IKE ANYTHING ELSE in this world, a Review is something that can be abused. What do I mean? Well, unfortunately, many people have gotten into the habit of simply reading the Review and skipping the actual thing itself! Perhaps this phenomenon is most apparent when it comes to college professors. I know several professors who will read the Review of an article and end up believing they have “got the gist” of it, so they never bother to actually read the article! I know people who have submitted Doctoral dissertations referencing articles and books they have never read. Sure they cite the actual book, but all they actually read was a Review of that book.
I will talk more about this in “Section 2.” For those who scroll down to read my thoughts (most won’t take the time to do this) I hope you find them of interest.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: talking about hymns to Catholic musicians tends to cause passionate fighting! People take this stuff really seriously. Here’s a case in point: The other day, I posted a blog about hymns which included a quote from a member of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer. It was posted on the Musica Sacra Forum and as of right now has 87 comments. Also, twenty (20) comments were deleted by the moderator, because uncharitable comments are not allowed on that forum. I have a PDF print of the deleted comments, and I showed them to my friend, who responded, “Wow, you must be really angry about those comments!” My response seemed to surprise him: “No, I am glad to see such passion about a subject because it means they really care about the Liturgy!”
Here is a 1956 Review of the People’s Hymnal by Fr. Francis Guentner:
I could not agree more with the part where Father Guentner says: “in many instances one feels that the rhyme has shaped the thought rather than the other way around.” I have been looking for many years to find somebody who shares my opinion about this terrible practice! I also think he makes a good point about the notion that we cannot sing “our hearts are burning” unless they are literally on fire.
And here is a very interesting article by Msgr. Francis P. Schmitt about hymns:
Here’s an excerpt, which further develops the idea by Fr. Guentner:
I hope all the readers respond to his question: “The CCW hymnals are what we use!” [ insert smiley face! ]
At the beginning, I mentioned people who skip the book because they read a Review. So, why is this a problem? Basically, it’s a problem because some reviews are not accurate. Especially in today’s day and age, there is an “art” to reviewing books. A reviewer will spend months composing a Review, and uses the opportunity to put forth some great “theory” of his own. I am not going to deny that these types of reviews can be a lot of fun to read. However, sometimes the reviews completely misrepresent the author’s argument.
In today’s day and age, we pride ourselves on being “objective.” We have a supercilious attitude that makes us believe we and only we are the age that understands what it means to be truly objective. “After all,” we exclaim, “has this article not been peer reviewed?” And we pride ourselves on “giving both sides of every argument.” We forget that this is not really the case. After all, every time somebody writes in an encyclopedia that “the earth is round” are we obliged (in fairness!) to give arguments from people who think the earth is flat? “No,” says Modern Man, “because that opinion is not held by very many people.” But, wait! Just because an opinion is held by a small number of people, does that automatically make it false? “Well,” says Modern Man, “everybody important knows the earth is round.” However, we can ask them their own question: “Who gets to decide who is important?” And on and on. [I don’t want to make this blog too long, so I must refrain from relating a hilarious story about how some college professors act during the Q&A session after a paper is presented. I hope I can remember to tell this story at some point, because it is quite a hoot!]
In any event, dear reader, you must understand fully that the author is AT THE MERCY of the reviewer. How tragic it is to receive a Review that is not fair: it can be the death of your book. Most people will not read the book itself. Most people trust the reviewer, and remember: the author has absolutely no control over the reviewer.
Some might say, “But the author can always write in to the magazine or website and correct the record! This way he can set the record straight!” Sadly, that’s not how it works. That’s not how the game is played. Authors are not allowed to “chase around” reviewers, making sure everything they say is “approved.” Also, they look petty doing this. Let me share an example: some time ago, a book I published received a Review. The reviewer made the claim that I was an “unjust person” because I failed to list the copyright permissions for the Psalm refrains. Sounds pretty awful, no? Well, no worries. It only sounds awful until one realizes that I, myself, composed all those Psalm refrains! And everybody who is familiar with the book (except the reviewer, who did not take the time to follow the web link) knows I wrote those scores. Can you imagine how obnoxious it would have been to put “Jeff Ostrowski” after every single refrain? Actually, most authors don’t do this (because it is so very obnoxious). Most authors will simply put their initials or (more often than not) nothing at all. Ted Marier’s hymnal is a perfect example. Nicholas Montani’s is another example. Sure, they give their names here and there, but (believe me!) there is a lot of things they don’t take credit for, because it would be obnoxious to do so. Bottom line, how does it make me an “unjust person” to use my own compositions as I like? Somebody said, “Well, why didn’t you write him and let him know?” Again, that’s not how the game is played. Authors are not to keep chasing around everybody who reviews their books and “correcting” this and “correcting” that. That’s not how the game is played and it would make them look petty.
I feel that a good review should be impartial and (basically) tell what’s inside the book. Generally speaking, a Review of a hymnal could be outdone by simply printing the indices and a few sample pages. Anything more than this ought to come under the title of: “And here are some personal impressions by the reviewer.” Or perhaps they should be titled: “And here are the reviewer’s personal opinions about hymns and the Catholic Liturgy.” You get the idea. But, of course, this is not how reviews are done these days.