After attending two prominent schools where the standards of artistic church choirs are of the highest, I am impressed with certain trends, which, if carried over into our work, would dilute the strength of our vocal-music program. It has been interesting to me to note the leanings toward Catholic music ideals in each of these well-known choir schools. In fact, that religious body has been frequently mentioned musically.
In both schools the Catholic music standard was quite apparent. At one school several nuns were in attendance during the session, and they found several choir selections with Latin text which originally were written primarily for the Catholic service by the composer Palestrina, whose delegated duty was to write for that church. The director of one school referred to two prominent denominations and said, "They are certain to unite into one." He also stated that he was a. member of a committee that was to compile a book of hymns, and that Catholic songs would be included because of the purity of their music.
At one of the choir's concerts a Catholic priest remarked to the director's wife, "We are pleased to hear you sing Catholic songs." "Oh," she quickly responded, "but these songs belong to all denominations." Let me inject here a few quotations from a worthy book.
"It is well known that our Reformers strongly objected to the Roman practice of having divine service in an 'unknown tongue.' It has not yet become customary with the Romanizers in our communion to use Latin in the services ; but by encouraging intoning, and the excessive use of music, and introducing other practices which are not in accordance with the simplicity of the Protestant religion, clergymen have caused the services, in some churches, to be almost as unintelligible to our poorer brethren as if they were rendered in a tongue not understanded of the people !"—R. B. Daniel, Chapters on Church Music.
The foregoing paragraph was written years ago; but it may well serve as a warning voice from the past, when men were trying to unwind the cords of Roman practices by which they had been bound so long. Let me quote further from the same source:
"Though pleasing to the ear when very well rendered, and capable, when all the conditions are favorable, to stir the emotions for the moment, elaborate musical services seem poor indeed when compared with simple, hearty, and devotional services which appeal to the spiritual nature of man, and In which all can take part."
"Elaborate choral music may be a pleasing thing in Itself, but intruding where it is not required, it may (so far from being a help to devotion) be a hindrance, and even tend to make men forget the true object of worship. That choral services delight the sense of hearing in careless people seems very probable ; but there is no good reason to suppose that listening to them makes such people devout. They please rather than edify."
Perhaps Ministry readers may think these quotations rather strong. No doubt they are. But it may take something like this to set some of us to thinking. It would be well if our musicians would give these things serious consideration, for they were voiced by those who were endeavoring to be good Protestants at a time when the term "Protestant" really meant something.
Some choir directors feel that if their choir does not have some Latin text in a song or two on their program, they are lowering their standard. Why not sing the Bach chorales in German? It would be more logical, because Bach was a great figure in Protestant music.
During one choir school session, on one of the choir selections which had a Latin text, a question was raised concerning the pronunciation of certain words. The director cleared up all misunderstandings by saying, "There is only one correct pronunciation, and that is established by the Pope himself. His word is final." So, if our good Protestant folk wish to do their Latin songs correctly, they should be careful not to use a pronunciation which is not acceptable to the Pope! Is not that enough to turn us from selections we might like to think of as belonging "to all denominations"?
The man who shared my room with me was a very outspoken Protestant, and we had talked of the leanings toward Catholicism in the music and in the examples held before us by our director. He made bold to speak to him, and reminded him that he was leaning in that direction, and referred to "having proof" that that was the case. The director was honest enough to acknowledge this tendency.
Of course, the gospel song was ridiculed. It was called cheap, trashy, jazz. Some of the songs in this class are just that. But the type of gospel song of which our musicians generally approve surely could not be called cheap. The violet and the lily of the valley are not cheap because they are not so massive as the chrysanthemum.
Perhaps these choir schools are accomplishing what they have set out to do. But it would be too sad if we lost the importance of the song of simple, dignified content that has a message. and tried to supplant it with art songs, thereby losing the worship of music.