Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The King's Singers and Negro Spirituals

A few months ago I was able to attend a performance by the King’s Singers.  I’m not very cultured, but I have been told by people in the know that the King’s Singers are one of the preeminent vocal groups in the world.

The performance featured pieces from throughout the history of the US, and so several songs were “negro spirituals”.  As I took in the performance, I had a revelation that I feel is VERY important to us Catholics.

The King’s Singers were British, had fancy polished shoes, sports coats, hair gel, etc. – they looked like they were airlifted in from the campus of Yale or Harvard.

And they absolutely nailed every note of every song and the harmonies were amazing and it was worth every penny to hear them. 

However…them singing negro spirituals just didn’t work.

You know why – because negro spirituals didn’t come from the dorm rooms of ivy league schools, nor did they come from cocktail parties...they came from cotton fields and oppression and heat and abuse and suffering.

The “King’s Singers” sang negro spirituals better than the originals but it didn’t work one bit. 

"Working in cotton fields is tough work...we would know!"


1) You learn something about the place of origin when you hear the music and
 2) You learn something about the music when you know its place of origin

The Catholic Mass has a type of music that grew out of it and leads back to it. 
1) When you hear chant, you learn something more about the Mass from which it came, and
2) When you know the Mass you learn something about the music that it spawned

Folk music came from a certain time and place

Hip hop came from a certain time and place

Death metal comes from a certain environment

Praise and worship music comes from a certain environment

And yet, for some reason, some people try to go against what the Church teaches, and they decide that they are going to bring music into the Mass that was
1)  Not something that came from the Mass
2) Does not lead people back to the Mass
3) In fact leads people to some much different place of origin than the Mass

I love folk music, I enjoy clean hip hop, even the occasional “metal” song catches my ear.

A folk Mass doesn’t point people to Transubstantiation because folk music wasn’t born from transubstantiation.  Hip hop doesn’t enhance one’s appreciation for Transubstantiation because hip hop music wasn’t born from an environment of Transubstantiation.

Dylan's genre of music didn't come out from the Mass so it shouldn't be brought IN to the Mass

Having folk songs at Mass is no different and no less absurd than a bunch of proper British chaps singing negro spirituals. 

Let’s stop overcomplicating the issue (and let’s stop sabotaging our own efforts to bring people to Christ) and just do music at Mass the way the Church asks, and in the style of music that was born OUT OF the Mass.

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