All posts tagged: music

Lent Intensifies

This final section of pieces from the 40 Songs for 40 Days playlist continues and intensifies the styles heard in the previous ten pieces. We hear from contemporary composers like Morten Lauridsen, Ola Gjeilo, and Paul Mealor, whose choral writing evokes a great sense of serenity in the listener, while James MacMillan and Francis Poulenc call to mind the intensity and drama of the Paschal Mystery. We also hear older pieces from the treasury of Catholic sacred music by composers like Gregorio Allegri, Giaches de Wert, and Thomas Tallis, as well as a chant whose composer’s name has been lost to the centuries, but whose musical legacy continues to lead people closer to God. Pieces like these are vivid reminders of why music has always held such an important role in the Church: the mysteries of the faith come alive in melody, harmony, and rhythm, allowing listeners to encounter them anew, paving the way for a deeper encounter with the One who dwells at the heart of them all. This music bears repeated listening not …

Glimpsing Eternity Through Lent Melody

We enter into a more overtly sacred repertoire with music written in a more “classical” style, though the majority of the pieces included here were not written in the Classical era of Western music (c. 1750–1830), but in the 20th century. While many of these pieces were inspired by the liturgy, in particular the Mass, most of them would not have been heard in a liturgical context, though for today’s liturgies, some of the shorter sacred anthems such as Eli! Eli! and Mary Speaks certainly could be appropriate selections for the Good Friday Celebration of the Lord’s Passion. These pieces of sacred music are meant to foster a rich devotional life—the time spent living the liturgy out in the context of daily life, the time outside of the liturgical celebration proper. For most lay people, the devotional life—which flows from and leads back to the liturgical life—encompasses the majority of life in general. Listening to this music in the morning while getting ready for work or for school, or in the evening while preparing dinner …

Facing Lent Discouragement

This week’s liner notes unpack the second half of the contemporary/secular portion of the playlist, in which many of the songs touch upon themes of journeying, of seeking out light in the midst of darkness, of the hope of transformation. Many people—myself included—begin Lent in a spirit of zeal, energetically embracing practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving that have been thoughtfully discerned and chosen. However, by the second or third week, the energy around these practices often begins to lag, and it is not unusual for minor slip-ups or major falls to occur, which, in turn, can lead to a sense of discouragement in the face of one’s own limitations. When failure occurs, the easy thing to do is to give in to discouragement: to wallow in self-pity or self-loathing, to rationalize, justify, excuse, whatever the case may be. Such is the way of pride, for it curves us inward and keeps the focus on the self, rather than on God, who is the only possible source of healing and strength. Humility provides the only …

The Solemn Joy of Lent

T he beginning of a new liturgical season calls for a new Spotify playlist: 40 Songs for the 40 Days of Lent. Curating this list has presented a unique challenge: there is a lot of really beautiful music out there that would lead one deeper into Lent, but much of it is very somber. Taken in context, this is not a bad thing; it is certainly appropriate for music to reflect the penitential austerity of the season, but it seems unlikely that anyone would want to listen to an entire playlist of funereal minor music. Lent, after all, is not a season without its joys, and these are not simply restricted to Laetare Sunday. Even in the midst of our penitential practices, each Sunday we still witness with growing anticipation the dismissal of the catechumens and candidates for full communion, knowing that it will not be long before they will gather alongside us around the Eucharistic table. Even as we acknowledge our sinfulness, we rejoice as we hear the Gospels: we marvel in awe at …

Friendship and Freddie Mercury

Bohemian Rhapsody is not a very subtle movie. In the first moments of Bryan Singer’s Queen bio-drama, we get a montage of preparation for Live Aid, the famous 1985 all-star charity concert. The jorts-clad roadies move equipment, thousands of people make their way into Wembley Stadium, the members of the band wait in their trailer, guitars are tuned, costumes are donned, and Queen’s “Somebody to Love” plays on top of it all. Although we soon cut to fifteen years earlier and will not return to this time for another 90 minutes. The movie has successfully telegraphed to the audience: Live Aid is an important climax of this movie. As I said, not subtle. Much of this story is well-known, not only because of the popularity of Queen and Freddie Mercury (a Best Actor nominated Rami Malek), but because it is cliché. In 1970, four young British men form a band to rock on their own terms and for a different audience: “We’re four misfits who don’t belong together . . . playing for other misfits,” …

Benedict XVI Beyond the Liturgy Wars

Long before he assumed the Petrine Office, Benedict XVI wrote frequently on the important role occupied by music in the life of the Church. His love of music began with a childhood he himself described as “Mozartian.” Joseph Ratzinger grew up in a musical family; his father sang tenor and played the zither, and his mother frequently sang Marian hymns, often while washing dishes. Joseph himself studied piano beginning around the age of ten and counted Beethoven, Bach, and especially Mozart among his favorite composers. Although he later left the formal study of music to his older brother Georg, Joseph never lost his enthusiasm for the beauty of music, nor his reverence for its power to open a person up to an encounter with the divine. His writings speak eloquently of the connection between music and theology and the implications of this connection for the liturgical life of the Church. For many in parish music ministry today, the “style” question remains a hot-button issue: Gregorian chant, Renaissance polyphony, hymnody, and praise and worship are not simply …

The Point Where the Ugliness of Our Individual and Communal Lives Is Transfigured

Throughout its long history, theology has certainly seemed more comfortable understanding itself through its claim to truth or goodness than to beauty. It is not that the connection between theology and beauty has never been notarized. One simply has to recall the early Augustine, Pseudo-Dionysius, and the Dionysian tradition to realize that this is not true—even if beginning with Tertullian and proceeding through the iconoclasm controversy and on to the Reformation, faith in the Cross made it difficult to think of theology and beauty being anything other than bitter rivals, when it came to allure and existential pledge. Of course, throughout the long histories of Catholic, Orthodox, and even Protestant theologies, there have been internal corrections. The Catholic theologian Matthias Scheeben might  represent a correction within the late nineteenth-century form of Neo-Scholasticism, with its forged alliance between propositionalism and moralism. And, of course, in the Reform tradition no theologian showed a greater openness to beauty than Jonathan Edwards, without succumbing in the slightest to the emerging temptation to elevate beauty while essentially dethroning God. Pace …

The Catholic Imaginings of Jimmy Buffett

This little song sort of combines a hangover cure and fourteen years of Catholic education into a song; it’s a little bit weird, but it sort of works out.[1] Jimmy Buffett, the king of “drunk Caribbean rock and roll music,” may seem like an unlikely person to be an example of the Catholic imagination. In his music, merchandise, restaurants, and resorts, Buffett revels in escapism and pleasure, giving license to hedonsim and letting it run amok. He has accrued a tremendous amount of wealth through these endeavors and cultivated a devoted following, known as Parrotheads. Indeed, he would seem to be the Evangelist for just the kind of leisure recently criticized by Paul Griffiths. Buffett peddles the side of leisure (otium) decried by St. Augustine too in his City of God as delight in “lazy inactivity” (iners vacatio).[2] Buffett’s incredible success, however, bespeaks in his fans an instinctual dissatisfaction with the demands of modern work and a desire to get away, to escape and have a good time, to have fun. Jimmy Buffett has been …

The Digital Displacement of Transcendence at Concerts

Not too long ago I attended a concert put on by some Latin music stars I enjoy (and some I do not) at a massive stadium in South Florida. I had a general idea of what to expect: I had been to large concerts before, and I knew how crazed fans can become at these shows. After all, they adore these artists, these stars: absorbing their lyrics, studying their personal lives, following the gossip, and playing their music as the soundtrack to sundry events in their lives. Being a fan myself, I was quite excited at the opportunity to see some of them live. But the show did not meet my expectations because the stars I expected did not fully appear. I do not mean physically—the performers were there, of course, in the flesh. Yet that flesh—once so sacrosanct in that most religiously charged of secular gatherings, the music concert—seemed unable to carry the weight of glory that it used to. It now had to share that glory with digital representations carried on the sea …

Musical Mystagogy: St. Margaret Mary and the Sacred Heart

October 16th marks the feast of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647–90), a Burgundian nun who experienced a series of visions from 1673 to 1675 that ultimately resulted in her petitioning Church authorities to institute a feast in honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on June 8th. In addition to the feast itself, St. Margaret Mary promoted acts of devotion in honor of the Sacred Heart, chief among which was the reception of Holy Communion on the first Friday of every month, a devotion many still practice to this day. It is for her devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and her untiring efforts to spread that devotion to others that Margaret Mary Alacoque is honored as a saint, and so today’s musical piece will focus not on the saint herself, but on the object of her unwavering devotion: the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The devotion to the Sacred Heart is twofold: on the one hand, we honor the physical heart of Jesus, the pulsing heart of muscle and blood with its valves and …