Musical Memories: Sing Amen, EverybodyPosted: April 6, 2015
The Archaeologist is Irish-American-Catholic, and a chorister. This entails two deeply felt but diametrically opposed things: church singing and old-style Irish-American Catholicism.
In my Catholic youth, everybody sang pretty much all the time until they got to church, where they clammed up and glared at anybody who dared so much as intone an Amen. Churches were places of reverent silence, muttered responses and rigidly maintained personal space. (During my adolescence the Vatican enacted the Sign of Peace, a part of Mass ritual in which you shake your neighbor’s hand and say “Peace be with you.” For many in my hometown parish, this was the emotional equivalent of requiring a raised middle finger and a raspberry.)
Music was show-offy, vaguely suspect. Especially the good stuff. (Was Mozart’s setting of the Regina Coeli OK for church? Oh, Mozart was Catholic? Seriously? He wrote that stuff for Catholics?)
As for Handel … well. He belonged to the Protestants. You could hear him in a concert hall, if you wanted. But not in church, not on Easter Sunday.
Happily, that has changed. My present-day parish revels in its music program. We have adult choir, children’s choir, bell choirs. And we do Handel, especially at Easter. This year at the Vigil we took a gander at “Worthy is the Lamb,” with its majestic, endlessly textured Amen.
It’s kind of a monster. But a great one. Here’s an old-school version conducted by Otto Klemperer, with a big fat chorus and orchestra. Not the Baroque-authentic, smaller-scale sort of production favored today, but delightfully rich and ripe. Enjoy.
P.S. For a penetrating and frequently hilarious dissection of American Catholics and their love-hate relationship with music, read Thomas Day’s Why Catholics Can’t Sing. It’s a treat.