by David MacDonald
I agree with you that we live in a "warm fuzzy" society dominated by feminists, liberals and lots of people who are trying to destroy the Church. Particularly in North America some officials in the Church have caved into this and compromised. I understand that some of them are (mis)using VAT II as their justification. (kind of like the reformers who used some of "new" ideas of Trent as a reason to take off and screw up the faith) I'm glad you are out the trying to hold the balance by going 180 degrees in the other direction. I pray that in trying to hold this balance, we will not be defined by fear and not continue our pilgrimage as a Church. But that is not why I'm writing. I'll let you work that out with people much more versed in our Catholic faith than me. I'm writing about music.
I don't hold with the theory that the Church should condemn modern music as an evangelization tool. I studied music at university. One course was classical harmony and counterpoint from the middle ages. Back then, there were very strict rules governing how melodies and harmonies could be written in Church music (Gregorian). No melodic leaps of over a third, no parallel fifths etc. It was beautiful but after 300 years it got a little stale. Bach came along and blew away all the rules and many of the hierarchy thought it was the devil's music. Some also thought the pipe organ was loud, and irreverent.
Eventually the rules slackened, much to the chagrin of the "old guard". Today, Bach is probably associated with the Church more than any other composer. If the Church had listened to the old guard we would not have the benefit of that fabulous music to enrich our worship. In his book "Gods of Wasteland," Michael Matt argues, that the very nature of pop music is evil because it contradicts the proper order of music (harmony, rhythm, whatever). This is the same argument that was used against Bach. Some things about the Church never change. The best musicologists of his time put this forward. Thank God they were wrong.
I sing old standards from the 1500-1800's every Sunday, and do not do the so called "Charismatic" stuff although I have no objection to it. I have a 70 year old pianist who picks the music that I sing. It is quite different from the Christian festivals and concerts that I do for youth which have a snare drum on beat 2 and 4 which I suppose makes it "rock" at times. I like to think my "youth" music has a lot more in common with Black folks in the cotton fields singing to Jesus (some of which are at least in purgatory) than a bunch of "wanna be" hippies singing 1970's folk masses. (I don't much like folk masses but that is simply personal preference. I have nothing theologically against them)
In todays reading, King David said Praise him (the Lord) with Tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with clanging cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals! Let everything that breathes praise the Lord. Psm 150:4.
Then the prophet Miriam, Aarons sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing. And Miriam sang to them Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously Exo 15:20
Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre. Psm 81:2
There is a place for contemporary joyous liturgical music that uses guitar (which is simply an instrument that grew out of the lyre) and tambourine. Stringed instruments were used long before the loud and overpowering organ that, when properly designed and played, shakes the whole church like a 1970s sensoround movie. (or a bass guitar through an amp). And when they join in with a full horn section and the (often out of tune) choir, in an old echoey church where every horn hit bounces off 10 surfaces inside the building, it is not exactly meditative and prayerful for a house of prayer. This is called a High Mass. Nevertheless I like a good loud traditional Mass sometimes just as I like a good Charismatic Mass sometimes - if the musicianship is good.
Im not into loud screaming rock and rap but Im not against people screaming loud music to Christian words if their heart is about evangelization. Jesus said yell it from the rooftops, so why not yell it to music. I dont think its bad to use hard Christian music to reach hard kids. I think this whole thing is like a funnel. At the wide end of the funnel is Christians using pop culture to win pop kids. At the thin end there are monks singing reverent hymns in monasteries and meditating 8 hours a day. (Even though some monks are a lot less holy than some Christian Rock singers) I think every part of the funnel is important. Its all part of the body. Im on a journey inward and so Im less interested in the outside of the funnel, but it was part of my journey.
Upon surrendering to Jesus in 1988, I felt God calling me to completely give up all music. It was terrifying because it was a leap into nothingness. It was a leap into the absurd. I was being called to give up the god of art for the God of our Fathers. I closed my recording studio, gave away and sold all of my equipment, destroyed thousands of hours of work, including that which I considering an extension of my soul - ten years of expensive, irreplaceable master recordings of my music compositions. I went to work for minimum wage at a local charity. I kneeled in front of Churches at 5 am every morning.
In retrospect, it was the greatest moment of clarity I've ever had. There is a cost to making an "absurd" decision for God. Sometimes that which follows is hard. We step forward with "fear and trembling" (Mar 5:33, 2 Co 7:15, Phil 2:12). Abraham was not spared the dread of looking into the eyes of Issac as he lifted the knife, (Gen 22:1-19) Mary was not spared the pain of being misunderstood by Joseph (before the angel visited him - Mat 1:24); the apostles were not spared the fear of their faith as early Christians (Acts), and I was not spared emotional turmoil of giving up everything with which I identified. Nor was I spared the dread of being misunderstood by my relatives who believed I had gone mad. So the paradox of a decision for God, is that the "closer we come to the Absolute, through inwardness, the less we are understood by the outside world."
One night I accidentally locked myself outside my house and walked around the neighborhood thinking of what I could do. I knocked on the door of St. Mary's rectory. Father Bob Bedard opened the door. He took one look at me and said something like "My God, you poor boy, come in." I guess I didn't look very well back then. He put me up in the rectory for 3 nights. He fed me and talked to me. When he heard my story about Montreal and how I had left everything to follow Jesus, he realized I was a new Christian and needed to be spiritually nourished (which is what I didn't get after my New York experience with Jesus). He got me into a prayer meeting and I began the fellowship of Christ. I started attending Catholic Mass in 1989, I began daily Rosary in 1991, and I became a Catholic in 1995.
I eventually went to University, graduated in the class of 2000 (B. Com, Magna Cum Laude - which surprised me - a right brained musician) and began working with people with disabilities. I was walking in the light and staying close to the body of Christ. I never thought I would play music again. And I was OK and obedient to that. I didn't listen to music to music for 10 years except for occasionally stepping into an elevator.
In April 1998, I was on a Cursillo weekend retreat. There was a teaching that love is at the centre of a Christian life. Then the retreat leader said "I'd like everyone to create an artistic expression of what you've learned in this talk." Some people picked up markers and started drawing. Then something happened to me. I saw a guitar.
I hadn't touched an instrument in 10 years. I picked it up and started strumming and singing the words that the retreat leader used in the talk. Another person started singing and a beautiful song called "Love at the Centre" was born and everyone sang, no one knew I had been a musician. It became the theme of the weekend. My voice came back nice and clear. That moment of singing was more of a high than my Broadway opening. I was doing it for the right reasons. For God - for Jesus!
I said "Lord, I would love to record that song but I don't know how I could. I have no money, no instruments and no studio". Several days later a fellow walked up to me on the street and said "David MacDonald?" I replied "yes? " He said "you produced me in the 80's and I was so inspired by your production that I bought $10,000 worth of recording equipment. I'm a lawyer now and have no spare time. Would you like to borrow it? " My jaw dropped and I accepted. A few days later I met a another fellow who said "David I have an electric guitar and an amp that I don't use would you like to borrow them? " I was floored and said "yes!" A woman from Church came up and said "David my mother died and I had given her a $1,200 digital piano. Would you like to have it? Within in a few weeks I had a room full of recording gear and I was recording my first Christian song. Amen.
Ottawa is host to CHRI Radio (99.1 FM), the biggest Christian radio station in Canada with 32,000 listeners. I dropped by the studio with my home made recording and said "I made this recording at home, I haven't played in 10 years so I don't know if its any good." They said it was excellent and put it in regular rotation. So a little music ministry was born for me. I've since performed on CBC radio and Global television's 100 Huntley Street. They just finished running 3 months of a "pro life" advertisement that I made that talked about the horrors of abortion.
I honestly think the turn of events and inspiration that lead me back to music were of God and not that I was duped by the culture (I had not heard a pop song in 10 years). And I honestly don't think he called me to pick up Bach's music.
I believe my music is bringing people to God. Jesus said You will know them by their fruits. Secular kids are singing about Jesus and praying to Him. They wouldnt give me the time a day if I was doing Ave Maria. (Which I love) St Frances de Sales went into the middle of the contemporary culture and among non-Catholics. I dont think he won them from a Catholic pulpit.
As for Catholic music playing beside evangelical music, the Lord said the weeds and the wheat will grow together and in the end times He will sort it out. Mother Theresa worked along side Evangelicals and so I believe I am in good company. Her Catholic message was always clear and I pray mine will be too. Particularly in pro life which is something I believe we are in 100% agreement about. I also thank you for saying "good Catholic names" in reference to me. I believe that my ministry has born fruit for the Holy Catholic Church. If I am wrong I pray God will rebuke me. I hope this is your prayer also.
Traditionalist, Mario Derksen wrote an article on the Monstrance where he talked about paganism:
"let me say that God can and does take pagan things, transforms them, and then uses them for his holy purposes ... Nothing God created is 'evil'.... Therefore, all things are good, and they can be used to serve God's purpose. So something pagan in origin can still be transformed by God into something good." (Debunking Myths about the Monstrance, Mario Derksen)
I believe I have done that with contemporary music.
Now I have to go and catch 7:30 am Mass that I do every morning at the little tradition Italian Church around the corner. Then I will do my daily Rosary and start work. This weekend I am going to play a kicking praise concert for youth.
What will you do if the Rome doesn't do as you ask?
Dave's Music Site
Dave's Catholic Site
August 15, 2003