Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Most Insidious Problem in the Church - and Sir Mix-a-Lot, Too

Grammy Award winning Sir Mix-a-Lot, circa 1992.

In Part One of this post, I quoted Jeff Ostrowski of Corpus Christi Watershed as he showed the similarity between a sappy setting of the Gloria by renegade priest Dan Schutte and the theme to "My Little Pony".  The tunes are disturbingly similar.

Click on the links and compare them yourselves.

Here they are again:

Disturbingly similar.  It makes you wonder if Dan Schutte is a "brony".

A name typically given to the male viewers / fans (whether they are straight, gay, bisexual, etc.) of the My Little Pony show or franchise. They typically do not give in to the hype that males aren't allowed to enjoy things that may be intended for females.

Whether this describes Schutte or not, why is his music such a big deal?

Because in 14 years as a Catholic, I have found that the single most serious issue in the Church is the bad music at Mass.  This is more serious than the sex scandal, more serious than the abdication of our bishops, more serious than heterodox homilies.

Why?  Because all of these other serious problems can be addressed rationally.  Bad bishops, bad homilies and especially the sex abuse scandal are obvious - the latter, in fact, is notorious.  But bad music is insidious.

in·sid·i·ous inˈsidēəs 
adjective insidious
  1. proceeding in a gradual, subtle way, but with harmful effects.

In order to explain this, let me take you back twenty years.


It was sometime in the 1990's.  I was an adult student at Webster University in St. Louis, and I decided to take a class in the Religion Department.  Webster, founded by the Sisters of Loretto, had even then long since abandoned any pretense of being Catholic (like the Sisters of Loretto themselves), and apparently their "Religion" courses were all run by Stanford Nutting, for we'd typically move our chairs in a circle and "discuss" things that we knew absolutely nothing about.

Our instructor one day instigated a discussion on the "Oceanic Feeling", Freud's term for the sense of being One with the universe.  "Have any of you had The Oceanic Feeling?" he asked.

Around the circle of chairs every single hand popped up - except mine.  I had never felt "at One with the universe" and I still haven't.  It's much more obvious that the universe is out to get me, in fact.  I wouldn't last long on the surface of Pluto, for example, and it's pretty evident that the consistent unity of inter-acting things (which is what the universe is) could, at best, give a fig about yours truly.

"What on earth gives you the Oceanic Feeling?" I asked the young man sitting across from me - one of the many whose hand had shot up.

"Music!" he exclaimed, with a breathless and airy enthusiasm.  "Music gives me the Oceanic Feeling!"

I have forgotten this kid's name, but he was the most soft-spoken student in the class.  He barely vocalized above a whisper, and I often wanted to shake him and say, "Speak up!  The universe can't hear you!"  His great affectation was gentleness, but he looked like a mafioso.  Tall with dark hair, dark eyebrows and a permanent five o'clock shadow, his abundant testosterone and Mediterranean background put the lie to his almost androgynous mildness of manner - though he did live with his mother and her sisters, so the poor kid had an uphill battle.

"What kind of music puts you at One with the universe?" I asked.

"Any kind of music," he said glibly and smiled.

"Oh, any kind of music puts you at One with the universe, does it?" I pressed.

"Yes, any kind of music!"

 "What about rap music?  Does rap music put you at One with the universe?"

"It certainly could!" he smiled.

"Let me get this straight," I replied.  "'Baby Got Back' by Sir Mix-a-Lot, that song about girls with gigantic butts - even that song could put you at One with the universe?  Even that song could give you the old Oceanic Feeling?"

He wasn't the least bit phased.  "I'm certain it could!" he answered, slipping into a kind of benign trance even as he sat there.


But of course he was wrong.  Supposing the Oceanic Feeling to be a real thing, Sir Mix-a-Lot and "Baby Got Back" would not be any way to get there.

Music, like all art, like all things we experience aesthetically, has an objective component, even though our appreciation of this objective component varies subjectively from person to person - but not entirely.  This is why we have critics.  This is why we discuss music and art and literature, because we know innately that there is some objective quality we are trying to evaluate and appreciate in any work of art, limited though we are in our subjective ability to do so. There are objective standards of good and bad, and various works of art hit those standards or fall shy of them.  More than that, what makes a good rap song does not make a good church hymn.  Art exists for a teleos, or an end, a reason - and good art achieves the end for which it is made; bad art does not.

For instance, there's nothing wrong with the "My Little Pony Theme".  It's entirely appropriate for the show and for its demographic - female children.

It is entirely inappropriate for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

As I wrote on Facebook ...

Bad liturgical music is insidious. It's one thing to hear a heterodox homily or to spot liturgical abuse - but the music, even the very melodies - the music conveys heterodoxy at a subliminal and pre-rational level, making it almost impossible to fight against. 

And this is the problem.  When Catholics are surrounded by melodies that deliberately convey the unconscious message that Jesus Christ crucified is no different from a mindless cartoon for little girls, we've got a serious problem.

Were the music at Mass reformed in one fell swoop, the Church would begin a rebirth in America the likes of which we have never seen before.  But as long as the "My Little Pony Theme" is used to glorify God, reform in the Church will never take hold.


Anonymous said...

Kevin, thank you, thank you and, for good measure, thank you again! I am inches away from hijacking the organ/choir loft of our wonderful old church (with a glorious organ, I might add) and forcing the interim music director to read Joseph P. Swain's "Sacred Treasure" or Father George William Rutler's "Brightest and Best". If he doesn't get the picture after that, I'm taking over. The "Gloria" version of which you speak is the one that we sing at our church. On Easter Sunday I whispered to my daughter "we have got to find a new Gloria. I can't take this too much longer". Thanks for the posting.

Joey Higgins said...

When the, "My Little Pony," music started... oh man... I've heard and played the Gloria enough to be flabbergasted at the similarities.

Nobody likes the Gloria. It's too long, doesn't go anywhere, and only has some interaction from the clergy because they've heard it. When I look at the congregation during the Gloria, I get nothing back.

There's so much resistance to change music, even from people that don't really have an agenda. They've bought into the lie:

- it's too hard for the congregation to sing
- they don't know it
- it's too *something* for mass or the people won't like it

Well, the first 2 are objectively wrong: I've been to concerts where people are shouting the lyrics to songs much harder than anything at church and they didn't know the Gloria a priori.

The third one is a harder criticism, but, I'd argue that most of the Psalm music and mass part music that we get aren't appropriate for mass either.

Anonymous said...


There is also the new trend of trying to further your liberal agenda by putting your children into situations where you know they will be bullied.

Dr. Eric