I stumbled across this example of understanding enhanced by subtitles which got me wondering about how much people understand of what we sing without screens to show them the words. At my regular parish Mass we don’t have screens and rely on people to pick up hymnbooks and turn to the right page, which doesn’t always happen.
Also this example shows how much our experience of music depends on what we already know. This could be used as an argument to stick to obvious, flat music and lyrics, but we have dozens of Catholic educational institutions across the city. We have so much infrastructure dedicated to education, surely we can manage to raise Catholics with that modicum of liturgical literacy to appreciate Catholic music.
You don’t need to be conversant in Latin to get something out of chant and polyphony in Latin. A little familiarity with some hymns and psalms in Latin goes a long way to understanding what the choir is singing.
Here is a study showing visual cues were more important than sound in determining the winners of a music competition. From what I can read in the supplementary material the competition was a more classical sort, so shouldn’t be relying on glitz and glamour for points. Watching the performers was a major part of the experience.
Many people judge Gregorian chant to be “boring” but how many people have heard it sung with love and care and skill? I think this may be part of why even an inexperienced choir singing beautiful music live can be an awesome, uplifting experience, which is sadly lost when you try to record them.
And if watching people sing enhances the experience, how much more when we join in the singing?
And how much is lost when we substitute a CD instead.