Saturday, December 06, 2008

Search for the Sacred

I had the great pleasure of meeting James MacMillan a few days ago. I had always thought that I would love to have dinner with him, not just because he is one of the foremost composers of contemporary music, but because he seems to understand modern man's yearning for God and rejection of Him, and God's searching for him and crucifixion in him, at least that is what I see in his music, but not just his music, but in what he writes and how he speaks. He seems like a man who knows a secret, an abstraction, that can only properly be expressed in abstraction. It is that articulate inarticulation St John of the Cross speaks about.

And I also admire anyone who is acclaimed as a great musician and yet runs his parish choir.

In the latter half of the interview above he speaks about the influence of the Liturgy on his music.

Below is an excerpt from his Percussion Concerto Veni, Veni, Emmanuel.


JARay said...

I found this commentary very interesting indeed. I confess that I have really only heard of McMillan, I hadn't really heard him. He certainly is someone who is contributing much to the Church. He is fearlessly a Real Catholic!
Here, in Australia, I was listening to another musician only the other day. He made the point that it is only the Human Mind which has a part set aside for the reception of music. Animals, he said, do not have this and no part of the human mind exists without purpose. What sprang into my mind when I heard these words was "Where does that leave evolution?"
God, our Creator, set us apart even in our bodies. Never mind the animal, natural soul and our supernatural soul, our bodies have features which the other animals do not possess. We have the gift of speech, but not only speech, we have the gift of enjoying a particular form of speech which is poetry. We can enjoy seeing visually beautiful things because we have an artistic sense too.
There is something mystical about the Arts. They are not essential for our everyday living but they endow our lives with certain qualities which have no other purpose,surely, than to point us towards another, greater sphere. They point us towards the existence of heaven.
At least, I think so!!


Anonymous said...

I am still relatively young(39 yrs. old), but I find the liturgical interpretations and music of Mr. McMillan a little unsettling! He has great ideas and inspirations, but for me the DRAMATIC of Bach, Mozart,late baroque and romantic liturgical music is much more preferred as spiritually edifying than McMillan's DYNAMIC!(Referring to McMillan's standards of dramatic and dynamic as per posted interview with him.) Listening to his music during any church service would make me feel disjointed and uncomfortable in my praise of God and that moment's religious experience. Of course this is based on the few pieces I reviewed on the Internet.

Father Ray you are such a traditionalist, loving the pre-Vatican II liturgical rubrics(as based on your blog postings), and this sound appeals to you? I understand McMillan's heart is in the right place and he still is the choir director at his parish, things which are commendable and possibly swaying your support and like for him. Does the music really pull you to the Lord? Is it like something from Proverbs: Our perfection, our order and the like is God's folly." Is that type of theological thinking behind McMillan's music and your love for it? I probably have to grow into it yet.

Give me Bach, Mozart, Gregorian chants, Kievan chants, old Latin requiems and the ancient music of the Church! The contemporary stuff is too disjointing for me, even though some of it is trying to deliver the right message, like McMillan, but a lot of the modern stuff we have to be careful with! It brings me back to the Coca-Cola/Wonder Bread eucharist and other dangerous Vatican II boo-boos!

Just listen to Mozart's Requiem's "Lacrimosa" or Bach's Mass in B Minor's "Agnus Dei" and be filled with the Holy Spirit!!! Let's post these pieces and compare the greatest liturgical music with the spiritually bankrupt contemporary!!!!

Anonymous said...

Quite, JA Ray, remember the legends of St Cecilia too

Fr Ray Blake said...

Marc, I have only heard his works in the concert hall not in Church. I do not find his work conducive to prayer but the fruit of it. I am not sure what his liturgical music sounds like, but his "secular" music is undoubtably the fruit of prayer, the liturgy and his own struggle to express his faith.
The "struggle" I find resonnates in me, and is beautiful.

The Lord’s descent into the underworld

At Matins/the Office of Readings on Holy Saturday the Church gives us this 'ancient homily', I find it incredibly moving, it is abou...