Sunday, 26 July 2009

On weddings, dancing and much else

In my inveterate cynicism I have always believed that it is one of the invariable laws of human nature that weddings always bring out the worst possible taste in their participants. And this is alas true of even the best occasions and the most cultivated persons. And this Youtube clip, courtesy of Patrick Madrid, is no exception to the rule:

In the Birmingham Oratory we are right in the wedding season. It may well be believed that here we are spared most of the usual kitsch that turns up at these occasions. Alas, that is not the case. We may be spared 'liturgical nuptial' dancing but at weddings we are not spared the usual dreadful music and ditties that plague most parishes. In fact so much so weddings are choir functions that I try to avoid, despite the fact they are well paid for.

The majority of wedding couples have little knowledge of the wonderful repertoire of church music, and so they instinctively go for 'traditional Catholic' music that they have learnt in 'Catholic' schools. This means hymns from the Yellow Peril (alias the Celebration Hymnal) or Hymns Old and Even Older, such as As I kneel before you and Lord Jesus Christ, you have come to us. That is if they have 'better' taste.

Some then try to add what is for them 'cultured high brow' music, which is almost invariably 'Ave Maria' by Schubert or Bach-Gounod, and 'Panis Angelicus' by Cesar Franck (sung at a wedding service when it is supposed to be a communion motet). The organ voluntaries usually are Mendelssohn's Bridal March at the beginning (again!) and finishing off with Widor's tocatta (which is notoriously taxing on the organist's right hand).

The sad truth is that throughout the Western world many couples come for a church wedding purely for the stateliness of the occasion, with almost no idea of the reality of the sacrament of matrimony, and of the liturgy that encompasses it. Consequently with a very vague idea of what Catholic marriage is, they make a complete hash of it and make the nuptial rite into a complete joke.

What to us musicians may be an expression of the worst possible taste is in fact a small symptom of a far deeper malaise. It is the total lack of upbringing in the faith and of proper catechetical formation. Many couples are cohabiting beforehand: a practice guaranteed to put in jeopardy any chances of happy successful marriage. It is little more than the consequence of the absolute refusal of the English church and bishops to be a counter - cultural sign of contradiction in society, in worship and most of all, in moral teaching.

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