And all the work of the National Liturgical Music Board goes down the gurgler. I’m sorry, but someone has to put a stop to this.
The Willow Connection (aka Willow Publishing – I could find no information on the internet about who this crowd is) are the publishers of the As One Voice series of song books. The first two volumes are in broad use in the Catholic parishes of Australia, and a third has just been released (“The Next Generation”). To promote this series of books, the Willow Conection is planning and promoting a three day conference 24-26 September in Sydney called “As One Voice National Christian Music Conference”. The full program can be downloaded from here.
Now I have nothing against people holding Christian music conferences. I’m all for it. I am a bit more cagey when that conference is explicitly designed by a particular publishing company to sell a particular product. And I am definitely and particularly opposed when a publishing company, without the authority or approval of our Catholic Bishops Conference, directly targets Catholic parish music teams to press upon them products and directions that run completely counter to the Bishops own Liturgical Music Board.
For this is what this planned conference amounts to.
Anyone who has taken the time to look at the National Liturgical Music Board’s Bishops approved Recommended List of Liturgical Music for use in Australia will see that the “As One Voice” books do not (as a whole) have the imprimatur of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. In fact, only 55% of the first volume and 34% of the second volumes contents made the recommended list. (The new volume was not published yet when the list was drawn up). The fact is that Australia’s Catholic bishops have, as a body, decided that more than half of the contents of “As One Voice” (Vols I & II) are unsuitable for use in Catholic parishes.
The Press release for this Conference lists “Australia’s best Catholic [musical] artists” – including Kevin Bates, Monica Brown, Peter Kearney, Michael Mangan and Trisha Watts. Now I confess that I do not find all that these artists have written problematic, but again, anyone who has looked at the NLMB’s list will see that there are few of their works that make the list.
Amid all the hard work that the Church has done around the world to address the accuracy of the language used in our liturgy, if this sort of thing is allowed go ahead unchecked, we are, in effect, plugging the leak while leaving the tap running.
A few excerpts from the brochure promoting the As One Voice Conference [my comments in bold italics]:
* The As One Voice National Conference is a celebration of Australia – the people and the music that have shaped our worship over the past 20 years. [Of course, this is all that matters - the "next generation" - the past 2000 years of Church music and hymnody is dismissed as insignificant - and doubly so if it isn't "Australian".]
* In this time of change and transition within the church it is opportune for all involved in the important role of music ministry to become familiar with the latest developments and guidelines offered by the Church and to gain support and encouragement as we continue to confidently sing and worship into the 21st century. This conference provides such an opportunity. [Does it? It flies in the face of the NLMB's list for a start.]
* The exciting music and educational program has been specifically designed to address the needs and interests of youth and adults involved in music ministry within the Catholic community. [Note that this is not just a "Christian Music" conference - they are targeting Catholic parishes]
* Come along ready to sing through some exciting new repertoire for use in school and parish celebrations. [There is nowhere in the program for the "exciting OLD repertoire" that has sustained the Church for centuries - the focus is on "new" - a word that appears twenty five times on the brochure]
* Are you unsure about what music is appropriate for liturgy? How do you select contemporary music that will speak to young people who are exploring issues of faith and life? Are you looking for new, contemporary music to expand your repertoire that will touch the hearts of young people? [Is there not already the assumption here than anything that is not "new" or "contemporary" is not "appropriate"?]
* Drawing on the huge selection of new, contemporary music from As One Voice – The Next Generation, participants will have the chance to learn, sing, play and pray songs by Australian and International songwriters. [New, contemporary - etc. etc. Just make sure it comes from "As One Voice" since they're paying for this, you know]
The Plenary Session, in which “All delegates are invited to participate” is called “New Challenges in Liturgical Music Leadership”, and is described thus:
World Youth Day 2008 seemed to herald the acceptance of the contemporary music genre in Australian Catholic churches. Before and since, drum kits have been appearing on the Catholic liturgical landscape, and ‘praise and worship’ songs have become a regular feature of youth-oriented masses. At the same time, Pope Benedict XVI has expressed his desire that Gregorian Chant be the primary genre of music used in Catholic liturgy, and the National Liturgical Commission has prepared a list of approved songs for liturgy. How are we to make sense of these different currents flowing in liturgical music today? How do we grasp the opportunities and face the challenges that new styles of music and new performance modes bring to liturgy? What is needed to help music ministers do this?
What indeed? Not another book from the Willow Connection. Not more “new” stuff sold to us by publishers who have a vested interest in getting us addicted to the “ever new”. Not a wider use of the (largely unapproved) “As One Voice” series. And can the expressed desire of the Holy Father and Australian Catholic Bishops Conference be simply dismissed as a “current” in the make up of the music we use in the Roman Rite of the Mass?
There is indeed much to be done in encouraging the liturgical singing and music in our parishes, and I urge those with oversight of this area to do it. But someone has to blow the whistle on this conference, which has absolutely no (= zilch, zip, zero) authority or approval from the Australian Catholic Bishops Confernce or the Liturgical Music Board and which – far from leading us forward – will undo all the good work that our Holy Father and the Bishops of the English speaking Churches throughout the world and here in Australia have done to this point to make our parish liturgies more faithful to the Liturgy of the Church.
PS. And, as a footnote, anything that Catholica recommends…