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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We sternly urge adherence to the established norms by those who raise an uproar or a challenge in the name of a misunderstood creative freedom, and thus inflict so much harm on the Church with their rash innovations, so vulgar, so frivolous—and sometimes even lamentably profane. Otherwise the essence of dogma and obviously of ecclesiastical discipline will be weakened, in line with the famous axiom: "lex orandi, lex credendi." We therefore call for absolute loyalty so that the rule of faith may remain safe.
— Pope Paul VI (27 June 1977)

Reflections On Playing The Piano At Church
published 14 January 2013 by Jeff Ostrowski

In my experiences as a Catholic Church musician, the following conversation has often occurred:

    “Jeff, why don’t you ever play the piano at Mass? Why do you play only the pipe organ?”
    “Because the piano is too much of an emotional, sentimental instrument.”
    “But the piano can be very beautiful.”
    “I agree that the piano can be very beautiful, but the correct musical instruments ought to be used in the correct
    places at the correct times.”

    “OK, Jeff, you agree the piano is beautiful. Well, God is beautiful. Why not play piano at Mass? It moves me.”
    “When it comes to the Church’s public worship of Almighty God and the reënactment of the sacrifice of
    Calvary, we have to make sure that the music is of a certain seriousness, loftiness, and dignity.”

    You probably just don’t like the piano, Jeff.

In conversations like these, I’ve never had any success convincing people that I love the piano. I keep saying, “I love the piano, but it is not a sacred instrument.” And the other person keeps saying, “You probably don’t like the piano. That’s why you don’t think it belongs in Church.” To “prove” I love the piano, I would like to share with you two recordings I made while still a sophomore in high school (1998). You can tell these are “live” recordings (no editing) because towards the end of the MacDowell, you can hear members of my family talking and then slamming the door.

                    Edward MacDowell Etude de Concert    •        Nikolai Medtner Fairy Tale

Pope St. Pius X wrote in an official Church document (1903): “The employment of the piano is forbidden in church, as is also that of noisy or frivolous instruments such as drums, cymbals, bells and the like.” Although the piano is one of the most beautiful instruments, I do agree with Pope Pius X. It is a highly emotional percussive instrument not suited for the public worship of Almighty God. I love the piano, but not in Church.

“Music is to be heard, not seen”

EOPLE who didn’t like children very much used to say, “Children are to be seen not heard.” In other words, children were to keep their mouths shut. In my mind, however, music is to heard not seen. I think watching people make music distracts from the pure joy that comes from listening. I’m sure others will disagree strongly with this opinion of mine. Below are video versions the same two recordings (from above). I simply cannot focus on the music as well when my eyes are “watching” something: do you agree?


Incidentally, I also think there are many reasons why the choir or cantor at Mass should not become a “center of attention.” Pius X seems to agree, when he said: “It will also be fitting that singers while singing in church wear the ecclesiastical habit and surplice, and that they be hidden behind gratings when the choir is excessively open to the public gaze.”

Piano Culture

Not only was the piano a huge part of my life for many years, but the whole culture of the “golden age pianists” played a huge role in my life. I drew many sketches of the great pianists, and here are some examples:

When all was said and done, I think I must have drawn about forty (40) great pianists total: Ignaz Friedman, Josef Lhevinne, Leopold Godowski, Wiktor Labunski, and many others. However, my sketches were nothing compared to those of my mother, who has a natural talent for art:

My mother drew that picture of the great Anton Rubinstein in about twenty minutes — what amazing talent!