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The Forth in Praise Organists' Blog

The personal views of a Catholic parish organist

January 12, 2012

Rumours, rumours everywhere

evelyn @ 2:48 pm

As one whose liturgical life revolves around the organ, I never thought I would find myself firing up on behalf of guitars, but there’s a first time for everything. It’s really a matter of principle, the same principle that sent me rushing to the defence of the MacMillan Mass in 2010.

The principle is this: people differ greatly in the type of music which appeals to them, and if the purpose of music is to enhance the liturgy and be spiritually uplifting, then varying tastes have to be taken into account. Forth in Praise’s remit from the Liturgy Commission, which is to give practical advice and help to parishes regarding the music they (the parishes) have chosen, echoes this principle. Obviously, you can’t please all of the people all of the time, but on the whole, parishes tend to settle on styles of music to which their congregations are responsive.

What has brought all this on has been a remark by a guitar-playing acquaintance that there is a ‘feeling’ that with the advent of the new liturgy, the Church is now seeing guitars as somehow vulgar and to be forbidden, or at least discouraged.

Now I’ll bet that this is the old rumour factory at it again. There has been no official pronouncement on guitars, so far as I know. The rumour must have arisen from the current exhortations to silence, dignity and reverence in church. Guitars became popular following Vatican II, along with a lot of informal behaviour like chattering in church. The informal behaviour is now being discouraged, and possibly guitars are being seen as part of it, which of course they aren’t. No doubt some church guitarists overdid the Elvis stuff, but you can’t blame the instrument.

The guitar, in one form or another, has a history going back to pre-Christian times. It is a serious musical instrument. As it can play more than one note at a time, it is able to provide a harmonic basis for singing, and is thus useful in the absence of an organ. Unlike the organ, the guitar can’t prolong its chords. It has to repeat them rhythmically, and is therefore happiest with metrical music. Writing for the guitar has become more difficult with the new Mass text, but it isn’t impossible. So provided that guitarists are suitably reverent, why shouldn’t they continue their work in the parishes which appreciate them?

This reminds me very much of the anti-choir and anti-organ rumours that affected so many parishes in the immediate aftermath of Vatican II. In church after church, choirs were disbanded and organists discouraged, because of the rumour that the people, and only the people, must be involved in liturgical music, all other singers and instrumentalists being superfluous or at least dumbed down to providing minimal support. The guitar, however, was different. With Vatican II now permitting ‘indigenous’ instruments, it was seen as an instrument of the people, and encouraged. But if one studies the Vatican II documents, one finds that choirs and organs were never banned. In fact, quite nice things were said about them. All the rest was just rumour.

And now it all appears to be happening again, but this time in reverse.

Rumours of this kind can be damaging and discouraging. My guitarist friend was quite depressed. I remember my own disillusionment as a post-Vatican II organist. So this year I thought I might have a look at some of these rumours as they arise. For example, there’s one going about just now about a list of hymns (note: hymns, not Mass settings) which are banned in the new liturgy.

Or so they say.

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