provoked such an enormous and passionate response last year that we decided to pursue the subject further.
Cohn Mawby (above), formerly Master of Music at Westminster Cathedral, will be writing a series of articles on Church music in Britain today and, in particular he will be giving advice on how to form and run a parish choir.
THERE seems to be a great need for practical advice — how to get the parish to sing, what music is available, how to establish a choir, and, most important of all, the place of music in the liturgy. A difficulty in writing about Church music is the variable standard of achievement to be found in individual parishes. The large London church with a fine professional choir is totally different from the small country parish with minute congregations and few Masses, yet the latter is just as capable of producing effective music.
If this is doubted, remember that one of our most loved Christmas carols, "Silent Night", came from just such a parish. The direct simplicity of this carol illustrates the point that sincerity is one of the must important qualities in music. Without sincerity music is rarely a moving and spiritually profound experience.
This series of articles will depend greatly upon the response of readers. Please write to me and let me know what Is going on in your parish, the music you are singing and the developments you have made.
It should be possible for me to discuss the work and problems of individual folk groups and choirs; this will encourage those musicians who are uncertain of the direction they should take.
I am convinced that there are many exceptionally able Catholic
musicians working for the Church: some are making an outstanding contribution to liturgical development. It is by knowing and understanding their activities that I, and other parish musicians, can develop our own music.
The popular myth_ that there are no able Catholics engaged within the field of Church music needs exploding: I hope that these articles will light the touchpaper!
One of the contemporary features of liturgical music are the many compositions being written by parish musicians for particular local circumstances. A great deal of this music must be suitable for performance during Holy Week, the most important event in the Liturgical Year.
I would be interested to see it, and if any is appropriate for general use, to mention it in two Holy Week articles I hope to write. There must now be a wide local experience of the revised Holy Week liturgy which can be shared with other parishes.
As well as writing about Church music, I also hope to give
the occasional preview of forthcoming musical events. Alongside these previews will be interviews with well-known musicians.
I have always believed that the Church should be seen to patronise and actively support secular music. Composers and performers face great problems in the development of the aesthetics of their art.
These are partially caused by a lack of understanding of the
theology of music. The Church, with its profound knowledge of the nature and purpose of beauty, should be of great help to contemporary musicians. Many of the disagreements between musicians and clergy are caused by an unwillingness to face fundamental theological problems, so there should be a discussion of the philosophy of music.
The controversy that surrounds Church music Is a sign of its importance in the liturgy.
Much of the argument about current forms of worship would
be dissipated if the music associated with it was of a uniformly high standard. There is no reason why it should interfere with active participation. Now is a time of great opportunity for Catholic
musicians. I hope these articles will be of some assistance in defining where these opportunities lie.