HEN I WAS A YOUNG BOY, my father took me into the country to hunt doves. I aimed my shotgun at what I thought was a dove, but—having shot it out of the sky—I discovered it was a beautiful meadowlark. When I picked it up, it was still alive, so I called out: “Dad, dad—the bird is still alive.” My father ran over and immediately twisted off its head, to my great horror. 1 All the way home, I quietly sobbed for this meadowlark—and for several days afterward.
Now that I’m in my 30s, I doubt that decapitating a meadowlark would cause me to sob for days. 2 But my question to you is: “Does that make it any less real?”
Consider the realm of music. Do you remember the first time you heard a piece you really loved? I certainly remember how moved I was when I first heard Victoria’s O Magnum Mysterium. I remember, too, how excited I was to discover the counterpoint in a 2-Part Invention by Bach. I remember how moved I was when I first heard Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli. Indeed, I could probably list more than 300 works—including a whole lot of Bach and Chopin—that gave me hours of delight. This concept will be familiar to you!
Sometimes, if you perform a piece of music hundreds of times—or hear it too much—it can “lose its luster.” It will not move you in the same way. Do we remember that people in the pews often lack our musical background? Do we fully understand that these are not people who have spent hours practicing a 3-Part Sinfonia by Bach? Do we recall that many Catholics have never sung “Row Row Row Your Boat” as a round, much less studied the Goldberg Variations of Bach?
Getting sick of music is nothing to be ashamed of. If you doubt this, read about Ferruccio Busoni’s final years, or learn what famous pianists said about judging competitions where the same piece of music is played 40-50 times by the various competitors.
MAKE SURE TO CONSTANTLY EXPAND your horizons as a music director, and don’t sing the same pieces over and over. If music becomes “stale” to you, your singers will be able to sense that! On the other hand, let’s remember never to dismiss the feelings of someone who has just experienced a famous piece of music—even if you’ve heard it so many times you want to scream. One solution that seems to work is to keep some repertoire the same year after year. For example, we always sing Credo IV at FSSP.la.
I call this issue—which I have pondered for many years—the “Meadowlark Phenomenon.” How do you solve it? Please leave your comments on the CCW Facebook.
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 It’s standard practice for hunters to end the suffering of a wounded animal.
2 And I have no intention to find out.