Today I saw a video of a renown Catholic theologian playing a Christian Rock song with an equally renown Catholic musician. You can see it here. Below is the comment I left on the post, which I also wanted to include here.
Without any personal criticism intended toward the theologians/performers involved, this is one of many examples of something that troubles me in the Church today.
On the one hand, we have very theologically orthodox people here (performers, theologian-performers and audience alike, I am quite sure). The words of the song reflect this, albiet in a very simplified form. However, the music itself (the actual sound in the air as a communication from performer to listener) is indistinguishable from Rock, with all of its sexual, industrial, and nihilistic connotations, not to mention its overwhelming volume. The “scene” in the room is also very difficult to distinguish from a typical rock concert (i.e. the darkness, smoke, many young people up on their feet, waving their hands to the music).
What concerns me about this trend, of which this particular event is merely one example, are the unacknowledged contradictory messages being sent: an orthodox, Catholic message in the words, and an utterly worldly one in the music itself. Indeed, the presence of a Christian text does little to negate what the music itself is saying.
To illustrate this point, I would ask the reader/listener this question: If you did not understand spoken/sung English or the written English on the projection screen, and you did not already know the song being sung as a “Christian” one, would you recognize this music as Christian?
In the interest of full disclosure, I am a classically trained, Catholic composer, steeped not only in chant but in the great musical tradition that has grown out of it during the past thousand years.
In light of this, I invite the reader to consider a statement from a far greater man than myself.
“Rock” [music]. . . is the expression of elemental passions, and at rock festivals it assumes a cultic character, a form of worship, in fact, in opposition to Christian worship. People are, so to speak, released from themselves by the experience of being part of a crowd and by the emotional shock of rhythm, noise, and special lighting effects. However, in the ecstasy of having all their defenses torn down, the participants sink, as it were, beneath the elemental force of the universe.”
~ Pope Benedict XVI
Can we really say that “Christian Rock,” in the music itself, is communicating something substantially different, however pious the lyrics may be at a particular moment?
Friends, let us not so uncritically accept the artistic and musical presuppositions of our culture—importing them more or less wholesale into our entertainment and even our Liturgy—because it seems to stir up the faithful (especially the youth) in the short term. This is even more important when it comes to music, since it largely bypasses the rational faculties and goes “straight to the heart” (a subject for a separate post).
My prayers for your thoughtful consideration.
Brian J. Nelson – Composer
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