In the United States, the annual Thanksgiving day, celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November to thank God for the fields’ good harvest, is one of the most popular national holidays since 1620, when the “Pilgrim Fathers” landed at Plymouth Rock .
As you reflect on this day, “in which it is a must to eat the turkey patriarchally carved by the head of the family in person” (G. Piovene, in Corriere della Sera, Milan, 20 December 1950, p. 3), an old but still interesting bit of news occurs to you:
Three hundred turkeys have died from the terror caused by the noise of a rave party in the country. It happened in Baone, a little town in the province of Padua, a few nights ago, where the turkeys of a farm were suddenly woken up in the middle of the night by the sound of the amplifiers activated by the deejays who were holding a rave. The birds, terrified, have piled up against a fence trampling each other. In the end, about three hundred of them remained dead on the ground. (La Repubblica, Rome, 26 July 2001)
It comes to mind that in our difficult times, in which there is much talk of “care for our common home,” when environmental emergency and the “God of the poor” is invoked “that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction” (Francis, Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’, 24 May 2015, 246), also music pollution — that is, being besieged with music chosen by others — should hold our attention.
This complex phenomenon, not to be confused with noise pollution, they has been studied and spoken of for some decades (cf. G. La Face Bianconi, Musica urbana: il problema dell’inquinamento musicale, Il Saggiatore Musicale, 2002, pp. 184–185). Immanuel Kant, in his The Critique of Judgement (1790), almost noted that ears have no eyelids:
There attaches to Music a certain want of urbanity from the fact that, chiefly from the character of its instruments, it extends its influence further than is desired (in the neighborhood), and so as it were obtrudes itself, and does violence to the freedom of others who are not of the musical company. The Arts which appeal to the eyes do not do this; for we need only turn our eyes away, if we wish to avoid being impressed. (§53)
One puts up with music, in most cases in the background, in supermarkets, to stimulate consumer purchases; in restaurants, to speed up meals; in the liturgy, to…
Now, don’t you want to accuse liturgical music also of “a certain want of urbanity”? Or to deny the effects of that new Pentecost — i.e., Vatican II — that would make the Church flourish in her interior richness and in the extension of her motherly mantle over every field of human activity (cf. Address at the Close of the First Session of the Council, 8 December 1962)?
No, but for similitude you can say that as the group of turkeys of Baone wanted only to sleep, so “the assembly” gathered round the altar and “presided over” by the priest would just like to offer up prayer and praise to Almighty God. And with music according to the norms of the Council and the paternal exhortations that accompanied them.
For instance: “The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services” (Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 116). If you set foot in a church during a Mass, is it not true that these words of an apostolic constitution — which is a pontifical act on the most important matters — is largely a dead letter, or rather killed?
“Nothing, simplifying, in Gregorian chant is accidental; as each Scripture passage lives in connection with others − let us think of the New Testament as the fulfillment of the Old — so every formula of the Church singing alludes to other, posed in other contexts to refer to each other in a dense fabric of theological-musical quotations” (M. Rossi, Le cetre e i salici, Verona, Fede & Cultura, 2015). This chant, so suitable for worship, at whose base repertoires were formed already in the 2nd century, this chant, almost five centuries later called Gregorian, which has the peculiar quality of being an integral part of liturgy and the Word made sound, can now be scrapped?
No, you say to yourself, the musical tradition of the Church, which the past centuries have made glorious, especially in its loftiest expressions of polyphony, will not long be disfigured by the musical pollution of vulgar songs, composed by improvising authors, who have escaped even the trouble of writing rhymed verses, of ditties accompanied by hoed and moreover amplified guitars.
For years you are told that all that is useful to attract the young people, and then you see guitar-diggers with gray hair and incipient baldness, strummers for whom love is the “sad sigh and keen regret of hoary age’s rime” (G. Leopardi, The Solitary Thrush, 21). Couldn’t their pop music be more appreciated in some social club?
It’s just a matter of pop songs! From the Italian conductor Riccardo Muti:
The history of great music was determined by what the Church did, and I am not referring only to the Gregorian period, which is amazing, but also to the present day. Now I don’t understand the churches, among other things all provided with sensational pipe organs, where instead pop songs are played. When I go to church and I hear four strums of a guitar or choruses of senseless, insipid words, I think it’s an insult. I can’t work out how come once upon a time there were Mozart and Bach and now we have little sing-songs. This is a lack of respect for people’s intelligence. The most simple or distant person, hearing Mozart’s Ave verum, can be moved to a spiritual dimension. (ASCA, 21 Maggio 2011)
You are considering a pollution of spirits that is no less worrying than the environmental one, and you wish also that the liturgical ecology will worry those who have responsibility for the salvation of souls.
Poor turkeys of Baone! And poor faithful of Christ!
Massimo Scapin, Italian conductor of both opera and the symphonic repertoire, composer, and pianist, holds degrees in piano and choral conducting from the State Conservatory of Music in Perugia, in orchestral conducting and composition from the National College of Music in London, and in religious science (magna cum laude) from the Pontifical Lateran University. Massimo appeared as guest conductor and pianist in Europe, Japan, Kazakhstan, Korea, and the United States. He was also a Vatican Radio commentator and entertainer. He currently serves as director of music for the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina.