Remembering the beauty of Michelangelo’s sculpture at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, of Jesus lying dead in his mother’s lap, I was struck with the simplicity of the notion of the beauty of art and how easily it can evoke a very deep response.
Art and design are all around us—whether we notice it or not. Some of it is perfection. Some of it is mediocrity at its finest (yes, I’m being sarcastic). The old art and music has been “vetted,” so to speak, so that we only see or hear what remains. New music requires us, as listeners and consumers, to be part of the vetting process. Therefore we hear it all. It is the new that we must help along.
I think that most of us will agree that there are living composers who write music that fits the description of being beautiful, so why do we continue to program, rehearse, and hear so much mediocre sacred music? There are composers working today who write awe-inspiring works. Some of the pieces, granted, are more difficult to perform than what an average church choir can handle, but some of it is relatively easy to perform and yet it is not programmed. I’ve also seen choirs try a work a little beyond their abilities because they wanted so much to perform the piece. They liked it so much that they were willing to take the risk.
If a work such as the Pièta is rendered as a work of faith, and I use this example because most people are familiar with the sculpture and the depth of its emotion, why is it that we cannot seem to find enough new music to program that has that same depth?
I know part of it is due to the difficulty in finding new music. Many publishers tend to send out “models” of faith-based pieces, or models of the sound of certain composers or recording artists. Church musicians need to be able to find new music—good music—easily so that they can buy it and program it. I know, in some cases, that there are conservative musicians who would prefer never to program and perform anything but the same pieces, a sort of cycle of works, that are well-known to them but not necessarily very good. I guess that is a different bridge to cross.
But there are church musicians who are tearing their collective hair out trying to find new pieces that have some merit. A great deal of money goes into marketing a select few works, some of which aren’t worth the marketing dollars that back them. Are some of the sacred music publishers limiting their output by looking at only a few composers? If a composer chooses to self-publish to avoid these limitations, then their markets, instead, seem to be limited.
How is it that so much mediocre music can still survive? I recall a remark by a music teacher once who once said that my music was too beautiful. I understood the remark, but I still take umbrage with it. Is it really possible that music can be too beautiful? And if so, are sacred programmers or publishers somehow afraid of it?