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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“I still haven’t made up my mind whether I shall publish it all. Some people are so humorless, so uncharitable, and so absurdly wrong-headed, that one would probably do far better to relax and enjoy life than worry oneself to death trying to instruct or entertain a public which will only despise one’s efforts, or at least feel no gratitude for them. Most readers know nothing about canon law. Many regard it with contempt and find everything heavy going that isn’t completely lowbrow. Some are so grimly serious that they disapprove of all humor. Others come to different conclusions every time they stand up or sit down. They seize upon your publications, as a wrestler seizes upon his opponent’s hair, and use them to drag you down, while they themselves remain quite invulnerable, because their barren pates are completely bald, so there’s nothing for you to get hold of.”
— St. Thomas More to Peter Gilles, 1516

Innocuous But Uninspired Music At Mass?
published 28 January 2015 by Jeff Ostrowski

407 NPM OMETIMES PEOPLE who think they’re brilliant try to “reinvent everything” but end up proving themselves foolish. Peter Wagner’s disciple, Joseph Gogniat, was an enemy of the singing at Solesmes and published an entire book opposing Mocquereau’s theories. He even convinced Cardinal Pacelli—who would be elected Pius XII a few months later—to endorse it. To replace the classical Solesmes method, however, he invented his own system of notation which, as you can see, was even more confusing!

One of the leading postconciliar composers was Carey Landry. When I worked in the Ordinary Form, my boss frequently forced me to play Landry’s songs at Mass (and some are well crafted). To this day, many of his compositions are sold by Oregon Catholic Press. Many faithful Catholics were horrified when they first heard this type of music 1 being sung at Mass:

      * *  Audio Excerpt • by Carey Landry (Oregon Catholic Press)

When I was little, I remember singing some of these same songs at Mass (although I refused to do the hand gestures), and OCP still sells several I recall.

OVER THE LAST TWO DECADES, faithful priests have eliminated much of what was done in the ’70s and ’80s, but many “contemporary” composers have produced new music that—while not offensive—strikes me as uninspired. In particular, I’ve noticed this with the billions of musical settings produced for MR3. Maybe a quick “live” recording from an actual Mass will illustrate what I’m getting at:

      * *  “Live” Recording At Mass • Innocuous But Uninspired Kyrie Eleison

In the years immediately following the Council, some insisted upon Mass Ordinaries in the vernacular no matter what they sounded like. (I hope to post some of these in the coming months.) One Gloria I saw printed on a 1960s Mass Card uses the tune from “Soul of my Savior” over and over, almost like a warped isorhythmic motet. People seemed determined to create something “new”—similar to Joseph Gogniat—but forgot that music has been developing for centuries. They should have immersed themselves in the masterpieces of the past as a prerequisite to composing music for God’s house.

Gregorian composers had an extremely sophisticated way of setting music. Our ears don’t easily tire of their compositions, though the melodies are often simple. Those unfamiliar with the Gregorian style often complain that notes are placed on the “wrong” syllables, but their arguments are invalid. The Gregorian composers knew very well what they were about:

405 Fourteenth Cent. hymnus

The Renaissance masters also took advantage of what had been learned about music through the ages. Their compositions do not obscure the text, but elevate it in a sophisticated manner, overlapping phrase after phrase. How different this is from the extremely predictable approach of so many of today’s composers, where each phrase is separated like a baby who’s learning “Goo goo gah gah.”

In essence, we’re on the right track, and progress is being made. Eventually (perhaps) we’ll reach the same level of musical sophistication Catholics had a millenium ago! It reminds me of a coffee mug I saw years ago. Showing a circular track, it said: “I’m so far behind, I think I’m ahead.”


1   This is often done in the name of “stylistic diversity of all the various contemporary cultures.”