About this blogger:
A theorist, organist, and conductor, Jeff Ostrowski holds his B.M. in Music Theory from the University of Kansas (2004), and did graduate work in Musicology. He serves as choirmaster for the new FSSP parish in Los Angeles, where he lives with his wife and two children.
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"The local church should be conscious that church worship is not really the same as what we sing in a bar, or what we sing in a convention for youth."
— Francis Cardinal Arinze (2005)

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What Exactly Is "Uninspired" Church Music?
published 10 December 2013 by Jeff Ostrowski

HILE STUDYING Musicology in graduate school, I was occasionally asked to give presentations on Gregorian chant at local universities. During one talk, a student raised his hand and said, “This is the third time you’ve used the word 'uninspired.’ What precisely do you mean?” I confess that his question rather stumped me.

Since that time, I’ve often tried to come up with a good definition for uninspired. Regarding music, perhaps a good definition would be, “When the text and words don’t match.”

THE VIDEO IN THE UPPER RIGHT CORNER has an “ObamaCare” song that recently won first prize in a government-sponsored contest. Most people would hear it and say, “She’s got a bad voice.” However, I disagree. I think she’s a good singer, but her song is uninspired. It also has some technical flaws … e.g. “oblivious” doesn’t rhyme with “serious.” The entire thing (subject, melody, feel, gestures) doesn’t match. It’s an uninspired song.

People sometimes believe “uninspired” means “simple,” but that’s wrong. Melodies can be very simple, but still inspired. Recently, a colleague whom I respect sent me a video called Psallite Sapienter. It certainly does contain simple music … but (in my humble opinion) it’s completely without inspiration:

      * *  Psallite Church Music • “Once this music gets under your skin, there’s no turning back!”

Can you hear how predictable the melodies and rhymes are? I love simple music … but I hate predictable music. Furthermore, such music will quickly begin to grate, and great music should never grate. So, perhaps another definition of uninspired might be, “Music that sounds like it took about five seconds to compose.”

Speaking of uninspired, have you heard what they’re doing to Christmas carols these days? Click on the little “play” button underneath the album cover to hear what I mean:

      * *  What Child Is This? • Cody Carnes & Dianne Michelle

I’m certainly not opposed to inspired and tasteful new versions of great tunes, but what those people did (in the above link) is an abomination. I believe that sacred words demand a certain level of respect, and the way those people are singing sounds affected and erotic. Sorry.

AT THIS POINT, you’re probably saying, “Jeff, instead of being so negative, why don’t you provide us with an inspired setting?” I suppose I owe the reader that, but it’s not easy for me. You see, after a year or so, I always begin to hate my compositions … However, I suppose the Chabanel Psalm from yesterday’s Mass could be considered “not uninspired,” and here’s how it sounds:


Notice I hesitate to call my setting “inspired.” Calling one’s own composition “inspired” sounds so arrogant!