I’ve always loved sacred music. I’m talking about real, beautiful, traditional sacred music, not the garbage that unfortunately is sung in most churches these days. It’s not because I was given this rich heritage to consider as I was growing up – for that matter, I wasn’t even given classical music for my artistic development. Rather, I was raised on oldies (which means my father’s generation of music from the 50s to the 70s – it could have been a whole lot worse) in the secular sphere, and the banal Glory and Praise type maggotry during the Sacred Liturgy. (Aside: although that type of music was supposed to be “living” or “progressive”, why’s it always want to make me commit suicide, and why’s it not progressing from the same banal songs we’ve been singing for 30 years?)
So when I first heard the St. Boniface Schola singing in beautiful worship at the opening of the St. Elizabeth Perpetual Adoration chapel in Lafayette, Indiana, I did not fall in love. I was already deeply in love. As I listened, I knew that what I heard was real – was pure – was holy! I had no reason to question it, it was a truer reality than most other realities I had learned in my short 18 years. It was quite possibly the very first time I had heard real sacred music in my life. I have no idea what they sang that day, although I came to know what they sing after joining that schola years later.
Where did I get my perennial love for sacred music, which was only revealed to me long after I acquired it? Nobody indoctrinated me as to the horrors of bad liturgy practice, much less bad liturgy. In fact, at the time, seeking to do something worthwhile, I was in our parish’s praise and worship band, singin’ at the front of the church during Mass. Yes, I was naturally uncomfortable because my common sense got the better of me. However, I thought that I was just trying to overcome my fears and do the right thing – praise God by using the talent of my voice. Sadly, my education in “the right thing” was almost nil, and I really couldn’t attach myself to the good and beautiful music that I didn’t know, at that time, existed.
Again, the question – where did that love for beautiful, meaningful music come from which I had not theretofore known? I know the answer, now, after having had the opportunity to learn about right order and true goodness. It came directly from God when he created me out of nothingness. Just like the innate love I have of fresh, steamed artichoke hearts smothered in garlic butter. Ok, so the love of good food is acquired. Anyway, I have no question that God instilled in me this love of truly beautiful things, and I had the good fortune to not have that innate attraction soiled too much previous to encountering its object, sublime music of worship.
Now, to the point. Years of contemplating this dilemma of constant lack of education of young people in the sacred arts led me to my personal conviction that, in order to protect the sacred innate preference of the beautiful, children need to be exposed continuously and generously to beautiful things. When I began having my own children, it was thus almost natural to chant to them, show them beautiful paintings, hold them while singing with the Schola, etc.
Just this evening, I was chanting to Karol, who is now a very rowdy two year old boy. He doesn’t sit still for much apart from being read to and eating “bunny bread”. Every evening we sing or chant as part of bedtime prayers. Anyway, I’ve just found the the ornate “Alma Redemptoris Mater”, which I’ve mostly known, and I’ve been trying to learn it completely. I chanted to him, and he asked to hear it again: “sing!”. I complied, and again, five times in total. Karol loves chant. His favorite music has been Vivaldi guitar concertos, until we lent him a Christmas cd full of traditional hymns and sacred pieces. He listens to Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. While these aren’t all sacred music, they all have the similar sacred quality of beauty.
I can’t help but think that we’d have a saner world if parents would teach their children to treasure beauty as a sacred reality. I can’t help but wonder why this isn’t done. I imagine ignorance due to a lack of good catechesis is the major proponent. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to learn to like “foreign” music, at least not as easy as sitting back in your easy chair and letting the latest pop stars dribble their putrid nothingness into one’s ears. But I suspect that my children will themselves be saner, wiser, and happier because I loved them enough to give them beauty, so that they could protect within themselves the sacredness of beauty.