan’s Open My Eyes. But he still doesn’t enjoy Gather Us In, with what he describes as its “frolicking” melody. Evidently he never spotted that it is in fact a modal tune in the best traditions of old English and American folk music, with a flattened third and seventh; nor that it contains musically sensitive congregational diminuendi on long notes at the end of each half, cleverly created by people gradually running out of breath; nor that its initial chromatically descending bass line is borrowed from Baroque models… Frolicking depends on how you perform it ― a legato melody line and a steady tempo gives a very different effect.

In fact Day has mellowed considerably since 1991. The language has often been moderated, almost as if Day realized that his intemperate outbursts in the first edition had actually prevented some people from reading what he had to say. But this toning-down has resulted in an increasing lack of tautness. What was formerly a rant at full gallop is now more of a meandering moan, although some sections still retain the acidulous punch of the first edition.

One of the most notorious and unjustified attacks was on Bernard Huijbers, characterized as a “liturgical disciplinarian”. That was about the last thing he was. Since Huijbers is now no longer around to defend himself (he died in 2003), and since the section remains largely unaltered, it is worth saying that Day’s depiction of him is pretty much 180 degrees incorrect. Part of Day’s problem was that he misunderstood some of Huijbers’ terminology. The phrase musique élémentaire as used by Huijbers did not mean “elementary” music, but music that already exists in people’s subconscious ― even a primeval memory; nor did “popular music” mean what Day takes it to mean, but music “of the people”, something rather different.

But the revised edition still does not acknowledge that one of the primary reasons why some American Catholics do not sing was not so much the material being sung but attributable rather more to a lack of suitable song-leaders. Day rightly fulminates against Mr Caruso and his soloistic kinsfolk, but he has not realized that there are many other parish cantors who are not like that but who nevertheless fail in their task. I have said previously elsewhere that this is because the vast majority of cantors in the US, unlike their European counterparts, have not been trained in the art of eliciting participation from their assemblies, which one would have thought was an essential part of their formation. (They get plenty of help with voice, scripture, repertoire, liturgy… but until recent years little or nothing on how actually to get people singing.)

Although the text of the original edition has been revised and updated throughout, readers familiar with the first edition will turn eagerly to Chapter 10, “Grand Conclusions”, the only completely new chapter of the book. Here we hope to find Day’s remedies, a master plan to get assemblies opening their mouths; but in point of fact this is just another rambling rant in several sections, taking apart the various “culprits” as Day sees them. First up is “Dancing Alone”. Day’s point is that congregational singing is a tribal experience, but most churches (in his opinion) treat it as a collection of separate individuals participating. I seriously doubt that this is true. Although he still objects to music that is simply too loud for comfort (and I find myself sympathizing here: there are certainly bullying organists and over-amplified contemporary ensembles around), he does now extend the hand of friendship to some music that he would not have been caught dead espousing before.

His second culprit is “Putting everybody into the same tribe”. Here, it is more difficult to put one’s finger on exactly what Day is saying, as he roams from point to point. He’d like part of our tribal identity to be bound up with Gregorian Chant, polyphony and other music that people can enjoy listening to. And he’s very uncertain about the whole question of different identities and backgrounds in the same parish. Do they run in parallel, or should there be a common thread throughout? Do we, should we make the best use of everyone’s talents? As we reach the end of this section, we meet another vintage Day sideswipe as he opines that most of the music sung in United States parishes “was written after 1970 by fewer than a dozen composers”. (He does not specify who they all are, apart from the St Louis Jesuits and Marty Haugen, but here as elsewhere one can detect a kind of angry jealousy creeping in.)

Day’s third culprit is “The Cult of Enthusiasm”. Here he is on surer ground as he observes that “there are innumerable musicians and pastors who are obsessively focused on the idea that the purpose of liturgical music is to energize people and produce spiritual excitement.” Interestingly, he places the blame for this on a misinterpretation of paragraph 118 of Sacrosanctum Concilium, which called for the assembly not only to sing but for their voices to “ring out” (resonare). This would require what Day amusingly describes as “highly-caffeinated” music. (I suspect that the overwhelming majority of American pastoral musicians have never read Sacrosanctum Concilium, let alone para 118.) But he reserves further spleen for the way that Catholics have borrowed Protestant hymnody: at first, he seems to be taking up the unecumenical position that we have no right to sing it because it’s not who we are, we do not embody the tradition; but soon it becomes clear that his real objection is not so much to the repertoire itself as to the fact that (he thinks) congregations don’t sing it because they are being silenced once again by heavily-mic’d cantors, one of his pet hates that recurs again and again in the book.

Culprit #4 is “Total Indifference to Practicality”. Day starts by saying the obsession with energizing songs (and he targets OCP Publications especially in this regard) can be so overpowering that it can completely block out any considerations about what is practical for group singing and what does not work. For him, the problems are “clumsy melodies” (those with what he considers are awkward intervals), “overly ambitious moments” (melodies that jump around all over the place), and finally “rapturous melodies…for soloists”. Here, Day spends a large amount of time and space castigating composers for writing unsingable verses for assemblies. It does not seem to have struck him that those verses might actually have been written for solo cantor or schola, rather than for the assembly. He also doesn’t seem to realize that in practice many assemblies are now singing some verses that were never originally conceived as being sung by the congregation, however impractical he happens to think those verses are. It is also a fact that assemblies can do much more musically than he gives them credit for, if only they have a competent song-leader to form them.

From this, Day wanders off into a consideration of why musicians program music that is too difficult (as he sees it) for the people. His answer: because of the cult of the celebrity. Musicians like basking in the glow of the composers, and the music of those composers has become like must-have designer products. Therefore, and I quote:

(1) Hero worship of celebrities shuts down any practical consideration of what works and what does not work for congregational singing. Parishes thus pick a great portion of the music they sing [based] on the composer’s contemporary fame, not on the practical value of the music. (2) This music symbolizes what amounts to a new tribe or ethnic group whose defining characteristic is hostility to any music that attempts (in our imperfect human way) to be catholic (“universal,” for everybody) because such music does not ratify the superiority of the new tribe and their hero composers. (3) In this type of music, the heavily-amplified instruments and soloists often deliberately drown out the voice of a singing congregation. When this happens, the congregation’s visual impression of what is going on is this: “The celebrity music performed by the celebrity musicians up in front is for them, not us. We watch and have fun.”

While there are small grains of truth somewhere in the midst of all this, the impression once again is that Day is somehow jealous of the composers whose music is sung.

Day’s final chapter, Good Advice, has been substantially enlarged and rewritten. The former four pages of useful points have now expanded to no less than 31 by the simple expedient of adding further large tracts of meandering ranting to the practical suggestions, thus rendering them so diffuse that they are difficult to find. Here, Day rehashes his animadversion to all the previously-tilted-at windmills, throwing in a few more for good measure, including “Skip-pi-dy/Dip-pi-dy rhythms”, some of the new ICEL chants (“Ho-LEE”, etc), screens and large choirs in megachurches, people who only select music written after 1970, buildings with carpeted or dead acoustics, people who apparently describe the treasury of sacred music as “too Catholic”…

At a practical level, the endnotes have been retained from the first edition, but there is now no index ― a serious failing. The original edition was viii + 184 pages in length, so xvi + 256 might seem like a big addition, but this has been partly achieved by setting the text in a more elegant font that is lighter in weight with much more leading (white space) between the lines and thus taking up more room. The first edition had legible, black type. The revised edition, at least in the copy I received, has text so grey that I seriously wondered if the publisher was saving money by deliberately under-inking the plates. That, with the lighter weight of the font, makes the book actually quite difficult to read. The first edition was a sturdy hardback volume; the new edition is a paperback. The first edition had a striking abstract cover design on the dustjacket; the revised edition has a bizarre cover featuring a twee statue of two nuns with “music” spiralling out of their heads. The original edition had a brief preface by the author, which has become a longer introduction to the revised edition. In front of that, Jeffrey Tucker of the Church Music Association of America has contributed a eulogizatory preface.

So would I recommend that anyone read this revised edition? To be frank, no. The author made his name in the original edition by being extreme and by extrapolating exaggerated positions from insufficient data, and that continues unabated in the somewhat-toned-down revised edition. As has already been indicated, the author is not sufficiently well-informed, and what knowledge he does have about what is going on in our churches is already out of date. (To give just one example, you would have thought that the music of Taizé might have appealed to him. Not only was this repertoire never mentioned in the original edition, in the revised edition a solitary throwaway reference to a Taizé chant is all you get. Other significant repertoires are not mentioned at all in either the original or the revised edition.) Across the book there is a lot of repetition in the litany of complaints, and the rambling, ranting, anecdotal style becomes very wearing. One longs for concise, coherent argument. Perhaps to sum up, a charitable judgement would be that this is a book written by a man of passion but lacking a sense of perspective.

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52 comments

  1. Responding to comment now removed at request of author:

    If 200 people all run out of breath at different times, the effect is indeed one of a diminuendo.

    1. @Paul Inwood – comment #2:
      I’m afraid that this is one of my pet peeves. Can we be sure that Marty Haugen wanted a musical effect that depended on a piece’s not being rendered as written? If he did, this is one of the few things he’s done musically that I’m not grateful for. Too sneaky!
      I have waxed peevish before in this space about contemporary Catholic composers, particularly the St. Louis Jesuits, who sometimes employ superlong held notes that untrained singers should never be expected (except by sadists) to sing as written. However, I don’t feel Marty’s held notes in “Gather Us In” are too long for congregations to sustain. They last for nine eighth notes in 6/8—not seven quarter notes in 4/4, as in “One Bread, One Body.”
      Perhaps in the spirit of Thomas Day, I have a couple of slight misgivings about “Gather Us In”: (1) For some reason I’m uncomfortable ending a hymn with the word “bone.” (2) “Not in some heaven, light years away” suggests Marty may be skeptical that there’s a real heaven. I doubt he is (see “Eye Has Not Seen” and “The Hand of God Shall Hold You”); I think in “Gather Us In” he’s scorning some naturalistic heaven that we imagine in such detail that we neglect the grace of the present moment. But I’m not sure. Let’s just hope he isn’t confusing the faithful (sc. making them think), because we know how awful that is.

      1. @Paul R. Schwankl – comment #37:
        I suspect Marty Haugen cares little for how his pieces are rendered as long as the people sing the text. Longer held notes or not? Who cares? More violence is done to these pieces, and to faith, by not having the courage to sing past verse two in many cases.

      2. @Todd Flowerday – comment #40:
        Violence done to faith, for sure. Not only is docking hymns (omitting verses after the completion of the actions the hymn has “covered”) upsetting to people in the congregation who are disappointed that a beloved verse isn’t going to be sung; it also inculcates the vile principle that covering actions is all hymns are for. It shows arrant disrespect for the congregation, who are entitled to complete their sung thought—unless, of course, they are too low in the great chain of being to merit such consideration. (I once was organist for a priest who regarded hymns as filler—not part of “the rite”—and insisted that I dock them. He died young—not from clericalist theology, I hope.)
        My own parish has an unfortunate policy, going back at least two music directors, of never announcing selected verses in songs. Consequently, on All Souls’ Day, the touching All Souls verses in “We Will Rise Again” don’t get sung. I believe we have even started hymns to the three divine Persons and stopped at number two. The next time the staff of some national group or publication want to rank us as one of those superparishes, they should know that we dock hymns.

      3. @Todd Flowerday – comment #40:
        Todd, I disagree on your less-momentous point: I think Marty Haugen’s tunes are very accommodating to untrained singers, and I bet he does care. But I grew up only a few blocks from his church, so I’m particularly inclined to take his side.

      4. @Paul R. Schwankl – comment #44:
        I had a long conversation with him in the late 80’s. I mentioned that I brought his setting of Psalm 34 to my piano teacher years before, and he chuckled about that. He said his accompaniments were intended to be guidelines, not scores to follow slavishly. Other composers care more. Tom Conry once yelled at me for changing harmonizations (blues-ing it up) on one of his songs when a bass player and I were jamming after a rehearsal.

        Jack, I think singing all the verses is a good default, and one is selective of verses for thoughtful reasons, not reasons of limiting the music to two minutes or less. I question the appropriateness and effectiveness of homilies over seven to ten minutes. At least with most published music, there’s a reason why the pieces are as long as they are. With preaching, that’s not always the case.

      5. @Todd Flowerday – comment #46:
        I would like hymn composers to care whether their tunes are singable as written—that is, no one in the congregation who can read music should look at the printed hymn and say, “How the heck am I supposed to sing this?” I would like hymn composers NOT to care greatly about whether their accompaniments are played as written. Plainly that was Marty’s attitude when he talked to you. I would hope they’d be flattered, as Tom Conry seems not to have been, when competent practitioners are inspired to go beyond the composer’s arrangement. It’s a sign that church music is in good health.
        Your experience with Conry puts me in mind of the fit thrown by GIA’s editors, in their preface to Gather Comprehensive Second Edition, over organists who lead hymns from the organ when the accompaniments provided were meant for the piano. These settings can’t be made suitable for the organ, the editors complain, without considerable adaptation. I know some people who are quite aware that all keyboard instruments aren’t the same and are capable of making the necessary adaptations. They are called musicians.

      6. @Paul R. Schwankl – comment #37:
        While we’re on the subject, I always have the irresistible urge to sing

        Gather us in the rich and the haughty
        gather us in the proud and the strong
        give us a heart so meek and so lowly
        give us the courage to enter the song.

        as

        Gather us in the rich and the haughty
        gather us in the proud and the strong
        give us a heart so meek and so naughty
        give us the courage to enter the song.

        I must admit, I occasionally succumb to the urge.

  2. Thomas Day’s Why Catholics Can’t Sing (first ed.) and to an even greater extent Anne Roche Muggeridge’s The Desolate City (Harper, 1990) were my exit doors to indult Tridentine thought and practice. Day’s “Mr. Caruso” was a last straw; having encountered this behavior frequently, I knew I wanted nothing of the new office of cantor. Muggeridge merely confirmed my suspicions that my parents and their generation were hoodwinked into a modernist liturgical trainwreck. The only remedy was to flee quickly to the semi-underground Tridentines if I were to maintain a serious faith and practice.

    Like the “revolutionaries” of May 1968 who lifted up the Little Red Book but also had not a clue what was written in it or the true horror behind it, I misunderstood Day’s book as a rationale for action and not the screed it could sometimes be. I also misunderstood Day’s depiction of the Irish Church in persecution as a model of piety rather than the worship of a downtrodden people desperately holding to their faith in very difficult circumstances.

    Paul Inwood is right to criticize Day’s first edition as a character assassination rampage against postconciliar composers. I am glad that these sentiments have been softened in Day’s second edition. Still, I can now understand to some degree the frustrations of Inwood and his fellow composers. Criticism is one matter; wholesale dismissal is another.

    Still, will another teenager pick up Day’s book and find his way to the local “Latin church”? Perhaps this is inevitable. Day’s sting of anger is mitigated a bit, thankfully.

  3. Paul,

    Thanks first for actually reviewing the book in detail. There was another “review” in the most recent American Guild of Organists that was full of dislike but had almost nothing specific to say about the text.

    It has been years since I read the original, and I haven’t read this version, but a couple of points stand out to me.

    First, if one were to focus on the positive rather than the negative, one would have to spend a good deal of time dealing with the rebirth of the antiphon/psalm genre (whether proper to day or season) since 1991. This renewed interest is something is not only positive from a textual/liturgical/musical standpoint, but seems to be helping heal some divides between merely stylistic camps in church music. Among other things I’m thinking of the increasing role of antiphons and psalms in recent offerings from GIA and OCP, along with CMAA publications. Does Day touch on this at all? This is an area where living composers from all different backgrounds are adding practical and singable music to the congregational repertoire.

    Second, as someone who has traveled a lot in the states and visited many parishes of all shapes and sizes, I have to say that many of Day’s observations hold true outside of the East Coast urban parish. Where I would differ is in an assessment of the last ten years, in which (it seems to me) many of the worst manifestations are naturally tempering their excesses. In other words, what I consider the mainstream, or average, parish experience has dramatically improved. It sounds like Day is seeing this movement, albeit slightly more grudgingly. Of course, his book, even if hyperbolic, was part of the natural thesis-antithesis-synthesis that moves human affairs.

    Finally, one technical note that may be more American than British. I would argue that most parish acoustics do treat each member of the congregation as an individual, for the practical reason that they are dead acoustics and render even immediate neighbors inaudible.

    1. @Jared Ostermann – comment #6:

      if one were to focus on the positive rather than the negative, one would have to spend a good deal of time dealing with the rebirth of the antiphon/psalm genre (whether proper to day or season) since 1991. This renewed interest is something is not only positive from a textual/liturgical/musical standpoint, but seems to be helping heal some divides between merely stylistic camps in church music. Among other things I’m thinking of the increasing role of antiphons and psalms in recent offerings from GIA and OCP, along with CMAA publications. Does Day touch on this at all? This is an area where living composers from all different backgrounds are adding practical and singable music to the congregational repertoire.

      Jared, no he doesn’t. This is just one among many areas of repertoire that he doesn’t seem to have encountered, as I indicated. Or if he has encountered them, he’s not telling us!

      Where I would differ is in an assessment of the last ten years, in which (it seems to me) many of the worst manifestations are naturally tempering their excesses. In other words, what I consider the mainstream, or average, parish experience has dramatically improved.

      You’d never guess that from his text. That is part of what makes it seem even more of a caricature now than it was twenty years previously. I think the mellowing in Day’s language has little to do with what has changed in parishes and more to do with Day getting older and realizing that people don’t respond well to a continuous diet of undiluted bile.

      I would argue that most parish acoustics do treat each member of the congregation as an individual, for the practical reason that they are dead acoustics and render even immediate neighbors inaudible.

      I’d agree with you there, but Day’s point is not about acoustics. If I have understood him correctly, he seems to be saying that Mr Caruso’s bawling, by bludgeoning the people into silence, is reducing them to individuals in a room instead of welding them into one singing, celebrating body by allowing them to join in a rousing hymn without the aid of a song-leader. Actually even that is not quite accurate, because there is quite a diatribe against rousing hymns, related to the “energetic” music that he doesn’t like.

      1. @Paul Inwood – comment #9:
        So, to revise Day’s thesis, I would argue that Mr.Caruso (where he/she occurs) is actually an attempt to counteract poor acoustics and bring the congregation into greater unity. Misguided and counterproductive, perhaps, but still an attempt to reduce rather than add to individualism. I think the vast majority of pastors and music directors today hold robust congregational singing as a central (probably THE central) ideal for liturgical music.

        In fact, the cult of enthusiasm also couuld be partly a reaction to poor acoustics. When even a full congregation singing a well-known hymn is swallowed by a dry acoustic, a kind of panic seems to set in – we must need more energy, more volume, more familiar tunes, more robust singing, SOMETHING to give us that feeling of full united sound! I’ve certainly had this panicked feeling even as a concert organist, playing in acoustics so aggressively dry that they actually seem to suck sound out of the instrument as I’m playing it. I refer to this as a negative acoustic – the sound seems to stop even before I’ve stopped playing. I could go on about acoustics, but I do honestly wonder how many of Day’s complaints have less to do with style or some kind of conspiracy of bad taste, and more to do with well-meaning people trying to promote good liturgical practice and participation in an acoustically-hostile worship environment.

  4. As for the East Coast situation, a few observations as an ex-EC’er.

    My experience as a Midwestern liturgist is largely limited to my parish and occasionally, the parish of a friend who is a music director or liturgist. I’d like to think that a certain awareness of sacramental theology, pastoral liturgy, and a fair ability to assess the Three Judgments places some parishes somewhat past Mr Day’s criticisms.

    That said, many East Coast parishes have music directors with little to no background in liturgy. Well-meaning and skilled musicians programming hymnody instead of Christmas music on Holy Family Sunday. Slipping into a Gloria on the First Sunday of Advent or the A******* on Ash Wednesday. Stuff like that.

    The other broad challenge is the general American reticence about music and art. Providing material resources for a music program isn’t as sexy as computers for the school or a well-watered athletic field. Or fields.

    I remember Mr Day’s book in the early 90’s. I dismissed it as his personal subjective experience. I’d recommend he leave Rhode Island for a Benedictine monastery. Failing that, take a number. I have my own complaints about the Church, too, that go a bit beyond the music. I could write a book. Likely, a lot of us could, but we stay and work in the trenches and whine a bit less than some others.

    1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #7:

      The other broad challenge is the general American reticence about music and art.

      Perhaps this is due to the bald utilitarianism of American frontier religion. A lay circuit preacher, barely literate in the Bible himself, only had a stump or perhaps even a charismatic tent service to save souls. It’s hard to lug a harmonium or organ along the Oregon Trail, even if that feeble hymnody could be classified as “art”.

  5. It’s been years since I read the first edition, but what I remember being struck by was Day saying that the musical situation was no better prior to the Council and, by some measures, worse. Indeed, the problem with postconciliar music was more or less the same as the problem with preconciliar music (an emphasis on solo performance; a tendency toward the sentimental in both music and text, etc.). Traditionalist types who lauded the book always seemed to miss that point.

  6. I don’t remember Catholics raising the roof before Vatican 2. Whereas our parish can rival the local Methodists.
    The premise of the book is plain wrong.

    1. @Alan Johnson – comment #12:
      As I mentioned above, Day does not claim that Catholics (in America) were particularly robust singers before the Council, nor that most of them sang particularly good music. The book is really not an apologia for a return to the preconciliar situation.

  7. In my RC parish in the DC suburbs prior to the Vatican II reforms, the only congregational singing occurred outside of the Mass: “Tantum Ergo,” “O Salutaris Hostia,” and “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name” at Benediction on Sunday evenings, “Immaculate Mary” (the Lourdes hymn) at the Miraculous Medal novena on Wednesday evenings, and various Marian hymns at May processions. Wedding and funeral music (typically a few hymns at weddings, and the entire Gregorian chant sung Mass at funerals) was provided by a soloist.

    Compared to the status quo ante Vatican II (and based on my own experience, my parish was quite representative of that status quo), just about any congregational singing, no matter how lame, would be an improvement.

    However, despite the Carusos and the other quirks that Day describes, I think that the situation is significantly better today in terms of full, conscious, and active musical participation by the congregation.

  8. I appreciate Paul Inwood’s thoughtful critique of this new edition. I think that readers would also benefit from Marilyn Perkins Biery’s very good review in the most recent issue of The American Organist.

  9. Paul, thank you for a thorough and seemingly fair review.
    I don’t know if this thought is telling, but after 44 years in the trenches your digest is, paraquoting John Foley, “enough for me.” I really don’t have any inclination whatsoever to revisit Day’s crafted exegesis as I still have work to do and less time to effect that work.
    Maybe the only thing I know after all this time is something, as you mentioned, that Pr. Day could never possibly understand from his perch (and I mean him no disrespect)- the only caricature that maybe would fit into his cosmological and zeitgeist world would be a conflict unresolvable, like “Pork Chop Hill.” Except that he’s still just a journalist, not even a combatant. Yes, there is a mensurate amount of truth in that caricature, but there’s no redemption which can only be measured in reflective moments of grace, a “You hadda be there” kind of thing.
    Regarding the quip about Jeffrey Tucker OF the “CMAA,” and his euologic introduction, that is the single best moment of your review. Second would be the kudos to Jesse and “Open my eyes.”
    Thanks, Paul. For us geezers, next year in Jerusalem, eh?

  10. Paul, thank you for a thorough and seemingly fair review.
    I don’t know if this thought is telling, but after 44 years in the trenches your digest is, paraquoting John Foley, “enough for me.” I really don’t have any inclination whatsoever to revisit Day’s crafted exegesis as I still have work to do and less time to effect that work.
    Maybe the only thing I know after all this time is something, as you mentioned, that Pr. Day could never possibly understand from his perch (and I mean him no disrespect)- the only caricature that maybe would fit into his cosmological and zeitgeist world would be a conflict unresolvable, like “Pork Chop Hill.” Except that he’s still just a journalist, not even a combatant. Yes, there is a mensurate amount of truth in that caricature, but there’s no redemption which can only be measured in reflective moments of grace, a “You hadda be there” kind of thing.
    Regarding the quip about Jeffrey Tucker OF the “CMAA,” and his euologic introduction, that is the single best moment of your review. Second would be the kudos to Jesse and “Open my eyes.”
    Thanks, Paul. For us geezers, next year in Jerusalem, eh?

  11. Each of us posters has our pet reason for the lack of singing in many parishes (indeed in nearly all the parishes I’ve ever wanted to join). I still remember the afternoon I paged through the first edition of Brother Day’s book in the Catholic U. bookstore. Simplistic though his argument may sound, it has struck a chord in my own approach to hymns. Just because they get published and sung at conventions, and become favorites of music directors, does not mean that I have to like them. It has spurred me to try to create something better – not to force it on others, but to help in my recollection. I don’t believe I would have created the Lector Works blog without such a mind-turning event.

    Brother Inwood has every right to be outraged that anecdotal stories about our celebration of liturgy get so much play. Just the same, it was Brother Day who reminded me of the need to take ownership of our common prayer. However, if either of them were invited to give an intensive weekend at any parish with which I am familiar, I doubt if they would succeed in making a dent in our celebrations. It comes down to reception of the revolutionary ideas from the liturgy decree, in all those who celebrate, and that is spread most unevenly.

  12. The issue of performance music vs. congregational singing is not unique to contemporary music paradigms. I’ve known parishes where there’s a great to-do over which Requiem the choir is performing this November or which soloist is being featured at midnight Mass singing O Holy Night. I’ve seen soloist names prominently listed in the program and them wearing flowing ball gowns like they are headlining at the Met. Their admirers would sometimes even bring roses for them to congratulate their performance. All in a parish that wouldn’t be caught dead singing anything written by the St. Louis Jesuits.

    1. @Scott Pluff – comment #23:
      Interesting point, and possibly an area where Day’s line of reasoning could backfire. The musical tradition of the church has had a solo(cantor)/congregational dynamic since the earliest days, as far as we can tell, and a choral/solo/congregational dynamic since at least the Roman Schola Cantorum of the mid-to-late seventh century. The Gregorian chant tradition has the Graduale, with an elaborate virtuosic solo verse (even today – and just think how elaborate it would sound back then) sung right on the sanctuary steps…

      Thus it doesn’t seem to me that we can cast the issue as “performance VS congregational”, as if any non-congregational singing is performance. The issue is more a question of maintaining proper balance between the different singing entities, in keeping with musical tradition – as well as clarity about who should sing when. As Paul mentions, it is not a problem to have elaborate or rhythmically difficult verses for a cantor or for the choir. This is what I meant by asking if Day treats the antiphon/psalm genre in his book. If his answer is “Catholics need more good, solid metered hymns if they are to sing”, I would push back. I am wary of any theory of liturgical music that doesn’t reference the traditional interplay and complementarity between choir, cantor, and congregation.

      1. @Jared Ostermann – comment #26:

        It has been years since I read the book (now the 1st edition), but my recollection is that he doesn’t spend a lot of time on musical forms. He is more critical of grassroots liturgical practice, as evidenced by Caruso the cantor whose solo-performer approach doesn’t invite congregational singing, and Fr. Hank who desacralizes the mass almost from the beginning by making some jokey-friendly remarks upon reaching the altar, rather than starting with the sign of the cross.

        He does recall that the metrical “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name” is sung well, but also notes that the Snow Our Father, which is not metrical, is sung well.

        He is also critical of congregational parts in the contemporary-folk tradition that work against participation because of difficult or idiosyncratic rhythms: think of the 1st line from “Be Not Afraid”: “You shall cross the barren desert, but you shall not die of thirst”, with its sixteenth-note pick-ups.

        I think that, together, these are meant to be critiques of the all-acoustic-guitar-all-the-time parish music programs, which as Paul notes, in reality don’t really exist in large numbers.

      2. @Jim Pauwels – comment #27:
        And Day seems to not know that the verses of Be Not Afraid were intended to be sung by a cantor/soloist and the refrains by all. The refrain has none of those idiosyncratic rhythms or unusual intervals.

      3. @Scott Pluff – comment #30:

        Hi, Scott, your comment about the verses of Be Not Afraid prompted me to dive into my archives (non-digital, alas :-)) and find the composer’s notes that were published for the song in the Earthen Vessels collection (which I think I purchased at the time that The Brady Bunch was still running in prime time on network television). To your point, it states,

        “We suggest a solo or small group for the verses, building up the background with a chorus through verses 2 and 3 … the main body of the verses should sung so as to approximate rhythmic speaking. The timing of the sixteenth notes need not be exactly as written.”

        I guess I’d also note that the song as published in the pew edition of Gather Comprehensive about 20 years ago doesn’t include any directions that the verses are for solo or small group; they’re notated as though everyone is supposed to sing them. And perhaps for good reason: by that time, I think that everyone *was* singing them, whether or not that was Bob Dufford’s original intent. Nevertheless, the note values, rests, etc. are identical from the earlier to the later edition. As with so much regarding liturgical music, it depends on the local music director: whether s/he is a stickler for the notes as written, how s/he arranges it for the local community, etc.

  13. Paul notes that some of Day’s original critiques were at least partly accurate. How regrettable it is that Day chose to advance them in such an acidic, scornful style. I don’t doubt that his prose approach pumped up book sales.

    1. @Jim Pauwels – comment #24:

      That’s it. Some people were vastly amused by the language he used, and indeed it could be very entertaining. Certain people lapped it up.

      But, as I have tried to indicate, the real problem was not so much the language of Day’s critiques, accurate though they may have been, but the fact that they implied, incorrectly, that this was all there was in the Church. It was happening everywhere. “All have gone astray, depraved, every one; there is no one who does any good; no, not even one.” (Ps 14:3)

      That was simply not true back then, and it’s even less true now. It’s the same problem as with other more recent books on liturgical music in North America which would have us believe that, if not singing chant and polyphony, every parish is doing nothing but guitar-accompanied contemporary music. That’s competely false. There is far more to life than just those few idioms.

      1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #28:

        Todd – right; I’d think that a book meant to help the church would be entitled, “How to help Catholics Sing” or something similar. But I guess it’s always easier to point out a problem than solve it.

    2. @Jim Pauwels – comment #24:
      My best guess is that he, a music professor, approached parish music directors with some suggestions and got variations on the classic parish liturgist’s blow-off: “That’s just your personal taste.” Plus the one I got once: “I am in charge so it will be done my way” (this to a suggestion for a different key for a song). After a while it’s hard not to be scornful.

  14. Also doesn’t acknowledge that few if any (cantors or otherwise) sing Be Not Afraid’s verses slavishly as scored. It kind of self-regularizes….

  15. I read Mr Day’s original book as preparation for his appearance at an NPM Convention to address (actually debate) his points with Elaine Rendler.

    I thought back then as I do now: Day has missed a major reason why Catholics don’t sing, whether they can or not: We are no longer a communal singing culture. As Rita Ferrone says in her introduction to the premiere issue of Yale ISM Review:

    “Churches are perhaps the last bastion of communal song in American life. Consider how other streams of shared song have dried up: Singing in the family circle is out of fashion. It’s no longer common for parents to sing lullabies to their children. The National Anthem is sung by soloists at ball games. Even the birthday song has been replaced, in restaurants, by recordings or ditties barked out by the wait staff — with no participation by the patrons expected or required. Is it any wonder that congregational singing in church requires more effort and commitment, if it is to endure?”

    Asked differently – when Church is the only place people are expected to sing out loud together, why are we surprised when they don’t? I’m thrilled that they do – those counter-cultural rebels!

    Music in today’s culture is also highly individualistic. Growing up, I had to listen to my Dad’s favorite music on the radio, so music was in that small sense communal. Now, I don’t have to listen to anyone else’s music; I can just slip my ear buds on. Online music services like Pandora pride themselves on being able to program music just perfect for my taste. Common music? It’s counter-cultural.

    And we’ve come to expect music as something others do for us. American Idol and The Voice and other competition shows are among the most highly viewed TV programs each week, doing their part to form us into a listening culture, engaging only our ears, not our voices.

    So let’s salute those who engage this counter-cultural challenge: those assemblies who will step out of their cultural comfort zones and sing!

  16. I had no idea the “Be not Afraid” is problematic for congregational singing.
    Luckily nobody has told our parish.

  17. I have been an amateur volunteer in the music ministry, since my college days, for most of the past thirty years. The bulk of those years has been spent in small town parishes– a half a dozen in all– where there has been a dearth of choral participants. (And just what exactly **is** a professional liturgical musician?) Only a couple of those parishes, in the marginally larger towns, have had a paid music director. But the casts they directed were composed typically of random, interested volunteers, with limited or no musical training, essentially plucked from the pews.

    In my current parish located in a small town in the Texas Panhandle, we’ve been lucky to have a couple of guitar “strummers” who could sing a little, or at least carry a tune. A decent keyboard player– land o’goshen– generally has been something of a luxury. And as you might guess, the capabilities of those volunteers vary widely. We select music appropriate for guitars and to the abilities of the players and the singers, with OCP’s “Today’s Liturgy” as our guide. And that’s about it– no Palestrina, no polyphony, no four-part harmony, no mighty pipes.

    But… those volunteers, as ragtag a bunch as they can be sometimes, give of their time to practice and to preparation for Mass almost every week.The quality of our product is uneven; so is the vocal participation from the pews. But we’re there and they’re there, and we all get to share the Bread of Life together. Is it really **that** much better in… um… how shall I say this… more “sophisticated” parishes?

    So, to Mr. Day and also to all you pros who visit this blog, I enjoy your esoteric discourses and debates on the liturgy and liturgical music. I have learned quite a bit. But there’s a whole other world out in the hinterlands, and for the most part, all we podunkers have are our “grassroots”, as it were. Sometimes when I read this blog, I chuckle out loud and try to imagine a situation in which I might be lucky enough to fret over the issues and concerns often expressed here.

  18. Unlike our forebears, we do seem to expect a very high degree of correlation between performance and notation. Maybe the less prescriptive approach of the past is better suited to the various levels of expertise to be found on the ground.
    And, of course, composers don’t always get it exactly right in the first place.

    1. @Alan Johnson – comment #38:

      As we approach the season of Christmas, it might be interesting to recall that John Wade’s original 1751 version of Adeste fideles appears to be notated in 3 time, rather than the 4 time we use today…..

  19. I have always been fascinated by the way accompanists and music directors argue so strenuously for singing all the verses of hymns and songs. Yes, I know the composer chose the words carefully to express the faith of the church. But I question the appropriateness of singing on for five minutes or more. The composer, the accompanist, the choir, and the music director may find this delightful but not many others. Verses can be selected to suit the liturgy of the day without supposing the docked verses will deprive everyone of something essential.

    1. @Jack Feehily – comment #45:
      There’s a real dilemma there. The solution to it is, as you say, to omit intelligently SELECTED verses, typically in the middle—and, as Fritz Bauerschmidt counsels, not on the fly. (The editors of the 1906 English Hymnal, which contains some very long hymns, put helpful asterisks in front of the verses that they considered most droppable.) The result should keep from trying the congregation’s patience but at the same time respect the sense of the hymn. I argue strenuously against simply lopping the ends off hymns, because it implies that the content of the verses doesn’t matter.

  20. As I recall, in Ordo Romanus Primus the introit psalm was sung until the Pope reached his throne, at which point he gave a signal to the choir and they stopped singing. So there certainly is precedent in the tradition for taking some sung texts (even the text of Sacred Scripture) as essentially “action-covering.” Also, in many cases what we think of as “all the verses” is simply all the verses that happen to be in our hymnal, and an investigation of the hymn’s history will show that, as it came from the pen of the composer, it actually had more verses, often far more than even the most scrupulous respecter of authorial intent would ever sing.

    That being said, like Todd I am generally in favor of singing all the verses of a hymn, since most really are not all that long, and some truncating–especially when done on the fly–can damage the integrity of the text.

    1. @Fritz Bauerschmidt – comment #47:
      For a psalm setting, I can see trimming as a possibility. But I would hold myself and others to a standard of knowledge about the psalm text and the freedom to apply it thoughtfully.

      If I were singing the Communion Proper for this weekend, for example, I would strive to complete all of the B section of Psalm 147. Or use something else. Or sing enough of Psalm 80 at the entrance to give a coherent presentation of the text.

  21. To return more closely to Paul Inwood’s post: Did Thomas Day, in his revised edition, say anything about the practice of docking hymns? That would be a suitable object for his ire.

  22. Vince DiPiazza : I have been an amateur volunteer in the music ministry, since my college days, for most of the past thirty years. The bulk of those years has been spent
    in small town parishes– a half a dozen in all– where there has been a dearth of choral participants. (And just what exactly **is** a professional liturgical musician?)

    Totally agree, and I thought that was one of the points of the book – that ‘professionals’ if they have the wrong ideas and motives, make things worse, and that a beautiful liturgy can be sung with simple music. I believe that he makes this point.

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