An excellent article by Michael Knox Beran appears this week on National Review concering Pope Benedict’s “Old Fogeyism” for liturgical music.
This is my favorite line: “But if good music does not always save the soul, bad music never does.”
I’ve often said that Pachelbel had more to do with saving my soul than Augustine. If I’d never heard Pachelbel’s Canon in D I never would’ve read Augustine. I was 19 and I’d just gotten batteries for my Walkman and was excited to go to sleep while listening to music. So I stole a tape out of my brother’s room of classical music. I wasn’t a classical music fan at all but I thought it would be good music to fall asleep to. I was wrong. The first time I heard the Canon I sat up. I was shocked. I felt like I’d heard something I’d never heard before. My immediate question to myself was “Does anyone else know about this song?” Pachelbel’s music confronted my materialist ethics and made me realize the shortcomings of my reason. I thought to myself that if this song existed there had to be a God.
I remember I foolishly played it for a few friends in their car a few nights later but they were unmoved. They spoke to each other throughout the music and I was stuck in the stupid role of saying, “Guys just listen to this.” And that never works
But anyway Mr. Beran does an excellent job in his article concerning the importance of great music to the faith.
The pope adheres to old Greek belief that words and sounds — and the rhythmic patterns in which they are bound together in music and poetry — have a unique power to awaken the mind. He has spoken frequently of the power of rhythm to prepare the soul to receive truths that would otherwise remain unintelligible. In 2002 he described the experience of listening to music as an “encounter with the beautiful,” one that becomes “the wound of the arrow that strikes the heart and in this way opens our eyes.” He went on to say,
For me, an unforgettable experience was the Bach concert that Leonard Bernstein conducted in Munich after the sudden death [in 1981] of Karl Richter. I was sitting next to the Lutheran Bishop Hanselmann. When the last note of one of the great Thomas-Kantor-Cantatas faded away, we looked at each spontaneously and right then we said, ‘Anyone who has heard this, knows that the faith is true.’ The music had such an extraordinary force of reality that we realized, no longer by deduction, but by the impact on our hearts, that it could not have originated from nothingness, but could only have come to be through the power of the Truth that became real in the composer’s inspiration.
The pope’s efforts to bring back great music into Mass has been categorized as mainly a battle against modernism when in fact it’s an assault on mediocrity.