Top choral director calls modern Church music 'ecclesiastical karaoke'

Joseph Cullen,  director of the London Symphony Chorus
Joseph Cullen, director of the London Symphony Chorus

.- A Grammy winning music director has delivered a stinging attack upon modern Church music.  Joseph Cullen, choral director at the London Symphony Orchestra, says that since the 1960s there has been a “glaring lack of sympathy” for “worthy sacred music.”

Writing in the April 9 edition of the English weekly The Tablet, he praised the music used during last year’s papal visit to the United Kingdom. But he added: “Sadly such excellence is untypical of the vast majority of our Catholic churches. There is a glaring lack of sympathy for the heritage which should be the bedrock of worthy sacred music in today's Church.”

In recent years Joseph Cullen has risen to prominence due to his close collaboration with some of the world’s leading conductors including Sir Simon Rattle, Valery Gergiev and Sir Colin Davies, with whom he won a Grammy Award in 2006 for their recording of Verdi's “Falstaff.”

In his analysis, Cullen says the rush to find new musical settings for the Novus Ordo mass in the 1960s led to little artistic scrutiny being applied to the process. As a result, he says, most parish Masses now have poorly composed hymns being used inappropriately as mere “filler” throughout the sacred liturgy.
He writes, “Low-quality material in both inspiration and facility is commonplace. Hymns are set to popular music (for example, "My God Loves Me" to the tune of "Plaisir d'amour") with little regard to the inappropriateness of the original and well-known words.”
He also criticized the practice of a lone cantor leading the singing in parishes. “The misuse of one booming voice behind a microphone, an ecclesiastical karaoke, seems to have killed off unified congregational singing.”

Perhaps his most stinging attack, though, is aimed at official diocesan musicians who both commission and promote their own music. “The elected church music committees of the bishops' conferences cannot have vested interests in promoting their own music, or type of music. This would be regarded as corrupt in any other field.”

Cullen is now calling for a greater adherence to the Church’s documents on sacred music and increased training for parishes by those schooled in the choral traditions of the Church.


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