OT LONG AGO, I published an article called When Others Say You’re “Dumb.” I mentioned how (as children) we couldn’t abide being called stupid by one of our siblings. However, as Will Rogers pointed out: all human beings are stupid about most things. An honest person will acknowledge this. I do admit that certain people seem “good at everything”—but those are frequently the very people who, in spite of all their intelligence, lack wisdom. I’m happy to confess my ignorance about many things. On the other hand, there’s something nobody should want to be called: viz. a fake musician. In previous articles, I’ve condemned people who attend concerts and then “read the review in the newspaper the following morning to find out whether they enjoyed the concert.” I believe music ought to be a source of delight and joy. All of us probably know people who attend the opera—not because they crave the music but because they like to dress up in fancy clothes, feel important, and look down on others. I have tried to make the case that we should be honest about the music we love. When I declare, for example, that I would happily give my life for Bach’s C#-Minor Fugue (Well-Tempered Clavier, Bk I, no. 4), I’m barely exaggerating. As far as I’m concerned, those who pretend to like music they actually hate cause great harm.
Be Patient! • Even though I’m a baritone, I recently created rehearsal videos for this magnificent Kevin Allen piece (from his collection for Soprano-Alto-Bass). Please be patient! In a moment, I’ll explain why I’m sharing this video with you:
Jeff Close To Death? • If I died tomorrow, I wouldn’t expect many to remember me. But among those who did, I hope they’d say: “Jeff’s mission in life was to help Catholics attain a genuine love for music.” A few years ago, my wife attended an Extraordinary Form wedding that lasted close to three hours. It dragged on endlessly because the musicians—including a Baroque orchestra—were not Catholic. Instead, they were professional musicians paid a lot of money to provide the music. My wife has an excellent ear, and I greatly value her musical opinion. She said to me: “Jeff, it was like a nightmare that simply would not stop!” In my articles, I have suggested that church music should never be like that. In §23 of Inter Pastoralis Officii (22 November 1903), my confirmation saint, Pope Pius X, wrote: “In general it must be considered a very grave abuse when the liturgy in ecclesiastical functions is made to appear secondary to and in a manner at the service of the music, for the music is merely a part of the liturgy and its humble handmaid.” In another recent article of mine (Does Singing for Mass Fulfill One’s Obligation to Attend Mass?) I defended certain selections in the Brébeuf Catholic Hymnal which are “tuneful” or “catchy” or “pleasant”—in other words, a source of delight. Melodies at Mass should not give one a headache. They should not annoy the congregation so much they say inwardly: “Oh, make it stop!” Rather, I put forward a ‘live’ recording made the previous Sunday by our parish’s volunteer choir. I suggested these holy melodies and texts should become “part of our life.” Indeed, they should even spring to our mind throughout the week!
Responding to Rules:
NLY A FOOLISH TEACHER would begin by explaining exceptions. Nor is the beginning an appropriate time for “nuance.” One must first be taught concrete rules—and be drilled on them repeatedly. Men, in particular, respond well to concrete rules. For instance, a certain religious order demanded strict obedience. When the bell rang (signaling the time for prayer and examination of conscience) all the seminarians would immediately drop their pencils, even if they were in the middle of writing a sentence! Such rules are especially good for men—although I suppose they work for women, too.
Musical Rules • As a student, one learns certain rules about music. For instance, on the piano one is taught the “commitment rule” about fugue subjects. The rule basically says that however you phrase the fugue subject the first time must be adhered to every time it comes back. A good example of this is Bach’s C-Minor Fugue from the WELL-TEMPERED CLAVIER (Bk I, No. 2). One must decide how one wishes to “phrase” the subject (and never doubt that there are a billion possibilities, all of them valid). But—according to the “commitment rule”— thenceforward it must be played the same way each time.
Musical Maturity • Those are excellent rules for children, but eventually one reaches musical maturity. One discovers the most important thing is the power of the music: the power of the musical statement. After decades have passed, one realizes music is not about being “correct” (i.e. following rules from one’s teacher). As I already said (above), one shouldn’t have to wait for the newspaper review the next morning to find out if one enjoyed the concert! One should never say inwardly: “I hate how this sounds, but it’s being played correctly—so I must pretend I enjoy it.”
Glenn Gould • GLENN GOULD (d. 1982) was unquestionably the foremost interpreter of Johann Sebastian Bach on the piano. What Gould did with the GOLDBERG VARIATIONS (especially in the 1959 ‘live’ recording from Salzburg), the ART OF THE FUGUE, the FRENCH SUITES, and so many others has never been surpassed. Below are three examples showing Gould violating the “commitment rule”—and doing so in an unbelievably flagrant manner:
Harold Bauer • Harold Bauer, a famous pianist, had the following to say: “I was turning the pages for Paderewski during a rehearsal of a Brahms trio that he was to play with his friends Górski and Salmon. A discussion arose regarding a diminuendo that Paderewski wished to replace with a crescendo. ‘Cela ne va pas,’ objected the cellist, supported immediately by Górski. ‘Brahms has distinctly written diminuendo here for all three parts.’ I can still hear Paderewski’s impatient reply: ‘Il ne s’agit pas de ce qui est écrit. Il s’agit de l’effet musical.’ (The point is not what is written, but what the musical effect should be.) I remember thinking at that time that it was quite proper for a genius such as he was to take liberties which must be denied to the ordinary man. Later on I came to realize that the ordinary man who fails to realize what lies in the music beyond the printed indication is just…an ordinary man.”
Conclusion • My colleague, CORRINNE MAY, told me I need to do a better job concluding my articles—and she was correct. Therefore, let me attempt to summarize the main points I tried to make during today’s article:
(1) Music at Mass should not be a burden to listen to. Rather, it should be a delight.
(2) There’s nothing wrong with a tuneful (“catchy”) piece, whether that be Mozart’s Ave Verum, the BRETON hymn I spoke about, or Kevin Allen’s stunningly gorgeous Memento Verbi, which I attempted to record for you (above), even singing the Soprano parts!
(3) Musical rules we learned as children—although essential for the student—are not “ends” in and of themselves. Mature musicians who study for decades come to realize that the musical message, the power of the music, is ultimately what rules the day. Glenn Gould’s flagrant violation of the “commitment rule” illustrates that vividly.
Addendum • If you want to hear a brief excerpt from last Thursday, showing our choir learning Kevin Allen’s Memento Verbi, click here.