About this blogger:
Richard J. Clark has served since 1989 as Music Director and Organist at Saint Cecilia Church in Boston, Massachusetts. He is also Chapel Organist (Saint Mary’s Chapel) at Boston College. For the Archdiocese of Boston, he directed the Office of Divine Worship Saint Cecilia Schola. His compositions have been performed on four continents.
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A lot of the favoured new settings are musically illiterate, almost is if they were written by semi-trained teenagers, getting to grips with musical rudiments. The style is stodgy and sentimental, tonally and rhythmically stilted, melodically inane and adored by Catholic clergy “of a certain age.” Some Catholic dioceses run courses for wannabe composers to perpetuate this style. It is a scandal. People with hardly any training and experience of even the basic building blocks of music have been convinced that there is a place for their puerile stumblings and fumblings in the modern Catholic Church because real musicians are elitist and off-putting.
— James MacMillan (20 November 2013)

Those Pesky Letters of Complaint
published 8 July 2016 by Richard J. Clark

E ALL GET them. Every single one of us. No one is immune. Really.

We might receive ten notes of praise for every one letter of complaint, but the latter is what we obsess about. We brood. It’s human nature, and perhaps even vanity to do so.

For the most part, it is best to never get too low from complaints, not even too high from praise. Neither may be fully representative of the general likes or dislikes of a congregation. But that’s not what matters. Here’s what does:

1 • Spiritually • Is the music at the service of worship?
2 • Pragmatically • What is the opinion of the pastor, finance council, choir, most parishioners, etc.?

NE MAY TAKE COMFORT in the following: no matter who you are, or what the reputation of your music program is, you will be criticized, most likely with some regularity. As surely as the sun rises in the East and sets in the West, someone will be unhappy. Your name may be James Levine and you will be the target of vehement anger. Displeasure does not discriminate.

Here’s the good news: someone’s unhappiness is rarely, if ever, a reflection on you or your hard work. Nor is the personal pleasure of the faithful your responsibility within the liturgy. (To try is impossible and foolishness.)

But neither does an individual’s displeasure render them a bad or unwise person. They might be right. They may raise a fair point or two.

SUGGEST THE FOLLOWING: Separate the criticism from the way it was delivered. If the communication was charitable, there may be an opening for dialogue and both can learn from the encounter. This is a wonderful development that may broaden one’s personal connection to a member of the congregation. It may be an opportunity for catechesis.

If it was not delivered in a charitable fashion, do not respond in any way except kindly. After that, separate the criticism from how it was delivered and evaluate it. Can I learn something from it—even if delivered in a hurtful fashion? Sometimes the answer is yes—even if only in part. Make one’s own decision considering the betterment of your service to God and the faithful. Furthermore, it may even be wise to keep an open channel with the pastor about the criticism and your response. Responding kindly to uncharitable criticism reveals character and professionalism.

Openness to criticism takes an act of humility. Such openness is not a display of weakness. Self-evaluation and self-correction require great strength.

ACRED MUSIC IS AT THE SERVICE of worship, and not a slave to individual preferences including our own.

Instead, our responsibility is clearly outlined by the Second Vatican Council: the purpose of sacred music is to glorify God and sanctify the faithful. (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, §112) In short, we are responsible for helping others pray the words of the Mass.

Do this and we will find ultimate happiness and freedom with God.

Soli Deo Gloria