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Musical Musings: Miscellaneous

Music in Our Schools

by Gary D. Penkala

The philosophy of the Catholic school system has been to integrate a knowledge and practice of the Catholic faith with the basic educational needs of our children. Apart from religion classes, we do not seek to teach a religiously-based curriculum in the sense that there somehow exists "Catholic" science or "Catholic" spelling. One subject in which this philosophy does not hold true is music, for there is indeed "Catholic" music -- and most parochial school children are not being taught it.

With the treasures of music that lie at the fingertips of the Catholic Church, our schools cannot be satisfied with a purely secular music program, where children might bang drums and learn "Yankee Doodle." We should go beyond this. Indeed, if quality music is to survive, we must teach our students good liturgical music as well as the music of our American culture.

The monthly or weekly school liturgies offer students a goal in the area of liturgical music. They should be taught during music class to sing quality church music, whether in groups, choirs or as a total congregation. School liturgies should not be the total extent of their training though. They must also become secure with the responses and acclamations of the total community at Sunday liturgies. School liturgies and music programs which bear no resemblance to common Sunday practice are divisive and fragment the community.

Even in schools which give ample time to church music preparation, one must consider the styles of the music taught. While folk songs, with guitars and the novelty they imply, may be thought effective for elementary age students, they must not comprise the sole repertoire of the group; nor, I might add, even the majority. The children must be exposed to a standard repertoire of church music while young, so it may become a part of their experience. A child is musically deprived if he knows "Peace Is Flowing Like a River" but cannot sing "For All the Saints."

If it be true that the standard hymns of the Church are being ignored by our school system, then Gregorian chant (truly "Catholic" music) has well nigh been buried. This is indeed sad. In these times when we are struggling little by little to capture some of our Catholic identity, Catholic schools have abandoned our own music. One would be hard pressed to find a Catholic school in many parts of this country where children sing any chant, or even know what it is.

Beyond the principle that our liturgical music be of various styles is the principle that it be quality music. How can we offer students watered-down ditties when rich hymns and chants exist in a variety of styles? We must nourish the students' musical and liturgical development with something of substance, not trite texts and melodic garbage. Music for children may not be "childish."

The goals of a Catholic school music program must go beyond a public school's in that the parochial school must:

  1. train students in Catholic and Christian hymnody in various styles.
  2. train students in appreciation and use of Gregorian chant, in Latin as well as English.
  3. prepare students well for school liturgies.
  4. prepare students for Sunday liturgies by teaching hymns, responses and acclamations which are used.

We must teach our children correct principles of liturgical music, so abuses of the past will not become the norm of the future.

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