Throughout the next year, and until the implementation of the New Translation of the Roman Missal, The Authentic Update will focus on issues surrounding the New Translation and developments in Sacred Music arising from it. I hope you will visit here frequently and join in the conversation as the Church enters into this remarkable period of liturgical transformation.

Friday, October 8, 2010

A Lesson Learned

I’d like to pick up where I left off with my last posting and take a look at another aspect of how the New Translation will affect the direction of Catholic liturgical music, perhaps for many years to come. I noted in my last post how there exists a sort of “soft mandate” that publishers include the ICEL-USCCB produced chant settings of the Mass Ordinary in all published worship materials after the implementation of the New Translation in November of 2011. As it is currently understood, other settings will be included, but none have yet received approval, and even once approved, they will have to be included as secondary settings since the ICEL-USCCB chant settings must be the setting presented in the Order of Mass. This alone will have some considerable consequences for how publishers promote and present their own (copyrighted) settings in published resources. But there is also another aspect of the implementation that may have a much more profound impact on liturgical music, which up to now has been dominated by “The Big Three” (OCP, GIA and WLP) publishers. History can be a good teacher in this case.

The past 10 years has seen the rapid decline of print media. Newspapers and magazines have watched their circulations reduced to non-sustainable levels, requiring mergers, buyouts and large scale layoffs in the fortunate situations – bankruptcies and closed doors in the less fortunate, and lots of lamenting and hand-wringing all around. The lamenting and hand-wringing seems disingenuous though, because the cause is clear and well known: The Internet and the diversity of views that it permits. No longer did the consumer of news and information have to accept what was given by the established media. With the internet anyone can be a reporter and compete with the once dominant publishers and their immense distribution networks. The individual who used to type their own “pamphlets” and hand them out on a corner downtown can now hand them out to the entire world, updating them every day, every hour, every minute if necessary! And the consumer who enters a topic in a search engine finds that information right alongside the New York Times or Wall Street Journal. On the internet, everyone is equally accessible and the page of the multi-billion dollar corporation is exactly the same size as the page for the guy blogging from his smart-phone.

Statistics now show that more people receive their news from websites and blogs than from all print media combined. The internet, a medium that was largely amateur driven and populated by a peculiar and specialized group of enthusiasts only 15 years ago has, in the last 5 years, managed to take on and conquer the one-time giants of the media world. And the point that I would make here is this: the media giants saw it coming and their reaction was to protect their turf by attempting to change the already established rules of the internet game to allow them to import the status quo of their dominance into a realm that had already disposed of them and moved on. The result is a sort of “Jurassic Park” of media dinosaurs relegated to an online island far removed from reality, living out their final days fighting and devouring each other while the rest of the world watches with the sense of detached amazement that comes from seeing once-great beings become inconsequential curiosities. Their extinction had already happened and that fate was accomplished even before the first mouse-click by a force far more powerful than the internet. It was the idea that news and information can’t be owned and sold in a world that now sees it as something free. News and information is a part of the culture and belongs to it, not to the New York Times and not to any company, government or person.

It might be obvious by now that I’m inferring an analogy here to the situation developing in Catholic liturgical music. It’s not really a true analogy because while music exists in real time and is experienced as such through performance, it is also like news and information insofar as it has historically been distributed by publishers in the form of print media which is claimed to be the property of the publisher and which is then sold to the consumer. But liturgical music is also like news and information as a sense is rapidly developing that,in whatever form, it belongs to the liturgy and to the faithful, not to this or that publisher.

So this may not be so much an analogy as it is another part of the same phenomenon described above, but one which has lagged behind slightly because of the slow-moving nature of liturgical music media which renews in one year cycles for so-called “disposable” hymnals, and in 5-10 year cycles for hard-cover hymnals. With the implementation of the New Translation, all of it is “up for renewal” at once, allowing an assessment of options that is unprecedented, at least in modern times. And if that’s true, there may be as different a future for liturgical music now as there was for newspapers, magazines and books 10 years ago.

I am going to end here by looking back to the time 10 years ago when the media giants failed to see the writing on the wall. I would suggest that there has been a lot of writing going on these past few years, and the message on the liturgical music wall is pretty clear. Those who understand the message will be poised and ready, but you really have to understand the message first.

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