This is me, Eccles

This is me, Eccles
This is me, Eccles

Monday, 5 August 2013

Music in church

I don't usually blog about music, since I don't know much about it. On the other hand I do know what I don't like.


The Mallard - a metaphor for this Sunday's music.

This Sunday I went to a Mass at which the music hit a new low. The best way to deal with a trauma is to tell people about it, so here goes. I've changed the names in order to protect the guilty.

The musicians:

Mr Anguish, organist. 
Mrs Bedlam, singer and conductor. 
Mr Cacophony, singer and guitar-player. 
Mr Dissonance, singer and flute-player.
A, alone, would have done a very competent job. The first hymn was "Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven", which I normally enjoy very much. However, C and D were also allowed to play their instruments, and this was a bad idea. We got to the chorus, "Praise Him, praise Him..." and there was a screech such as you get from the wheels of a train when it is going round a tight curve. Yes, D, the flautist, had decided to show off a little. Maybe it was in the wrong key, maybe it wasn't in any key, but the high-pitched screeching was horrible, and probably infringed numerous health and safety directives.



The other hymns were unremarkable. The final one was Bernadette Farrell's "Christ be our light", which is not ludicrous enough to be a candidate for the Eccles Bad Hymn Award, although it can be extremely irritating in its banality.

No, the real offence came during the sung parts of the Mass (Kyrie, Gloria, etc.) There's a basic question here: why are people who are musical always assumed to be able to sing? You don't ask James MacMillan to give us a rendering of Donald, where's yer troosers? when he's finished conducting his latest work, so why should a guitar-player be rebranded as a singer? We had C's big moment, when he led the singing of the Gloria. Even I could tell that he was singing no better than anyone else in the congregation, and a good deal worse than some.


Another mallard, this one singing "Gloria in Excelsis Deo!"

You may think I've got it in for C, but his guitar-playing was also intrusive. When you are about to sing the Agnus Dei (even in English), do you really want it introduced with a massive TWANNGGG! on all the strings simultaneously, as if you were about to sing "Eviva España!"? And another TWANNGGG! to conclude?

train compartment

A similar TWANNGGG! can be obtained by getting up quickly from one of these seats.

B was fine as a singer, although as a conductor she didn't always make it clear when the choir was supposed to sing along, and when the congregation could join in - this confused the priest as well. The overall effect was dire.

head bang

The counselling I was given.

Of course one should never criticise bad music in church, even when it distracts from worship, devotion, and thoughts of God. But how do you tell a musician, politely, "Er, you're not very good, are you?"


  1. Eccles
    You have answered your own question:
    " But how do you tell a musician, politely, "Er, you're not very good, are you?""
    Answer : In private, in a low voice, with a safe distance (calculating a firework is not enough) with no object , such as a wall or hedge blocking your hasty departure, you say
    "Er, you're not very good, are you?"
    Politely, with it.
    If your UNSTATED question is how do you avoid physical harm to your person and /or making a permanent implacable foe, in the parish /twitter etc, stalking and harassing/ment of you and yours until death and beyond when so asking howsoever politely.....
    Then, son, I fear yours truly - and we are legion who are fellow sufferers - has no answer nor you won't get one not even from cleverer people than me such as brere rabbit aka displaced from wherever, nor narnian empresses nor nothing.
    I may be wrong.

  2. Sorry to be late commenting on your luvvly blog, Eccles (after a busy morning trying to help the mentally ill improve their Twitter language) and I think you should stop complaining until you have been to Mass every day for three years in a church with no music.

    BTW, a lovely lady with problems who shouts and swears a lot, who I was trying to help earlier, says your blog reminds her of Cardinal Manning. Can't quite see it myself. But bless her anyway.

    1. Surely in Spain dere aint no shortage of bad giutar players?

    2. Yes quite. Here is a good example of a typical flamenco Mass (for the full irreverence start 4 mins into video)

      It atkes some getting used to. The priest delivers the host with castanets and the response is "Olé".

    3. You are sticking to tourist-trodden parts., forsooth. In the celtic parts of Spain there is a well attested preVatII tradition of bagpipes at mass, possibly only post tridentine. (And I can't believe the castanets from the priest giving communion, nor the Ole reponse except from Spanish poultrymen))
      I admit, , both when around twenty and >3x older, a distant sound of bagpipes, be they Scots, Irish, Asturian , Galician , or other sends me to the street to hear.
      But bagpipes at mass are ..hmm.. an aquired taste which I ,perhaps foolishly and frivolously, decided not to aquire, after just one mass.
      This sort of thing is NOT necessarily irrreverent. (Not too happy with everyone at the altar, I must say, but thats nothing to do with the music in itself.)
      I suspect "flamenco masses"are a post VII thing, BUT flamenco style of singing hymns etc is very old and trad for Holy week processions , and may, or may not be as old where Ive also met it,during Corpus Christi processions at the benedictions and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at sorter temporary altars en route which are smothered in blooms, just for a few brief minutes giving glory to God.
      These flamenco singings are called "saetas."
      No kidding ,fittingly, the same word is used a lot in OT translations, for thunder/lightning -bolts.
      That doesn't, objectively, remove the "g" from "sing".
      Agog of the Alameda, as opposed to Aghast of Alicante. ( Does the church need gogs as well as ghasts ?)

  3. This reminds of that hymn, "For all the Trains who from their labours rest."

  4. Or the song (I shall refrain from calling it a hymn!) "Kum ba yah Mallard, kum ba yah...

    1. Ah I know all about that one.

  5. I will be writing on the music of love tommorow, Bruv. Have no contact details and can't get into my Twitter acct. Suggestion of how to proceed? I would value your advice. Hummmm....must go.

  6. I never knew churches had music because we used to have a very Low Mass in a Bassment.

  7. Having once actually directed a choir (yes, really!), you have my sympathies. While no musical genius, I did have an ear for tempo. If the hymn required a march time – e.g. “Onward Christian something or others…” you bloody well will keep up, you lot (he said, waving his arms strenuously…).

    Our current organist is accomplished - as it were - he does get to the end, but is no Pavarotti when it comes to intoning the response. It is an aural assault – not quite as bad as my daughter’s attempt at ‘singing along’ - but close.

    She “doesn’t have a note in her head” as they say. Actually, she does have a lot of notes in her head, but invariably they are not the right ones for the nonce…

    It appears to be a given that those who sing off-key are the last ones to know.

    Pass the ear plugs, please.

  8. Three words to strike more terror into Eccles' breast than a seven foot tall witch with a stone knife and a pair of shears.

    "On Eagles' Wings"

  9. Here is a message for the headbangers who have discovered the definitive "evidence" that Eccles is the Rabit. Please call at in Spain to collect a complimentary basket of vegetables. (Sorry, no Crackerjack cabbage available in this season.)

  10. I have to complain about the long replies...some people are trying to upstage Eccles. I can't read more than 3 sentences in one go anyway.

    1. Thanks Mike! That was easier for me to read. What language is it?

    2. me a cowboy, me a cowboy, me a mexican cowboy

  11. Paula N Wood's "Clapham Gloria" is ideal for the Communion Rail away services. The NO is mainly off the rail, however.

  12. Thank God for the Trappists !!!

    They experienced all this sort of caper and thought . . .