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 resides with his wife and children.
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“Since the English is not meant to be sung, but only to tell people who do not understand Latin what the text means, a simple paraphrase in prose is sufficient. The versions are not always very literal. Literal translations from Latin hymns would often look odd in English. I have tried to give in a readable, generally rhythmic form the real meaning of the text.”
— Fr. Adrian Fortescue (1913)

Entering The Danger Zone: Congregational Singing
published 10 June 2013 by Jeff Ostrowski

HOPE everyone will consider reading one of my recent blog entries, called What Is Currently Happening? — I feel it was one of my better articles, and it’s fairly succinct. During that blog post, I linked to an article called “Modernizing Sacred Music” which I wrote in 2007.

In the footnotes for “Modernizing Sacred Music,” you’ll notice I made a very dangerous statement. I called into question the notion that the “entire congregation” can sing anything.

Warning: Talking about this subject tends to enrage people!   It isn’t my intent to enrage anyone. At the same time, we ought to be able to conduct a conversation about this issue in a civilized way.

A FEW QUESTIONS: Are we being honest when we claim that the “entire congregation” can sing a hymn at Mass? What about tone-deaf people unable to sing in tune? Is it better to pretend such people don’t exist, in an effort to be “polite” to them? Why is it frowned upon to be honest? Shouldn’t we stop pretending everyone can sing in tune since this notion is demonstrably false? Several people whom I love dearly cannot sing in tune. Does admitting this fact make me a bad person?

I had to search pretty hard, but finally found someone willing to admit the truth. Here’s what Msgr. Francis P. Schmitt wrote in a 1961 article:

Before venturing a solution to the problem, it should be remarked that the new rash of so-called “people’s masses”, most of them maudlin, is no answer at all. [Ready? Here it comes.] For they too can serve but a select group of people (likely less than 50%) who can carry a given tune in a given key.

And here’s what I wrote in my 2007 article (mentioned earlier):

These same composers continue to propagate the lie that the only acceptable post-Vatican II pieces are those that can be sung “by the entire congregation.” This notion, however, is madness, because “the entire congregation” cannot sing anything. There are some people who simply cannot sing, and nothing can change this. To speak of the “entire congregation” singing is like speaking of the “entire congregation” becoming pregnant. I fear that when most people use this phrase, they envision a type of congregational participation akin to chants that happen in football stadiums. True: everyone present participates in those chants. But this is the “lowest common denominator” of music, not the Church’s heritage of sacred music. Nor is it “true art” as Pius X said sacred music should be. Alas, how often is the church musician, having composed a Responsorial Psalm refrain which cannot be instantly learned by every member of the congregation, admonished by his priest not to write music “that is so difficult for the people.”

In case you don’t know what I meant by “football chants,” I remember one that went: “We will, we will rock you.”