Hollywood wisdom and unintended consequences

It is a rare occasion when one can glean a bit of wisdom from a Hollywood cartoon, but the latest movie from Dreamworks, Kung Fu Panda, in fact was able to offer me some insight to my past. The particular quotation I’m thinking of here is “One often meets his destiny on the road he takes to avoid it.” This brings to mind the whole idea of unintended consequences.

From about fourth grade to sixth grade, I was in our grade school choir, as well as our band program, the latter of which I continued throughout high school. But in the sixth grade, I decided I had had enough of choir. The songs we sang were lame, folksy american tunes. At the time, I didn’t think much about it. Around the same time period, I vaguely remember watching some Disney movie where two boys of different races become friends through singing sacred polyphony (and the blues). I didn’t make any connections at the time, and I’m sure I had no concept of what sacred polyphony was, and only a little of what the blues was. 

But looking back (and really the Colloquium brought this out), I imagine the tunes we sang in grade school choir were chosen because someone thought they would be more interesting to kids, and easier to sing, and thus make kids more interested in music. I don’t think it worked.  It certainly didn’t in my case, and not for many others. In fact, it was quite the opposite – I was turned off to choral singing for quite some time.

The Colloquium was the first time I really sang polyphony – and on the first day I was quite scared that I would not do very well and ruin the group so to speak. I can’t say that I did really well – but I was encouraged by the beautiful music, the passion and voices of those around me, and, to paraphrase Kung Fu Panda again, the pure, legendary awesomeness of Dr. Marht, the legendary sacred music director whose conducting skills are the stuff of legend. I think our choir did pretty well in the end, and although I missed several notes throughout the week, it was an amazing experience, and I don’t think I embarrassed myself too much.

But all of this I think ties back to the liturgy as well. Many people thought that moving to pop music in the vernacular within the Church was a good idea and that it would keep the church in the modern age and prevent people from being disinterested in the liturgy. I don’t think it worked. 

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3 Comments on “Hollywood wisdom and unintended consequences”

  1. Contrarian in Hesburgh Library Says:

    1. How can this little panda get a hold of a copy of the mystical Disney musical?

    2. Do you really trust your memory? As a childhood choir member, I am quite sure that we busted out with a little latin. Young men defecting from the choir seemed to originate out of the strict gender segregation- social hierarchy that cements in tweens. I am not convinced the pop-hits drove them away. 🙂

    3. I attend a pretty kosher Catholic parish in Phoenix with a weekly-daily tridentine Mass. I would say the under forty demographic is split pretty equally between the english-high church, evangelical pop Masses, and Tridentine services. Among the young families, I have never noticed a big division in the nmber of children or commitment to the Catholic Church ideals. If anything, I would argue that the Tridentine service attracts the most distracted crowd!

  2. arscatholica Says:

    Au contraire mon amie

    1. The movie is called Perfect Harmony (actually I didn’t remember the title – but Google came to the rescue). It’s actually partially available as youtube videos.

    2. I do trust my memory. We sang songs like “What should I do with a drunken sailor” and T’is the Gift to be Simple.” The latter I sang as a solo piece at a solo/ensemble contest. We did not sing one piece in Latin – of course, I was at a public school. And more of what I’m getting at is choosing songs that are a challenge for the group. At the time, I also probably would have been happier singing pop tunes – but I think if you offer the kids a challenge, they will take it up. If they know what their singing is worth the effort they are putting into it. As a disincentive to to not being in choir, our sixth grade teachers made us do book reports instead. I chose doing book reports over choir.

    I think this is also a reason why it’s harder to get people in the choir today – if they can just as easily sing the piece in the pews, why bother joining the choir?

    3. Is the Tridentine service a high or low mass? If the former, is there gregorian chant and sacred polyphony, or is it mainly traditional hymns? I’m actually not advocating a connection between beautiful music and the ordinary and extraordinary form. Catholic music started to go downhill before Vatican II. There have been other attempts at a revival of chant (one around the turn of the 20th century I believe). Having an extraordinary form mass doesn’t automatically make the music good. I think you have a couple issues with pop music hymns, wherever they are used.
    a) They are generally subpar music. Even if you accept that the genre is okay when compared to other genres, they are generally inferior to the secular equivalent. Marty Haugen is no Bob Dylan; the St. Louis Jesuits ain’t no Beatles. Christian Pop in general grates my ears, and yet I will happily listen to Radiohead, and of course, LineBacker music (sorry non-domers).
    b)They tend to fade in time. A lot of the music is a sort of broadway style, and is very susceptible to the passage of time. So that what may sound good to one generation tends to sour quickly for the next. Chant and sacred polyphony, I would argue, tend to be timeless.
    c) They just don’t generally fit the liturgical form. This is particularly a problem at communion – a lot of contemporary music slotted for this ‘timespot’ in the mass is just plain jarring to the liturgical action.

    Anyway, I think I’ve gotten off base here a bit – but the main thrust of the post is that we should challenge and educate both kids learning music, and Catholics with learning about the treasury of music that we have. Trying to tone it down to the lowest common denominator doesn’t really make anyone happy. I keep thinking of Shakespeare here – there’s a reason that both groundling and royalty could enjoy his plays – and I don’t think it was because he tried to appeal to the lowest common denominator or take his writing down a few notches.

    Thanks for the comment!


  3. Very good points, especially about the timeless quality of sacred chant versus the ephemeral qualities of pop.

    Although, pop, because of its qualities and “acceptability(?)” has its uses: it becomes transparent to the listener, allowing one to focus more on the message (if there is one). Wrote about it in an old blog post here.

    I think the problem is much simpler: chant isn’t as easily “sourced” or found as, say, a catalog from some of the publishers out there with a music book for every need.


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