Some things never change—the vicissitudes of toiling in the field of sacred music being no exception. I recently re-read Sir Richard Terry’s Catholic Church Music, first published in 1907, as a way to re-energize myself for the new choral year. Toward the end, I hit a passage about congregational singing that I don’t remember reading before, but which is, nevertheless, apropos to our current situation.
One great difficulty in the way of making our hymn singing as popular as it is with Anglicans, and impressive as it is with German Catholics, is the tenacity with which the older members of our congregations cling to some half-dozen tunes of such a fatuous type as ” Daily, Daily,” ” O Mother, I,” and the rest of the terrible contents of “The Crown of Jesus music.” It is not difficult to understand how even the most fatuous tunes can be beloved if they are in any way connected with hallowed associations of a pious life, and who is he who would ruthlessly deprive these good souls of things which they hold dear ? But the difficulty is not insuperable ; the writer knows of one church where all these bad tunes were eliminated in the course of a single generation by a very simple process. At the public services for adults, no change was made in the old tunes, but the children in the schools were never allowed to sing them, and at the children’s Mass and on other occasions, good tunes were substituted for the popular ones sung by their elders. By the time the children had grown to youth, they had become as familiar with, and as fond of, the good tunes as their elders were of the bad ones, and so the new tradition was established. If our Hymnology is to be improved it must be by educating the taste of the younger generation, and not by doing violence to the prejudices of the elder, however mistaken we may think them to be.
All one need do is substitute almost anything from the Gather Hymnal or from the St. Louis Jesuits for Daily, Daily or O Mother, I and this passage could have been written last week. More importantly, look at the answer to the problem—I guarantee you it works. I have proposed this before to friends and the retort is always “but that’s too long.” Excuse me, but we have been in this desert for almost 50 years. Any parish could have been through this process three times. Simply dive in and do it. Remember how quickly your children grew up and left home? That is all the longer it takes.