Monday, 5 May 2008

Too much new music for World Youth Day?

I am slowly catching up with the news about various musical bits and pieces that are being prepared for World Youth Day. You have read my opinion of the World Youth Day theme song. I had a little foretaste of the feast divine in this regard at the handover ceremony for the Cross and Icon in St Patrick's Cathedral here in Melbourne, when Guy Sebastian himself sang it. I think the "Alleluia" bit will go down real well, but the rest of it? I am still doubtful...

I am a little more enthusiastic however over the Mass setting Missa Benedictus Qui Venit (a clever title!). It uses the new English translations of the liturgy intersperced with Latin. It's quite singable and musically pleasing. My only real beef is that no-one seems to be using it around the traps beforehand (not even for official pre-WYD events) so that when we all turn up on the day we can all join in rather than just listen to the choir sing it.

But today I really must say that I groaned when confronted with the song which will be used for the Entrance Procession at the WYD Papal mass. Composed by Chris Willcock SJ for a text by Andrew Hamilton SJ (both local Melbournians), it is a bit sad.

Now Chris is an excellent musician, and a great composer. I use a lot of his music myself, and know that it is used extensively in many non-Catholic churches too. The music for this piece is, well, let's just say "so-so", but the real worry are the words, which I will get to in a moment.

First, I have just mentioned the problem of unfamiliarity with the Mass Setting. AND TAKE NOTE: the Mass setting is provided FREE for download from the WYD website (see link above). BUT the Willcock/Hamilton song can only be obtained from OCP (Willcock's publisher) AND YOU HAVE TO PAY FOR IT! Now, I know workers are worth their pay, but really, couldn't the WYD office have made some sort of arrangment here?

So, to the words. I haven't bothered to buy a copy of the music (I am a skin-flint) but here is a transcript of the snippet that was on the Religion Report on 2nd April 2008 (Podcast no longer available). chorus is simply one fairly meaningless phrase repeated over and over again:
Spirit whisper, Spirit shout!
Spirit whisper, Spirit shout!
Spirit whisper, Spirit shout!
Whatever else might be said about this chorus, it is poetically and imaginatively lazy. "Spirit whisper, Spirit shout" is a catchy phrase, but fairly devoid of content. It wants more said. Whisper/Shout what? Whisper/Shout to whom? After singing it three times, and then as a chorus over and over again, it just becomes boring. There is nothing here for the mind, and thus the heart, to latch on to.

The Chorus is followed by a fairly unimaginative text based on John 14:
Christ our Way, Christ our Truth, Christ our Life.
Come in power to guide our way.
Come in power to teach the truth.
Come in power to shape our lives.
It's not that there's anything wrong with this doctrinally, of course, as it is simply regurgitation of a scripture passage that has been "lightly chewed". But once again, not even at the level of a Year 9 secondary school student's poetry. Surely a Jesuit is capable of a little more "imaginative meditation" than this?

I think we need to ask ourselves what has happened in the church when the level of hymn writing has sunk so low. I have my own theory on this. As I have suggested above, I believe that we have such poor content in our hymns because we have such poor reflection upon the content of our faith. Scripture is used ad nauseum in our modern hymns--but rarely is there any sign that the hymnist has reflected deeply upon that scripture--"chewed the cud" so to speak--before handing it back to us in the form of a song.

Hymnody should be more than throwing notes at passages ripped (plagiarised?) from Scripture.

Well, I reckon, anyway.


Faye said...

Respectfully I have to say:

It is a beautiful song/hymn - and the melody and words stay there in your mind long after you have heard the song. It is a favourite amongst students at our christian school when in church, and out of church.

Guy Sebastian is a wonderful role model for young Christians and he embodies the Christian youth of today.

Young people identify with the song and the singer and the message being delivered - so that is important for World Youth Day I think.

Kind regards


Anonymous said...

Having watched many videos from all parts of the world of people singing Receive the Power on youtube and read comments from across the globe from people who love it, I have no doubt the song will be well received on World Youth Day.

Also, anyone who hasn't followed Guy Sebastian's career closely can be forgiven for thinking he's not known outside Australia. He's unreleased outside Australia (for the moment), but believe me, he's quite well known and his music goes everywhere.


Joshua said...


Just compare any Wesley hymn, with its wealth of scriptural allusion and true poetry, to what I call "Devil-quoting-Scripture" pastiches of the modern age.

Surely, with Pope Benedict's very well argued views on liturgical music, we should be aiming for Gregorian Chant and Polyphony in their rightful place at WYD - recall that the former at least is actually quite a good seller these days?

Anonymous said...

Yes, I really do wish people would start paying attention to what Pope Pius X said a hundred years ago (!) and which was reiterated at Vatican II - Gregorian Chant is the most suitable music for Mass and ought to have pride of place.

Schütz said...

I just thought the World Youth Day song could have done a little better, that's all. For our Interfaith Youth Pilgrimage on Sunday July 13 in Melbourne, we are using "You raise me up". Okay, it's not a Christian hymn, that's not my point (or rather, it is, because this is an Interfaith Rally, not a worship service), but the song has hymnic structure, is actually addressed to "Someone" (unlike most of our Catholic songs) in some sort of praise and adoration, and is truly singable and upliftying as shown by its world wide popularity. Why couldn't we have had a WYD song like that?