Music and the pope

I write this as a cradle Catholic who will be playing the piano at my parish’s Palm Sunday Mass tomorrow morning.

I was deeply disgusted by the article on Pope Benedict and music in today’s New York Times.

My first problem was with the article itself. It reminded me of Anthony Tommasini’s piece on Condalezza Rice’s piano playing a while back: both articles are not about music at all, but about a  person in a position of great power who happens to be an amateur musician. It is shameful to waste column inches on amateurs when professional performers, composers, and recordings go unnoticed. Does Roberta Smith, art critic for the Times, write about the paintings of Tony Bennett?

The more profound cause for disgust is to read about the “servant of the servants of God” living like a Renaissance prince, about  his retinue being concerned about such matters of import as which of his several thrones the pope should use while listening to Haydn, or the utter idiocy of fretting over whether a female violist should perform with her head covered in the Pope’s presence. So much for the church’s preferential option for and solidarity with the poor. The whole thing bespeaks the sin of clericalism, the exalting of the clergy, the defining of the church as the clergy, the same spirit that leads the institutional church to protect itself rather than protect children from abuse. The article makes passing mention of the stink of corruption throughout the church hierarchy arising from continuing revelations in the ongoing abuse scandal. Are people who sit on thrones above the law? When will the institutional church ever admit to its complicity with the crimes of the abusers? When will a bishop go to jail?

So the Pope has good taste, he loves German music? then why not listen to the Seven Last Words the Haydn the way wrote it, instead of in a kitschy modern vocal adaptation?

So the pope loves German music? So did some Germans of an earlier generation, say, the 1930s and early 40s…

At tomorrow’s Palm Sunday service, as I remember my own sins, I will continue to pray for my beloved church that makes me so angry and sad.

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