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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“In all this mediaeval religious poetry there is much that we could not use now. Many of the hymns are quite bad, many are frigid compositions containing futile tricks, puns, misinterpreted quotations of Scripture, and twisted concepts, whose only point is their twist. But there is an amazing amount of beautiful poetry that we could still use. If we are to have vernacular hymns at all, why do we not have translations of the old ones?”
— Fr. Adrian Fortescue (d. 1923)

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"Look Beyond The Bread You Eat" (Part 2)
published 18 November 2013 by Jeff Ostrowski

IFE AS A PARENT is a constant struggle. The children have endless energy … and you have none. It’s hard to find even a few minutes which can be spent peacefully listening to music. However, a few days ago I listened to part of a Mass by Cristóbal de Morales (sung by Chanticleer). It was so incredibly beautiful. More on this below.

I mentioned in Part 1 that certain things seem obvious to me, yet others have a totally different view. Let me give just one more example:

Years ago, upon being criticized for a lack of variety of Communion selections, I admitted to my priest-employer that I was struggling to find decent Communion hymns. His response was, “Well, obviously you don’t have a clue. Come over here, and in five seconds I can do a better job than you could dream of doing.” His rude manner of speaking did not bother me, because he spoke to everybody that same way. For the record, I ended up quitting a few months later, because this same priest began to weep — literally sob! — when I refused to allow a local jazz combo to play for the Holy Saturday Vigil.

Anyhow, this priest looked through our OCP hymn book, searching for what he called “reverent, orthodox hymns.” He searched and searched. Finally, he pointed to a song called, “Look beyond the bread you eat.” I was flabbergasted. It dawned on me that nothing I’d been saying to him had made the slightest impact. All these months, I had literally been wasting my breath. It was a revelation. Sometimes people are on a completely different wavelength.

Getting back to the Morales I mentioned earlier, his settings of the Mass — Credo, Sanctus, etc. — were so gorgeous … but why? I believe one reason was to transport us to a different world.

Have you ever wondered what it must have been like when the galaxy was created? Were you present when God created the birds? Were you there when grass and oceans were being created? What was it like to see whales and deer and rainbows and clouds come into existence? I don’t know … I wasn’t there. But this Morales music is transcendent, and (in my view) opens the mind to contemplate life in a different way. All of a sudden, humans (upon hearing such music) are invited to contemplate things Divine, whereas too many of us tend to waste our time and thoughts. Morales pulls us out of “reality” into a higher reality. How remarkable that someone back then could write such sophisticated and beautiful music, when modern culture insists that people today are so much smarter than former ages, and we no longer require “myths” like the God of the Bible. By the way, which of us routinely contemplates death? Modern culture wants us to think about anything BUT death. To make a long short, how different is the liturgical music of Morales from a song like Look Beyond The Bread You Eat !!

I DON’T WANT TO SHOCK anybody, but the Catholic Church has millions and millions of dollars. (This is still true, although it’s hard to believe when we hear about horrible scandals, like Roger Cardinal Mahoney paying close to a billion dollars from church funds because he covered up sexual abuse of minors.) So, why is our Catholic liturgical music so terrible in 99% of parishes? I’m starting to think it has to do with what I said earlier: we’re talking past one another. We’re not on the same page.

Therefore, I’ve decided to work on a set of “proposals” for Church musicians. These are basic, fundamental facts that both Pastor and Musician must understand. I’ve wanted to do this for years. I hope you’ll give your input, as time goes on, and we can together formulate a clear, guaranteed “formula for success.”

This article is part of a series:

Part 1   •   Part 2