Volume 117, Number 1, Spring 1990
From The Editors
IS THE CHURCH MUSIC ASSOCIATION DEAD?
Monsignor Richard J. Schuler
Monsignor Francis P. Schmitt thinks so, and says so in his address
delivered at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on the
occasion of the gift of the Boys Town music library to the university. He
thinks the CMA is "as dead as Morley's ghost."
Definition of death, even human death, is under great discussion today
medically and morally. Death of an organization is even harder to
determine. All institutions pass through periods of greater and lesser
activity. A good example of that is the history of the Caecilian movement
in the United States, which flourished in the late nineteenth century, but
almost disappeared in the early twentieth century.
So perhaps the Church Music Association is no more dead than its
predecessors: The Society of St. Gregory of America and the American
Cecilian Society. Except for initial gatherings, neither of these mounted
large national meetings or sponsored impressive study weeks, chiefly for
the reason that the costs of such activities made them impossible. And the
same reasoning exists today.
National conventions of most educational or learned societies have been
considerably curtailed because those who belong are unable to pay for
hotels, dinners, air fares. Regional meetings have replaced many national
gatherings; some societies simply gave up meetings. The remuneration of
church musicians has never been generous. Experience in Detroit, Boston,
Saint Paul and Pueblo showed clearly that the Catholic church musician
could not afford such expenditures as those demanded by travel and lodging
away from home.
Thus, for the past two decades, the chief activity (and activity does show
life!) of the Church Music Association of America has been the publication
of its journal, "Sacred Music". It has been a forum, and many have found in
its pages a welcome expression of the ideals proclaimed by the Church for
the liturgy. Interestingly, this fact of life (even an association's life!)
was clearly grasped when the editing of "Sacred Music" was moved to Saint
Paul, Minnesota, in 1975. At that time, an editorial expressed the purpose
of the journal as a voice of the association. Today, even without any
national meetings, the journal continues to express the purpose of the
association. It is alive and functioning (chiefly because all its editors
and contributors work without any remuneration). That editorial is
reprinted here, fifteen years later:
The policy of "Sacred Music" cannot be described by the words
conservative or liberal Rather it is Catholic--Roman
Catholic--bound to the directions given by the Church. Nor can
it be called traditionalist or progressivist, since it upholds
the directives of the Second Vatican Council that the traditions
of the past are to be maintained and fostered at the same time
that new directions and styles are encouraged. Nor is it
committed to the old and not the new, or the new and not the old
In primacy of place always we put the Gregorian chant as it has
been ordered by the council and re-issued in the latest Roman
chant books. Likewise according to the direction of the
council, we value and foster the polyphonic developments in
music through the thousand years that the Roman "Missa cantata"
has been the focus of great musical composition, both in the "a
cappella" tradition and with organ and orchestral accompaniment.
We heartily encourage the singing of our congregations as the
council demands, but we just as energetically promote the
activities of choirs as the council also ordered. Finally, as
men of our own century, we welcome the great privilege extended
by the Vatican Council for the use of the vernacular languages
in the liturgy along side the Latin, and so we encourage the
composition of true liturgical music in our own day in both
Latin and the vernacular. We see no necessary conflict lbetween
Latin and English, between the congregation and the choir,
between new and old music; there cannot be, since the council
has provided for both.
Knowledge of what the Church wishes and has decreed, both in the
council and in the documents that have followed its close, is of
the utmost importance to both composers and performers, to
musicians and to the clergy. So much of the unhappy state of
liturgy and "Sacred Music" in our day has come from a
misunderstanding of what the Church in her authentic documents
has ordered. Too much erroneous opinion, propaganda and even
manipulation have been evident, bringing about a condition far
different from that intended by the council fathers in their
liturgical and musical reforms. "Sacred Music" will continue to
publish and to repeat the authentic wishes of the Church, since
the regulation of the liturgy (and music is an integral part of
liturgy) belongs to the Holy See and to the bishops according to
their role. No one else, not even a priest, can change
liturgical rules or introduce innovations according to his own
But beyond the positive directions of the Church for the proper
implementation of her liturgy, there remains always the area of
art where the competent musician can exercise his trained
judgment and express his artistic opinions. While the Church
gives us rules pertaining to the liturgical action, the
determining of fittingness, style and beauty belongs to the
realm of the artist, truly talented, inspired and properly
trained. Pope Paul himself made a very useful distinction on
April 15, 1971, when he addressed a thousand Religious who had
participated in a convention of the Italian Society of Saint
Caecilia in Rome. The Holy Father insisted that only "sacred"
music may be used in God's temple, but not all music that might
be termed "sacred" is fitting and worthy of that temple. Thus,
while nothing profane must be brought into the service of the
liturgy, just as truly nothing lacking in true art may be used
either. (Cf. "Sacred Music", Vol. 98, No. 2 [Summer 1971], p.
To learn the decrees of the Church in matters of "Sacred Music"
is not sufficient. Education in art--whether it be in music,
architecture, painting or ceremonial--is also necessary. For the
composer talent alone is not sufficient; he must also have
inspiration rooted in faith and a sound training of his talents.
When any one of these qualities is missing, true art is not
forthcoming. So also the performer, in proportion to his role,
must possess talent, training and inspiration.
A quarterly journal can never attempt to supply these
requirements for true musicianship. It can only hope to direct
and encourage the church musician who must possess his talents
from his Creator, his training from a good school of music, and
his inspiration in faith from God's grace given him through
Catholic living. But through reading these pages, information on
what is being accomplished throughout the Catholic world,
directions from proper authorities, news of books and
compositions can serve as an aid to all associated with the
celebration of the sacred liturgy.
Hopefully, some day, more vigorous life may be found in the Church Music
Association of America. Until that utopia arrives, our journal, "Sacred
Music", must continue to bear the burden of the association. The journal
can be found in libraries on all the continents; it brings a great volume
of correspondence to its editors; it will remain an historical record of
these troubled times. It is the spark that glows and from which a stronger
and more vital society may some day emerge. Surely all blood transfusions,
organ transplants and other life-sustaining procedures are most welcome.