Cultural influences in sacred music

Awesome. Thanks! I’ll be be sure to look deeper.

Thanks! Yeah I read my original post and realized it sounded sort of condemning, which is not what I was aiming for. I was just trying to use an example of something which, if taken to some extreme, may become wrong.

Arabic, Melkites are Middle Eastern (Although, Greek is used in the liturgy)

The meaning of “culture” in musical expression needs to be defined more carefully because of the enormous amount of exchange that occurs between diverse peoples who share the same purpose over the course of time. In the Christian religion, it is the liturgy that describes the overall purpose for the music being employed. Therefore, in the Catholic sense of the word, culture needs to be understood broadly; the liturgical setting doesn’t change, yet the means by which the musical expression does. And, there’s always been a certain generosity within the liturgy that allows for amplification or reduction to occur. There’s been a lot of “lend/lease” going on over the course of time. An example of this from the early days of the Church would be how “Roman Chant” ultimately became “Gregorian Chant,” and how, in turn, Gregorian Chant eventually supplanted the Roman.

As I understand it, there was a form of chant that came out of the city of Rome that had been developed and used for their liturgies for (perhaps) hundreds of years. The Roman style was more florid than what we associate with Gregorian Chant, with a higher degree of ornamentation and melismatic emphasis. But, sometime in the mid-700’s AD, the Roman form of the music traveled north into the Gothic/Frankish kingdoms where it was transformed into a form which we now commonly associate with Gregorian modalities of chant. The ornamentation over time was stripped away, but much of what was received by the Franks from the Romans remained in place because the liturgy itself was essentially the same. This Gregorian model, eventually then, became the norm even for the city of Rome.

Music changes over time and distance, and what was once the norm can also (and perhaps, inevitably, will) change.

That’s why when I hear the solemn and deeply moving 19th Century
Negro Spiritual “Were You There” during our Good Friday liturgy, I accept it as being totally appropriate for use the U.S. Church as a hymn for reflection. It’s a part of our collective American culture. While it’s not a formal part of the liturgy, it’s appropriate (I think) for use in the liturgy. Time will tell.

Traditional music was still based on the cultural artistic orientation of the day-primarily European in the case of the western Church. I don’t think its possible to avoid that here on planet earth.

My sense is that what is called “European” also has great diversity. Certainly the music of the Celts was different from the Gothic tribes on the mainland. And, even today, Nordic music has little in common with the Balkans; the music of the Iberian peoples was distinctively different as people traveled up the peninsula from south to north - and this is still true today. The Roman Empires’ contribution to the overall musical culture of Europe also had a significant impact, with Greek, Middle Eastern and North African modalities (to name only a few) being added into the mix. The people of the empire were both polyglot and polymusical. Liturgical music was not born “whole cloth.” It had to borrow from both the imperial and folkish traditions of the peoples it served. How that “borrowing” occurred has been lost in history.

All music is cultural. Every musical setting of the Mass comes from somebody’s culture.

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However, it didn’t say “pride of place, in every place, every time”!

And I say this as a Gregorian chorister and someone who sings the Liturgy of the Hours in Gregorian chant almost daily.

Fortunately there are places where it has pride of place, notably monasteries and in some places like the city where our schola sings. But only once a month, at a parish Mass, always in the Ordinary Form.

That is an issue for the bishop/archbishop. not for people who have little or not training in Liturgy.

It might come as a bit of surprise that in some cultures, religious dance is permitted as it is part of their culture; and you may find this for example in some of the Pacific Islands, and in at least some parts of Africa.

Would that be appropriate in North America or in Europe? The Church has already answered that “No.”

And it might set your teeth on edge should you be in a country in which it is acceptable; but your reaction negatively to it does not define right/wrong religious/irreligious.

That is why I gave you the answer I did. You found it distracting in the parish you attended; I would not be the least bit surprised if you found religious dance distracting at the minimum - I would find it distracting simply because it is not expressive of my culture. The phrase “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” comes to mind.

As to a parish with a prominently Black culture - whether Caribbean influenced or Africa influenced, you are stepping into a different culture - and when in Rome…

I am not in the least saying that you should be perfectly fine with it; in fact, if it is disturbing to your ability to pray, then you should go to a different parish.

And if you were to come across a parish which had, for example, a number of families who have emigrated from perhaps Africa or India, both of which in recent memory were colonialized by European countries, you might find that those families carried the memory of their grandparents or great grandparents living under colonial rule, and not particularly interested in being subjected to what they would easily identify as “colonial”, meaning Gregorian chant or Palestrina - both of which would likely be readily accepted and loved in a relatively conservative OF parish or an EF parish. Depending on their family experience over a couple of centuries, it might even be painful to them.

What we call “reverence” is too often in the eye of the beholder. One needs to look a lot deeper than just externals; one needs to look at how people are living their lives - do they follow Christ, or is religion simply a self affirmation.

Again, as others have pointed out, it is yup to the bishop to determine what is “too far”, I suppose it is possible to have a bishop who had such a bias that he was unable to sort through matters, but there is always the possibility to appeal a matter to Rome. On the whole, however, most bishops seem to understand what is and is not acceptable culturally without the help of people who are concerned about a culture different than their own.

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I think that “pride of place” has to do with the “place” which chant has, and continues to hold, within the historical opus of liturgical music in the Church. Clearly, it has withstood the challenge of centuries. As far as liturgical music goes, there is no Palestrina without chant. Nor is there Durufle or Messiaen. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms (to mention only a very few) follow the course and design of the the Latin liturgy in creating their Masses. That means we hear the Kyrie, the Gloria, the Credo, the Sanctus, the Agnus Dei, and the Bendictus in their proper order and in their liturgically specific language. The greatest composers in history have embraced the Catholic Mass as the template for some of their greatest compositions. So, are these “European” compositions, or are they universal and, hence, timeless? I think the latter.

Liturgical Inculturation is a thing.

There is no one line, not one place. Each bishop makes the determination of the limits he will allow. There is also a guideline against using secular music, but even that must be defined.

Oh right, when the Church says “Gregorian chant has pride of place”, that means “don’t sing it”.

“Don’t sing it badly”. For most parishioners today, they’re limited to the simpler settings of the ordinary. Back in the days of the Tridentine Mass, the faithful didn’t sing it at all! The schola or choir would handle the complex antiphons of the Propers, and the altar servers/acolytes would handle the people’s responses and sometimes the Ordinary, which isn’t always “ordinary” in difficulty!

Sacrosanctum Concilium did specify clearly that the faithful were to participate actively. That rules out most of the corpus of Gregorian chant for all but trained choristers. Of course it is possible for the laity to learn the simpler settings of the Ordinary, SC also recommends that. Kyrie XVI, Gloria XV (or VIII from the well-known Missa de Angelus) and Sanctus/Agnus XVIII are good ones to use, as well as Credo II (or III which many seem to know as it usually accompanies Missa de Angelis). And also the Pater Noster.

Those would be nice to have regularly. What would not be nice is to hear a complex Introit, Gradual, Offertory etc. performed by an unskilled choir. That would be murder on the ears! The Graduale Simplex was designed for less skilled choirs but alas it never really took off at the parish level.

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Here’s the work of the Irish composer Sean O’Riada with part of his Mass setting. I can imagine that being murdered if attempted by unskilled singers.

Oh gosh, I hear bad singing at Masses all the time. Do the instructions say “full conscious and active participation if the laity is going to sing well”?

I wish it did.
Our parish will belt out the Snow setting of “Our Father”. When we’re allowed. I realize that’s not Gregorian chant, but it’s an indication that some form of chanting is possible for a congregation.

Not true, sarcasm notwithstanding. But it also does not equate to singing it the most, or even everywhere, every time, etc. It means a place of pride.

The problem is that many confuse Gregorian chant with simple plainchant, such as when the priest chants the preface and EP. And they think the simple settings of the Ordinary are representative of Gregorian chant.

There are complex settings of the Ordinary, and there’s the Propers too, as per the 1974 Graduale Romanum. In a parish setting one only will sing/hear a tiny portion of the corpus of Gregorian chant unless the parish has a schola or choir trained in Gregorian chant. Even our schola, singing only once a month, only touches the surface, even though we also do introits, alleluias, offertories and communion antiphons (we rarely do the Gradual, instead we sing the responsorial psalm to Gregorian psalmody adapted to French).

Some cultural appropriations are appropriate and some are not appropriate. Or at least some have an air of indifference.
Appropriating the authentic spirituality of black people would seem to be appropriate. And it does not have the air of secularism about it, like some of the more “popular” themed music. I was at a parish recently where the Mass setting was not much different from a broadway musical setting. It was awful, you couldn’t follow it intuitively, and it had no tie to any authentic cultural significance. It was honestly so bad as to be distracting from the Mass.

We were at a Mass in Norfolk VA at the cathedral, and the Mass had a gospel feel to it. And it was sacred and authentic, not contrived. The music didn’t pander.

The Church shouldn’t try to fit the secular culture. It ought to be transcendent of the world’s values and music at Mass ought to convey that.

in the case of the Syro-Malabar Church of India, the music is kinda Indian classical music influenced (Carnatic music). of course traditionalists try to get the music in a more pro-Syriac nature, while the modernists try to make it more Indian (aka “Hindu”). I’m sure every church is influenced of whatever culture they are in. Although the Syro-Malabars are Christian Catholics in terms of their religion and theology, in terms of culture- they are Hindu.

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