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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The soul is distracted from that which is sung by a chant that is employed for the purpose of giving pleasure. But if the singer chant for the sake of devotion, he pays more attention to what he says, both because he lingers more thereon, and because, as Augustine remarks (Confess. x, 33), “each affection of our spirit, according to its variety, has its own appropriate measure in the voice, and singing, by some hidden correspondence wherewith it is stirred.” The same applies to the hearers, for even if some of them understand not what is sung, yet they understand why it is sung, namely, for God's glory: and this is enough to arouse their devotion.
— St. Thomas Aquinas

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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.”