December 24, 2006

Here we go again...

I really don't know why I let myself keep going to St Thomas. Well, no, I do: it's right across the street from my parents' house, and therefore convenient. But every Mass I attend there ends up being offered up as a penance, for something, because they typically range from the comical to the downright painful.

It's not even that they are liturgically abusive. There are some spots, sure, but they do better than a lot of the places I've been while travelling. It's just that the music is so awful.

Not that it has to be. The music director, Marcy Weckler Barr, is a talented musician, playing, singing, and even composing---her stuff is just the sort of thing you'd like, if you like that sort of thing. Today's responsorial (from Ps 80) had a Jewish-inspired tune that was actually pretty good. It's just that for every song she's up there playing her synthesiser with the breathy, new-age-y instruments that sound incredibly out of place in any liturgical setting. (As does the drumset....)

And the musical choices! I can forgive putting "O come, O come Emmanuel" as the processional, because although I'm not fond of the piece, it is traditional and eminently appropriate this time of year. But she managed to find a simply awful Mass parts setting to the tune of "O come, O come Emmanuel". The words didn't fit very well, and nobody knew what they were supposed to be singing, and based on what was written in the "worship pamphlet" they didn't want the congregation singing anything but the refrain anyway (didn't know there was a refrain in the Sanctus, did you?). The congregation never sings at St Thomas, though, probably because they get new stuff thrown at them every week and most of it is pretty crappy anyway.

The offertory song was an exception, in that it was actually pretty good, but not an exception in that it was performed for the congregation (we had words, but no music). It's called "The visit", by Miriam Therese Winter, and it's about the visit of Martha to Mary. As long as you get rid of the last verse (which appears to call Christ a burden (!)), it's a great and appropriate song.

Less so the Communion song: Hail Mary, Gentle Woman. I did like that they were actually playing a song I knew and liked, but a Marian song for Communion? Fr Bill would be having fits.

And then there was the closing: "Soon and very soon". I feel a little guilty picking on this one, because it's actually appropriate and all, but just two weeks ago I went to Mass at an African-American parish in NOLA, which also sang this as recessional, and I just laughed out loud at how incredibly white this choir sounded. Totally unfair, I know.

Had that been the only thing, it would've just put a smile on my face. But it was the cap to a Mass that mostly came off as comical and ridiculous. I wonder if their Masses in Polish are better?

"Uh-oh, Ryan. You're starting to base your religious beliefs on an experiential relationship with God. It's all downhill from here, y'know." --Jonathan Prykop

Posted by blahedo at 11:16am on 24 Dec 2006
Dear Blahedo person

I read your blog about the tortures suffered by you going to Mass on December 17 at St. Thomas. Since I am the person you named, let me just say a couple of things. I am glad you have been helping rebuild in N.O., that shows you have a life besides being a liturgical critic. I take total umbrage at you saying that people don't sing at St. Thomas, because they do. If you don't like a Sanctus which has a "refrain", know that it is a proper concept within the confines of liturgical practice (see Glastonbury Acclamations by Christopher Walker, and others which are call and response style).

Saying that I was up there at my synthesizer (digital keyboard) for every song is pretty stupid, where would you expect me to be as the choir director? Roaming the aisles? You try being music director in a full-time position sometime. College doesn't count, you have plenty of human power to help out.

And yacking on Soon and Very Soon, what a dumbass thing to say. We are a white assembly. Do you expect us to sing like blacks? We know how to do that too, since we have had a fellowship with a gospel choir for mnay years. It will never be like black people singing, and I know that. But we're not black! They can't sing like white people. either! Does that mean we have no right to sing a neat song like Soon and Very Soon? I don't think so. Get out of your college mind-set and join something like the world of your parents, which will be yours soon enough.

Also try coming to Eucharist without a chip on your shoulder. You'd be amazed at how much more meaning you can find there. You're supposed to bring your baptized glory as a follower of JC, not come to be placated as if you just turned on the TV or your computer. Ot just tell your folks you don't want to be there, at least that's honest.

Marcy Weckler Barr

Posted by Marcy Weckler Barr at 11:23pm on 19 Mar 2007
Well, I think I'll just let my original post stand. Posted by blahedo at 11:41pm on 19 Mar 2007
As a cantor of the St. Thomas choir, I was astounded reading the critic of the music - blahedo - in their scathing attack (yes that is what it was) on the music at St. Thomas. I didnt' know that worship was something to be criticized. I do know we have had times where the music could be better, but what church doesn't have those times? All I can say is, whenever I think the music is bad, I just go travelling and then I find myself running back to St. Thomas to enjoy some of the best music around! The purpose of music is to glorify God, to praise and worship God, and to lead the congregation in singing! The people at St. Thomas do sing (yes, even today our 11:15 joined in!) more than others. Our liturgies are some of the most evangelical and open there are in the Catholic community - and we have such a close-knit feeling between singers, musicians and the congregation. Yes, there are different tastes in music, but on the whole the intentions are there and the music itself is near the top! I can honestly say that since I have sung in the choir and cantored since 1992, I consider Marcy one of the most talented musicians and composers who gets what the real meaning of worship music is. I also consider any criticism that goes to the length of what blahedo said to be just self-serving and not at all constructive. Looks like you have a grudge against someone. Too bad - when we put our heads and hearts together, great things can happen. I consider myself blessed to be able to sing for my Lord, and for my community. Posted by Bruce Wood at 9:33pm on 21 Sep 2008
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