OME OF YOU KNOW I’ve been quite ill for a number of months. I’m starting to feel better now, but sometimes the pain has been so intense that I’ve watched television to help distract my mind. One show I watched several times was Meet the Press, which I found to be utterly absurd. For one thing, they begin each program with ludicrously theatrical music, during which the host knits his eyebrows and attempts his most “serious” facial expression. Frequently, the “major issues” chosen are farcical. Even the show’s technicians are incompetent: e.g. the background music is often much too loud in relation to the speech. Worst of all is the utterly pretentious panel of “experts” who dress in their Sunday best and spew inane clichés. 1 Their brilliant solutions always seem to involve phrases like “more could be done in such-and-such an area” or “we must begin a conversation about such-and-such.” At the program’s conclusion, I feel dumber than when I started watching!
Believe it or not, the format of Meet the Press overlaps with Church music. Please let me explain.
THE MODERATORS ON SUCH PROGRAMS frequently ask the panelists absolutely idiotic questions. Even more disturbing is the serious—almost grave—manner in which such questions are asked. The guest is then faced with a dilemma. One possible response (the most honest, in fact) would be to say, “Yours is a brainless question, and I reject your bizarre premise.” However, this approach makes you look foolish, because you’re the one who chose to appear on this television show. (Moreover, you knew in advance the type of person who’d be asking you questions.)
I’ve often appeared on Catholic radio shows, and the questions are sometimes horrible. One radio host asked me: “Mr. Ostrowski, you’ve visited a number of parishes in your city. Please explain what’s wrong with these local music programs, analyzing their mistakes and bad choices.” Can you imagine? I think I sheepishly said something to the effect of, “It’s not really my place to do such a thing, and I prefer to focus on positive ways we can improve Church music.” But that was very difficult for me to say, because anyone reading through the lines understood that I was basically saying, “Boy, you don’t have a clue how to ask intelligent questions, do you?”
YEARS AGO, I ENJOYED “spontaneous” interviews, but my love for such things has diminished. Does this mean I’ve become less human? Or have I been influenced by today’s YOUTUBE CULTURE, wherein stupid comments are amplified horribly by being shown over and over on YouTube? On the other hand, I must admit technology can be very effective. For example, anyone asking “how bad the old ICEL translations really were” can be sent the following PDF, and the conversation ends immediately:
Speaking of spontaneous interviews, truly great pianists rarely gave them. When Rachmaninov was asked why he never gave interviews, he responded: “Because my parents told me never to lie; yet I cannot tell the truth.” Even when great pianists grant interviews, they never discuss “what they were going for” with a particular interpretation: such a thing would be unthinkable. Yet, I’ve seen hundreds of imprudent pianists (who will never be great pianists) engage in such discussions. Consider the following excerpt, which is so absurd it’s almost obscene: 2
S I MENTIONED BEFORE, I was suffering. In the first place, the recordings took place on the day after I had played a varied and difficult repertory a concerto by Tchaikovsky, Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit, another concerto, and a sonata by Beethoven. So there was an element of fatigue. Then, at the moment of the recording, there came a sudden flash, a sudden impression of all the experiences, all the interpretations of all of the pianists of the past who had ever played Bach, whoever had played him in an interesting and unusual way—Dinu Lipatti, the Romanian pianist who died; Glenn Gould, and all of the others. As I sat in the studio, I knew that before me was a task so enormous and so painful, yet a task I did not want to avoid. I wanted desperately to achieve it; I had it in my hands, but I needed to have it everywhere, in the air, in the atmosphere, in my whole being. It came very close to being a total religious feeling, even a painful feeling. I did eleven hours of recording a day because for every piece I wanted to have the highest electrical charge. I wanted to sustain the uppermost level that I could achieve; no dimmer switches. I wanted to get the most out of the experience, and for that I suffered physically, because just the playing is very, very hard.
This guy is describing his recording the Bach English Suites, which are without question utterly gorgeous and tremendous music. But the way he’s speaking about himself is laughable. I’ve heard his recording, and it’s fine … but nothing special. I imagine that if Josef Hofmann—who once played 255 different works (by memory, of course) in a series of twenty-one consecutive concerts—read a paragraph like this, he’d just shake his head at such gibberish.
Getting back to Meet the Press, the Catholic Church isn’t immune from inane and meaningless statements. The worst example I’ve seen involved a disgraced archbishop who was finally exposed, after committing a number of horrific acts spanning several decades. When his disturbing autobiography was published in 2009, his archdiocese released this statement:
“The book will undoubtedly spark a variety of emotions in Catholics throughout southeastern Wisconsin. Some people will be angry about the book, others will support it.”
It would be difficult to imagine a more bland, weak, meaningless statement than that one.
The inordinate amount of information (both good and bad) assaulting us these days is overwhelming and extremely scary. Carefully-produced artistic works for the liturgy are becoming quite rare. That’s one reason I believe the Jogues Illuminated Missal is so special and worthy of consideration. As a member of the editorial team, I can affirm that every single page required hours of careful work. Please consider purchasing them for your parish; it might help your parishioners raise their hearts and minds to God in spite of this crazy age we live in.
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 When they do invite a panelist who starts to make sense, the host usually interrupts him in a rude and condescending fashion.
2 This quote was taken from a spontaneous interview with a successful pianist (but not a great one). He reminds me of some people I met in college: the ones who never studied or worked hard. Yet, at the last minute, they’d stay awake all night working on something … then spend the rest of their life bragging about “how hard they exerted themselves” during their college years. Intelligent people realize that their results would have been much better if they’d applied themselves throughout the semester.