Hitting the Wrong Note by Thomas Day

Hitting the Wrong Note

Thomas Day on Church Music

The telephone voice message, from a stranger, sounds desperate: “I must speak with you. Please call me as soon as possible. I need your help.” I return the call and listen to a long tale of anguish and emotional suffering that comes close to physical pain. The topic of the lament is liturgical music in a particular Roman Catholic parish.

About thirty years ago I began to scribble commentaries on the less-than-perfect state of music in Catholic parishes. Ever since then I have been receiving these distress calls with their requests for some kind of advice and consolation. Now these messages are also arriving by e-mail. The details of the complaint will vary. Musicians might give precise descriptions of things that are wrong, such as the parish’s musical repertory or organ pipes that do not function. Others are not as clear about what irks them and refer only to “the loss of the sacred” or “those people,” who are denounced as liberal or conservative or ignorant.

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