From the Pastor: Pre-Vatican II Symphony
Last week a couple of parishioners treated me to the Florida Orchestra’s performance of Christopher Rouse’s Prospero’s Room, Sergei Rachmaninoff’s The Bells, and Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. The orchestra was assisted by the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay. I could spend the rest of this column describing all of the wonderful sights and sounds as well as the images the instruments and voices conjured up in my puny little brain but I am rather going to write about it from a completely different viewpoint. What would the night have been like if everyone there reacted to the concert the way the “normal” Catholic reacts to the Traditional Latin Mass? Let us see, shall we?
When we first drove up, we were both excited and worried when we were able to park in the prime spots right up front because the parking lot was eerily empty. Perhaps we got the date wrong? No, we were assured at the ticket window, the concert is tonight, but even though there was free admission (a voluntary contribution would be taken up during the intermission) very few people were expected. “When offered tickets many asked in surprise, ‘Why would I go to a symphony this weekend? It isn’t Christmas or Easter, is it?’” “Others,” she said, “openly mocked as ‘ultra traditionalists’ anyone who would sit through musical pieces composed way back in the 19th and 20th centuries.” She said that whenever she had tried handing out tickets to groups earlier in the week one or two loudmouth louts would always sneer, “Why, that’s pre-Vatican II music. It can’t possibly be beautiful or moving--it’s too old fashioned--and therefore unworthy of our elite ears.” The teller stated that then everyone else in the crowd would nod like bobble-head dolls and murmur, “Yeah! Old is bad, new is good! Change, change, change!” and mock her with derision until she dejectedly walked away.
At least those who were inside would enjoy it, or so I thought, for they were there willingly. But as soon as the conductor took his place and started giving us some background information as to how and why the music was originally composed, an audible groan went up from the congregation (sorry--audience). “Ohh Nooo! Not him!” came the stage whispers from across the large hall. “He has a British accent. I cannot understand a word he says. I won’t be able to get anything out of this concert.” It got even worse when the conductor then turned toward the orchestra to lead them as they played. “He’s got his back to the people!” was the new disgusted whisper among the enlightened ones. “Plus, look at his outfit. He and all of the male musicians are dressed in classic black tuxedos with tails. How dreadfully traditional. And why isn’t there a female conductor?” They almost spat out the words.
Somewhere along the line a disgruntled matron with a bad haircut (dare I say she was one of the “nones”-on-the-bus?) jumped up and demanded her right to full, conscious, and active participation in the concert by playing an instrument (she brought an electric guitar and tambourine with her) or by being seen up front turning pages for someone or, at the very least, by waving her arms around like the still (harumph) male (couldn’t he at least be transgendered or something?) conductor. When politely ignored she changed her tune, so to speak, and started berating the musicians about how environmentally insensitive they were, “chopping down all those trees to make your fiddles and doing stuff, like, you know, killing baby owls and destroying the rainforests just so you can become millionaires playing in the orchestra! And, like, couldn’t you sell those brass horn thingys and give the money to the poor?” With that, all of the aging hippies and “spiritual but not religious” pagans in their rainbow tee shirts marched out to shouts of “It’s a women’s choice! Big Oil is a Big Baddie! and Who am I to judge?” as if somehow those slogans were intimately and obviously related truths.
I sure wish I had more room in this bulletin. You would not believe the scenes that occurred when the hat was passed (to tightwaded grunts of “all he talks about is money!”) or--and especially!--when the dwindling crowd realized that all of the singing was to be in German, a language which almost nobody in the audience or choir (or even the conductor!) could understand. Oh, what a night!
With prayers for your holiness,
Fr. Edwin Palka