This past week, I received a call from a Catholic woman who wanted some help with some religious songs she had composed. I didn't know her, but felt compelled to help her if I could. So, I met with her and she showed me what she had. It was a folder full of words to songs she had come up with over the past 30 years or so.
She doesn't read or write music at all herself, and doesn't play an instrument, so we were left with her singing the songs for me while I looked at the words. That way, I could get an idea of the type of song, etc. It was an interesting situation. She brought me this entire array of the very type of music I don't think is ever appropriate for the liturgy and asked my help in getting them transcribed, recorded and published for the benefit of others (and also in the hope of earning some money for herself). As I listened to 3 or 4 songs, all of which seemed to be tunes taken from other songs and set to her words, I was wondering just what to do for her.
So... I told her to get a simple digital recorder and record the tunes (her singing them) and that I would transcribe the melody line for her (and that I don't have time to do more). She seems to feel that she is being called to share her music with others, so I'll do a little to help her.
She seemed very shocked that I recognized the melodies in her tunes. She was convinced they were all 100% original compositions of her very own. I refrained from mentioning the Good Friday piece that sounds like The Theme from Gilligan's Island or the fact that Here I Am is a straight theft from the Brady Bunch Theme. When I told her that it is almost impossible to compose anything that has no elements of other compositions, it seemed to make her feel better. But she said something that made me stop... she said her music was very like most of the music she has been hearing at Mass since V2. She didn't see anything inappropriate in it for use in the liturgy at all (I suggested it may be nice for youth groups to sing or for children's choirs -- a couple of them sounded like you could quite easily put hand motions to it).
My point is -- Catholics have not had their musical consciences formed at all in the past 40 years. Is it any wonder folks are confused? Plus, all the work that so many very talented and highly trained CMAA composers are doing and making freely available to others is contrasted by this poor woman with no musical background to speak of who envisions earning significant money by the copyright and publication of her compositions. I wanted to be kind to her and to help her if I could, but it did make me pause. I have just focused on trying to do my best to bring back Gregorian chant to one little corner of the world. In a way, it brought me back to the realization that we still have so much to do.
So what was the lesson I should learn from this? How can I best follow God's Will in this situation? It is a puzzle.
It's a crazy world we live in... thank goodness for Gregorian chant.