Music, an enemy of piety

As inconceivable as it is for those of us raised in a tradition of beautiful liturgical music there are religions where music – even exquisite music of the caliber of Gregorian chant or Bach’s Mass in B minor – is considered an enemy of piety.

Here is a topic worthy of research. Within any religion is there a correlation between the recognition of music as an inspiring medium and the respect for personal freedom? Put elsewise, when a religious authority or tradition perceives music, even fine music, as a distracting hindrance to devotion, and therefore proscribes it, how does that religion typically regard personal freedom, either artistic and intellectual? Does this proscription of music spill over to other prohibitions of personal expression? Do adherents of such a religion who are subject to such prohibitions experience a thwarted humanity?

How can it be that some in the world contend (and experience) that music lifts us closer to the Divine while others insist it holds us back? What would St. Augustine say, he who said that to sing is to pray twice. He also advised us to love God and do as we will. Talk about freedom!

In this country we rightly celebrate the religious freedom enshrined in our constitution – and endorsed by the Catholic Church. Imagine not being permitted to lift our hearts in songful praise to God.

We should also celebrate the growing success of the American Federation Pueri Cantores (, an organization which has grown significantly since I reported on it here a few years ago. The American Federation (AFPC) is part of an international Catholic choral organization that provides opportunities for school aged youth choirs “from all backgrounds to participate in the mastery of liturgical music”. Plainchant, Baroque, Romantic, and Modern – the young singers are exposed to a wide variety of historical liturgical music.

As its website shows, students from around the country prepare for and participate in regional liturgies and concerts. Every few years there are international festivals attended by young choristers from around the world. Last year’s celebration was at St. Peter’s in Rome. Imagine how such an experience changes the lives of not just these youngsters but of their families.

The attached video clip features the liturgical celebration that occurred at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago some time ago. Cardinal George, now deceased, was the Episcopal Monitor for Pueri Cantores and himself was a member of Pueri Cantores when still a young student.

One of AFPC’s goals for 2017 is to grow the U.S. choir participation to 400 choirs and 10,000 children. This will equal one percent of the children in Catholic schools in this country. Imagine what it will be like in a few years when it’s 10 percent.

Let Freedom Sing!