Roman Catholics and their Disrespect for Music

If Communion were at the beginning of the Messe at La Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, would the Nave be empty for the rest of the Messe following Communion? Is Communion all that Roman Catholics are there for?

Hola a todos. As an adult, I have never had a high opinion of or given much thought to the Roman Catholic Church, or the Catholic Church, whatever you want to call it. I’ve learned in the last year that some people refer to the church by various names. I always thought it was officially called the Roman Catholic Church worldwide with allegiance to The Vatican. But some Catholics disagree that they are Roman Catholics and refer to the church depending upon which country it’s in, such as the French Catholics, the Irish Catholics, the Italian Catholics and so forth.

Like most organised religions, the (Roman) Catholic Church is officially very anti-Queer while full of gay closet cases. But then that’s typical, isn’t it? Historically and to this day closet cases are anti-Queer as a way of hiding/disguising their Queer/Gay feelings, especially some US Republican politicians who come with an anti-Queer/Gay agenda. The current occupant of la casa blanca and the people of his regime are an example of that.

The US Episcopal Church — part of the worldwide Anglican Communion — is more pro-Queer/GTQBL depending upon the parish and cathedral church one is talking about. Each parish is different in their views and acceptance of Queers. Each parish Rector and the Dean of each cathedral usually determine how accepting of Queers their church will be. For example, Washington National Cathedral in the District of Columbia welcomes gay and lesbian couples to get married there, and I should point out that gay marriage became legal in the District back in 2009, long before it became legal throughout the US. The last I read, the Church of England (the mother church of the Anglican Communion) is still very anti-Queer/anti-Gay.

My interest in parishes and cathedral churches has been in the music, in part, because of my musical background, and the “theatre of the Liturgy.” I watch the Mass or Holy Eucharist as if it were a play. I’m mainly there for the music and the theatre, and not any of the god stuff or theology, since I’m an atheist. (Related: The Anglican Atheist).

Every week for about a year as of this writing, mi amigo/my friend and I have been watching the Messe/Mass from La Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris. (That’s in France, you know, which is in Europe, for the stupid-is-in geographically-challenged people in the US who likely couldn’t find the US on a world map.) When we first started watching their Messe (which would be called High Church if it were Anglican), I began to think that I had the Roman Catholics all wrong for all these years, and had the wrong impression of them. Even though I had been in some Roman Catholic parishes that had a different form of Mass setting than Notre-Dame. I began to think that maybe I needed to change my view of them.

But at this point (a year later), I no longer think that. My original view of them was correct. What they do at Notre-Dame and at another Catholic cathedral church in Alemania/Germany (that we’ve watched a couple of times) is more of a European form of the Mass setting.

Their Messe at La Cathédrale Notre-Dame is video recorded by KTO-TV, a Catholic broadcasting network with a channel on YT. Over the years, I’ve watched other Liturgies online from Trinity Wall Street in Lower Manhattan and from Washington National Cathedral in the District of Columbia, both of the Anglican Communion. My musical background/experience is in the Anglican Church. Having coming from an Anglican experience, I found it odd that KTO-TV never starts recording when the Messe really begins which is when the Organist begins his organ improvisation at Notre-Dame. I also found it odd that they never allowed viewers to hear all of the Organ Sortie/Organ Voluntary at the end of the Messe. That was cut off too. Why? Over the past year, many viewers have complained about that — the disrespect for the organist and his music — but their complaints were entirely ignored by KTO-TV. Looking back through their video comments over past years, I saw that this complaint had been going on for many years and nothing was done about it, presumably, because KTO doesn’t care what viewers think. By comparison, when I was watching Trinity Wall Street and Washington National Cathedral, their production crews began recording when the organist was about to begin his/her organ voluntary/prelude, and they also had/have a camera at the organ console so viewers could watch the organist. So the Anglicans considered the music more important and a part of the Liturgy, which of course it is. There is no camera at the organ console at Notre-Dame, although there could be. Their organists are performing artists and would have no problem with cameras being around. One of their Titulaire Organists, Olivier Latry, has recorded many videos and they are available on YT. At Trinity and WNC, viewers were able to hear the entire Organ Voluntary at the end of each Liturgy. So in other words, the Anglicans (and their production crews) are far more respectful of the music than the Roman Catholics, which makes me not think very highly of them frankly.

KTO-TV and their disrespect for the music came up again recently in a video comment. A viewer who attended Messe in Notre-Dame recently wanted to hear the Organ Sortie again that he had heard in the cathedral. He said it was one of the most memorable and best organ improvisations he’d ever heard. He had erroneously assumed he could watch the video of the Messe to hear this piece again. Wrong! And that’s because only part of the piece was there because, as usual, KTO-TV stopped recording in the middle of it. This viewer said he found this reprehensible. Yes it is and terribly disrespectful of the organist and his music.

I learned something about the Catholics recently that I didn’t know, but it all now makes sense and I understand why KTO-TV does what they do, unfortunately. A commenter wrote:

“In the eyes of KTO-TV the mass is not in particular about the efforts of the musicians. According to the Catholic thought: the mass is over at the time the priest leaves the altar! What happens after that (like the Organ Voluntary) is not important in that regard and therefore they don’t broadcast it completely. I agree with you, this is rather disrespectful, but they follow the ‘rules’ (or their own rules). Only the mass should be broadcasted, and nothing more….”

(Feeling of disgust). Well, sadly, that explains it. That also explains why many people in the congregation leave right after Communion at Notre-Dame. When the camera shows the procession for the recessional, often a large group of people have already left (especially in the back of the Nave), so we see empty chairs. When the Messe began, the Nave was full. So apparently to some Catholics, Messe is over the moment after they receive Communion and they don’t care about the rest of it. I doubt that the Holy Trinity approves of that thinking. I would think that The Holy Trinity would frown upon this behaviour and the disrespecting of the remainder of the Liturgy. One should be there for all of it, not just for Communion to try to “buy your way into Heaven” which is how this appears. It’s ridiculous. I’ve seen people at Notre-Dame start rushing down the side aisles as the procession is leaving the Sanctuary area as if trying to “beat the procession”/get ahead of the procession so they can leave. How terribly rude and disrespectful. They come to this very grand and beautiful world-renowned cathedral with one of the finest organs in the world — if not the finest organ — and one of the finest organists in the world playing it and they rush out. They leave. What is wrong with people? Terribly disrespectful of the music and an organist of his superb caliber who has spent his entire life on his art.

By comparison, I can’t remember ever seeing Anglicans leave after Communion. They just don’t do that. They leave after the processional has made its way out of the Nave, or some stay seated in the pews to listen to the Organ Voluntary. Anglicans are taught in Confirmation Class that they’re encouraged to return to the kneeler below the pew to have a final prayer before leaving, then genuflect by the side of the pew when leaving assuming there is a reserved sacrament. It’s rare to see anyone genuflecting upon leaving at Notre-Dame. With the Catholics, they’re in too much of a hurry to rush out. Their thinking seems to be, “this Messe is over, let’s get out of here!” (Frown, shaking head in disgust). Why did they bother coming to begin with if that’s their attitude?

Contrast that with St Thomas Church Fifth Avenue (Anglican Communion) in Manhattan in New York City. Even though they unfortunately only audio record their Liturgy, St Thomas is all about the music. They are known for their music where the quality of the music is consistently superb. They hired a new Choirmaster-Organist from the UK (Church of England) to replace the former Choirmaster-Organist (also from the CofE) who died. Their Assistant Organist has a Masters of Music from The Juilliard School, studying with Paul Jacobs. And they have the only residential Choir School in the US for the training of their trebles/choir boys. From listening to their Liturgies, it sounds to me like everyone stays seated to hear the Organ Voluntary. And very respectfully so. I don’t hear anyone talking over it, as one can hear at Washington National Cathedral. From listening to their (Festal) Choral Eucharist at St Thomas Church, their priests and congregation give the same respect to the organist as if they were enjoying a performance in Carnegie Hall or in Lincoln Center For The Performing Arts.

At La Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris where they have three Titulaire Organists who rotate playing the Grande Orgue high up in the back of the Nave, Olivier Latry is Professor of Organ at the Conservatoire de Paris (Paris Conservatory of Music). But KTO-TV thinks nothing of disrespecting him — an organist of that caliber — by cutting him off in the middle of his organ improvisation. It is reprehensible. They will focus their camera on the organ case and do an annoyingly slow-slow zoom showing the pipes, and then FIN/THE END. That’s all you get to hear. It’s as if they’re more concerned about the picture of the organ pipes, the image of the organ case for their video that they’re showing the viewer than they are about the music coming from the Grand Orgue. Viewers of the Messe at Notre-Dame videos should have the same worship experience as the members of the congregation who have the pleasure of being present in the Nave and hearing all of the Organ Sortie and all of the beginning of the Liturgy as well. But unfortunately, video viewers are never given that experience because of KTO-TV’s backward and rude approach to their own Catholic Liturgy. And their camera work is so often frustrating and pathetic. I often ask my screen: What are we doing back here in the back of the Nave once again when the priests are doing something up at the altar that we should be watching? KTO-TV have been doing this how long? — for years — and still act like amateurs. Why is the camera showing the organ pipes when they should be showing the procession which is in progress coming up the back of the Nave? What is wrong with these people at KTO-TV? Inept.

(Roman) Catholics are indeed a very different breed of people than Anglicans/Episcopalians and they approach the Mass/Holy Eucharist very differently with their lack of respect for the music and musicians, specifically. I should think that a few Roman Catholics feel as I do, but I suspect they are in the minority.

I prefer the Anglicans, although I much prefer the Gregorian Chant liturgy found in some Roman Catholic churches, such as Notre-Dame de Paris.

Over the years, I’ve talked briefly with a few Roman Catholics I worked with or came in contact with for some reason. I asked them about the music in their church, which none of them knew anything about oddly. I didn’t give much thought to it at the time, but thinking back on it, most Catholics I talked with had little to no interest in the music of the Mass in their church, no interest in the Choir and didn’t even know if their church had an organ. Or if they did, they didn’t know where the organ was. To them, it was all about the “spoken word” (“The Word”) of the Mass and nothing more. Boring. They also knew very little about the Anglican Communion, and some of them arrogantly would say that, “Anglicans need to come home to the (superior) Roman Catholic Church.” If the Roman Catholic Church is supposedly “superior,” why do many Roman Catholics disrespect their own Mass by leaving early? Have they never thought of that?

I remember reading some comments under KTO’s videos from a Roman Catholic guy in Italia/Italy who acted more like a troll. Viewers were writing comments about the music — similar to my complaints — and he was complaining about the music being too much like a performance and that the Messe at Notre-Dame should be “all about the Word.” No one agreed with him, but I think his thinking is the dominant and prevailing view about Liturgical music in the Roman Catholic Church.

I think the priests at La Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris may have some respect for the music since they have a Choir School. That’s another curious thing about Notre-Dame. Having a Choir School, one would think that a Choir would perform/provide music every Sunday for the Mass, no? That’s the way it works with any other parish or cathedral church within the Anglican Communion with a Choir School. But not at Notre-Dame, or at least based on the videos of their Messe uploaded by KTO-TV. Even with a Choir School at Notre-Dame (Maîtrise Notre Dame de Paris), a Choir rarely performs. Damn odd. A Choir performs only occasionally, which led me to ask sometime ago: Why did Notre-Dame disband their Cathedral Choir? Well, they didn’t disband any Choir, I later realised. But one wouldn’t know that without spending weeks observing their Messe. They have several Choirs at Notre-Dame — with the Children’s Choir being my favourite (they should sing every week) — but most of the time they have four choristers (a quartet) leading the service music. I often say when I see who is there at the beginning of each video (as I did yesterday): “Once again, we have a quartet with a Choir School. Ridiculous.” I do enjoy the various quartets when their voices are perfectly matched — where the soprano and alto sound like one voice and have perfect intonation, or the tenor and bass voices are matched perfectly — but that’s not always the case. One gets the impression that it is not the purpose and function of the Choir School to provide music for the cathedral. And when they only have four voices, the more elaborate music settings which add so much to the Messe cannot be sung, such as the descant on the Sanctus, for example. That can only be sung when a Choir is there, again, on the odd occasion. When the four choristers (the quartet for the day; they’re not always the same choristers) don’t sing with vibrato they have lovely voices and blend well. But often, some or sometimes all choristers will sing with annoying, fluttering, wobbling vibrato — even in Renaissance music which is unheard of — and vibrato prevents the perfect blending of voices, because the choristers vibratos are not sychronised. A recent example, in the last couple of weeks, the quartet for the Messe sang the Kyrie. It would have been lovely if it were not for the soprano who sang with vibrato. The ATB (alto, tenor and bass choristers) did not sing with vibrato. And the soprano seemed unable to turn off her vibrato and because of that her voice marred the Kyrie. It did not have a smooth and polished sound because of her voice. Hasn’t her voice instructor taught her how to turn off vibrato in a choral/vocal ensemble setting? The use of vibrato at Notre-Dame has been talked about in the comments, but little changes in that regard. Sometime ago, one of the choristers commented by saying that they receive vocal instruction from some of the finest voice teachers in Europe. That’s all well and good, but that’s not the point. We’re not talking about their vocal training. We are talking about ensemble singing — which is not the same as their vocal training — and they need to learn that in ensemble singing that in order to have the perfect blending of voices, choristers must sing with a straight-tone, the exception being an Opera Chorus. This is why so many Chorus Directors of Symphony/Orchestra Choruses train their Symphony Chorus to sing with what’s called a “straight tone” for the perfect blending of voices. The reader may be asking, “Can you give us an example of what you’re talking about with a straight-tone and the perfect blending of voices?” I’ll be glad to. Listen to this superb Chorus in this video below (a superb performance of the Fauré Requiem). This is the way a well-trained Chorus should sound. It doesn’t get any better than this. Listen to those lovely tenors and soaring sopranos, all singing without annoying, fluttering-wobbling vibrato. This Chorus and Orchestra are the best of the best. Mi amigo/My friend said about this performance (which we watched together while I’ll wrote this article): I’m glad you found this performance. Even if one knows nothing about music, one should be able to hear that this is the best; you can’t get any better than this performance. He referred to “the soaring sopranos” and how “grand and glorious” this piece is at times performed by these stellar ensembles. The female soloist in this performance sings with a slight bit of vibrato but not objectionable, but her straight tones are lovely. Mi amigo didn’t care as much for the baryton soloist because of his vibrato. I didn’t have any trouble with that because his vibrato is fairly mild compared to what it could be! He too has a lovely voice. If he were in the Chorus, he would have to turn his mild vibrato off to match the beautiful straight-tone of the other choristers. Here’s the information about this performance:

Requiem (Version 1900) by Gabriel Fauré performed by the combined Choruses of (my favourite) the Collegium Vocale and the Chapelle Royale from Brussels. With soloists: Sebastian Noack (Baryton) and Johannette Zomer (Soprano). They are accompanied by their orchestra, the superb Orchestre des Champs-Élysées from Paris, conducted by Philippe Herreweghe:

I’d like to ask KTO, not that they will ever read this: Would it really put you out/pain you that much to record the entire Organ Voluntarily rather than half of it, at best, and to start recording when the Messe begins? Is it really that much of an imposition to push the “Record” button a little earlier and to push the “Stop” button a little later than you have done for years? I live under no illusion that’s about to happen, and all the commenters who have made remarks about the music have disappeared. I assume they realised that it’s futile to say anymore about it. Nothing is about to change. It’s a wonder that KTO-TV don’t start recording when the priests arrive at the altar.

The reader may be asking: What has KTO said about this in the comments? What’s their response? They have said nothing. Their response is consistently silence. They seem unable to speak. They never respond to anything. I honestly don’t know why they allow comments. They never comment. And the only comments they receive lately are little prayers. What’s the point of writing a comment that says, “Ave, Ave, Ave maria” as one commenter writes week after week. Or do some Catholics consider writing that a form of prayer? One feels the need to pray in the comments?

The Catholics certainly do come with some very outdated thinking and disrespect for music. At least in the context of their own liturgical music, would it really pain KTO-TV and members of the congregation to modernise and take a different approach where the music and musicians of the Messe are given the same respect as the clergy and the rest of the Messe? Chau.—el barrio rosa


About the writer: The writer is a graduate of a Conservatory of Music in the US with a focus on choral music, and with a major in piano and a double-minor in voice and pipe organ, and was also a chorister in three major Orchestra Choruses having had the privilege of performing with major (inter)national orchestras and conductors with frequent performances in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall as a chorister in the Choral Arts Society of Washington (Norman Scribner, Chorus Director), the University of Maryland Chorus (Dr Paul Traver, Chorus Director), and in San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall with the San Francisco Symphony Chorus (Margaret Hillis and Vance George, Chorus Director).

10 comments on “Roman Catholics and their Disrespect for Music

  1. Dan

    It’s too bad that Notre-Dame doesn’t hire their own production crew and produce their own videos and give the finger to KTO-TV. They frustrate the hell out of me. Often so incompetent.

    1. el barrio rosa Post author

      Hola Dan, I wish they would dump KTO. They annoy the hell out of me too. Where did these people train in video production? Or maybe they didn’t. Maybe that’s the problem. Did you happen to see what they did last Domingo/Dimanche/Sunday at the end of the Messe after the Cardinal blessed the congregation? The procession was entering the Nave for the recessional after leaving the Sanctuary area, and KTO turned off the camera. We didn’t get to hear the organ improvisation (Organ Sortie). They have never done that before. Apparently the procession is not important to these basura either! I was so disgusted.

      Since Communion is all anyone is there for it seems, why don’t they just install a drive-in for communion on the side of the cathedral and suspend with any liturgies. Make sure no music ever plays. We don’t want any music. The Communion drive-in (modeled after fast food drive-ins) would only take 5 minutes or less rather than the hour-plus that the Mass takes. Just turn this beautiful cathedral into a museum piece with occasional organ recitals which would never be attended by any Roman Catholics of course since they are not into music. The organ recitals would just be for the tourists visiting Paris who have respect for this wonderful Grand Orgue and the professional musicians who play it.

      The choristers (the quartet) were excellent last Sunday. Their voices really matched well, the soprano and alto when they sang together, and then the tenor and the bass. Gracias for your comment.

      1. Dan

        ” We didn’t get to hear the organ improvisation (Organ Sortie). ”

        Yeah I know. They let us watch the quartet sing the communion anthem for a few seconds but their camera crew got bored with them and showed us shots of the choir organ pipes and walls of the choir stalls for the rest of the time. WTF?

  2. Y

    I expected to see hoards of Roman Catholics commenting here to defend themselves. Too bad there are not more comments or did you delete them all?

    1. el barrio rosa Post author

      Hola Y, no, I’ve not deleted any comments. I’m quite content with the number of comments I get and the quality of them. I’m not big on comments anyway — other than from my regular readers who are the nicest of people and very respectful — and was slow/hesitant to turn comments on and that’s because I see what happens to sites that get lots of comments. They’re usually a cesspool of infighting, arguing, snarling, immaturity, childishness, one-upping each other/trolling, and all that stuff. I don’t have the patience for that. Although it’s very reflective of our very sick, septic, decaying and dysfunctional society. Chau.

      1. D8

        ” I’m not big on comments anyway — other than from my regular readers who are the nicest of people and very respectful —”

        Very nice of you to say. Like attracts like. :-)

  3. David in Breuckelen

    Pleased to see you mentioning St Thomas Church Fifth Avenue and their Choir of Men and Boys. Best in NYC.

  4. Conservatory Student

    Hola to you pink barrio. I’ve been lurking here but usually don’t have the time to comment.

    You may not remember that I’m in the Church Music program with an Organ Major. I’ve done some substitute work as organist in a couple Catholic churches in my area, and my experience matches your article. Dull service music, will put you to sleep to play it, one church asked me to “tone down” the organ. I came close to getting up and walking out! But needed the money. I did let them know that how I play the organ is how we’re trained at the conservatory to play it to provide uplifting music of praise. Not funeral dirges or little childish ditty hymns, I’ve done a couple of funerals too.

    I’ve heard the Fauré many times, but this is the best I’ve heard. We did it a couple of years ago at school. It was excellent, but not quite this good. We probably didn’t spend as much time on it as these ensembles did. That orchestra from Paris has the smoothest string section I think I’ve ever heard. Phenomenal Chorus!

    Thanks for the article, very interesting.


  5. D8

    That performance of the Requiem is gorgeous. I watched it this morning…, so relaxing. Made my day. I hear what you mean by a “straight-tone.” I never knew what to call it but I know I don’t like the sound of opera choruses – they sound so “rough” (that’s probably not the proper way to desribe it) but with all that vibrato there’s a roughness in the sound – the smoothness is missing. Doesn’t sound at all like the chorus in this vid….they’re really great, which is what I’ve come to expect from you. You only promote the best. :-)

  6. D8

    Interesting comparison about the music in the RC Church and Anglican. I’ve seen some televised services from the Vatican and other RC Churches and the music didn’t do much for me. Was watching this one church and they had this big pipe organ but it sounded more like a Casio the way it was being played. When I’ve watched state ceremonies and other services from England, the music is often awe-inspiring. A friend of mine is known for saying “the Anglicans certainly do know how to put on a good show” , so even I’ve noticed the difference….just wanted to say that.

    Very interesting read, although some of it went over my head :-)

Fin. The End.