Tuesday, November 18, 2014

If Catholic hymn writers wrote the "Harry Potter" film music

Catholics invented chant and modern music notation and so forth.  It sprang up out of the Mass and served the Mass for hundreds of years.  And yet...now we have turned to childish ditties precisely in an age where people in the culture are clamoring for chant, including Hollywood.

Fact: There is a drama taking place in the Mass
Fact: There is an objective way to musically convey drama
Fact: There is an objective way to musically NOT convey drama
Fact: Most Catholic Churches have chosen to NOT musically convey drama
Fact: Most Catholics willingly admit in surveys that they have no idea what is going on at Mass
Fact: Most Catholics would say there is NOTHING dramatic happening at Mass

On the opposite end of the cultural spectrum, let's look at two Hollywood examples:

1) Harry Potter part 6 - the epic dramatic showdown.  Guess what music they use.  Yep.

Latin choral polyphony/chant (exactly what Catholics are supposed to be using at Mass)

2) Star Wars showdown  (Guess what they use: Latin choral polyphony/chant)

We could play this game all day long.  The point is Hollywood uses our "inventions", and Holywood is highly effective at conveying a sense of drama (evidenced by the billions they take in each year).  We have largely quit using these tools...and we wonder why people say Mass is boring?

Maybe we should stop treating everyone like they are spiritual morons, and let Church music be Church music.

If most current Catholic hymn writers would have been tasked with writing the music for Harry Potter, it would have gone something like this:

(cue the ukulele, banjo, and tambourine.  Upbeat.  Fast tempo.  clapping preferred)
"Hey...it's okay...we're glad you're here...
to watch our movie
Everyone is welcome!

What's going on here
Is Harry Potter is the good guy
And so is Dumbledore
And Voldemort's the bad guy
Because he wants to kill Harry

And Harry dies...but it's okay
Because he rises again...so don't be sad"

Maybe the new evangelization should start with "old" music???


  1. Actually the "Duel of the Fates" choral elements from Star Wars are in Sanskrit--another dead language used in sacred texts and worship--but your point still stands.

  2. I, for one, would be happy with the music from Sister Act.

    Inculturation and diversity are not excuses for bad music.

  3. I was having just this thought the other day. Why the hell does mass feel like music class in second grade??

    Ok, so pure chant might bore people, and polyphony may be too hard. "People want to participate" and not just listen to a choir.

    Fine, but there are plenty of options other than hoakey crap written in the 1980s.

    First, there is a traditional English choral tradition ala the Anglicans. I still find it pretty ditty-ish, but it has a tradition behind it and would put us at least in the same experiential space as a few centuries of english speakers.

    There is also Gospel, which is real and dramatic (but sadly probably "too black" for many suburban white bourgeoisie Catholics).

    And there is blue grass, though that's a mixed repertoire with some religious pieves but also some very secular pieces. It also depends a lot more on instrumentation.

    Unfortunately, infantilized sing-song is the logical result of an ambivalence in goals and motives. If people feel "left out" when a choir sings music they don't know how to sing...but then what they can sing is music any five year old knows is lame and corny and pathetic...one wonders why these people even have feelings on the question at all, why they're even there.

    Oh, and then many don't sing anyway.

    Oh, and we're paying the cantors to essentially lead the same ~40 comfort-food-hymns for years on end. PAYING them. For what?!

  4. It is interesting that they give the English translation in the Harry Potter video. Be that as it may, I think we should have some music for congregational participation (hymns and simple chant); some for the choir (polyphonic etc,); and some instrumental. Some musical selections make me feel the presence of God, but the violin makes me feel like I'm in heaven.