Yet more weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth over music in church. I regularly hear two complaints about traditional hymns. The first I do not understand and hope a musician out there might be able to illuminate me. Why do so many people complain that hymns are too high pitched to sing? I don’t find them too high pitched and I have a moderately deep baritone voice. I suspect it is simply because people are not taught to sing nowadays and so they don’t know how to reach high notes. Anyway, I am anxious to be informed if anyone has any ideas.
The second grumble is that traditional hymns are ‘boring’ and ‘we are losing the young’. The biggest red herring in all of the idea that young people like praise and worship music and older people don’t, and that we must have groovy praise and worship music ‘for the young’. I am regularly asked to celebrate the local life teen Mass. I can see the young people in the congregation. They don’t sing the rowdy, lively music which is on offer any more than they sing the traditional hymns. In fact, when I ask them about it they say they hate that music. Then I look around to see who is singing the praise and worship music and really enjoying it, and it is usually their parents and grandparents. It’s the older generation who are playing the guitars and swaying their hips to the music while the kids cringe.
The fact of the matter is that styles of music do not align with age groups. Plenty of old people like praise and worship choruses. Some young people do too. Likewise, plenty of young people like classical music and traditional hymns and so do plenty of older people. Taste in music isn’t determined by age. At St Joseph’s Catholic School we experimented with praise and worship music at Mass. The students themselves asked for it to stop, and asked to have more classical music. So go figure.
The type of music at Mass is not the problem. Mass doesn’t suddenly become ‘exciting’ or ‘reverent’ if you just choose a different type of music. What needs to happen for the Mass to become meaningful and reverent (and therefore intriguing and wonderful) is something far different far simpler and far more difficult.
What is needed is a constant conversion and renewal in the church. If priests and people prayed more, if they gave more, if they stopped sinning, if they believed and practiced their faith then the worship would be lively and meaningful and real. One particular musical style or another might help, but if the heart isn’t right, then the most splendid or the most exciting music in the world will not change hearts.