Back from a splendid holiday in London. Yes, it was soggy and it did seem to get dark awfully early. However, there were always museums to visit and pubs to warm up in.
The best part – three splendid liturgies and a wonderful carol service. At Westminster Cathedral and the London Oratory, music is important. And they obviously put their money were their mouths are (to use an odd phrase). When you get the best in directors, singers, and organists and when you recognize that the Church’s treasury of sacred music actually belongs in the churches, the result is astonding. And I felt that it was also appreciated.
One of the sad results of the gutting of both church music and music education in this country is the loss of repertoire and the loss of understanding. Most churches are just fine with music that is mediocre at best. And the congregations feel the same way. Many music directors know little about sacred music beyond the boundaries of their hymnals and whatever the “Big Three” publishers promote. (The latter will not, needless to say, be in the public domain.) Catholics (or anyone else) who’ve never learned to read music or sang in a chorus or choir that “did parts” are often indifferent to the music at Mass.
What did I hear in London? Among other things, I heard chant that moved with energy and sureness. I heard wonderful intonation and diction. The Haydn Missa Nicolai at midnight at the Cathedral; the Mozart “Sparrow Mass” at the Oratory the next day. The carol service featured both old and new music, with all the good stuff for the congregations to join in on. And join they did! And a nice tune for “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” during Communion at Midnight Mass that I didn’t recognize.
And yes, “Once in royal David’s city” always makes me weep.