Catholics have no musical taste.
That has, of course, been apparent since January of 2006, when this article appeared. A whole history of stunning, beautiful liturgical music, and Catholics voted for this?
Seriously. "On Eagle's Wings" is, at least allegedly, the Catholics' favorite hymn, beating out such gems as "Holy God, We Praise Thy Name," "Ave Maria," "Panis Angelicus," and "Tantum Ergo." That it also beat out such hip tunes as "Here I Am, Lord," and "Be Not Afraid" is of small comfort, since those two songs placed second and third, respectively, far above the older, more venerable Catholic songs, particularly those sung in Latin.
Before I joined our parish choir I used to "vote with my voice," in a manner of speaking, when songs I consider tasteless modern musical dreck would be scheduled. Since I seldom sang the Communion hymns anyway, preferring to spend the time after Communion in quiet prayer, I missed a lot of the worst offenders; but I still sometimes would hear the song announced for the Offertory and would sigh, and leave the hymnbook in the pew. My daughters grew up following my lead, and thus sang few of the truly unfortunate hymns penned in the decades following the Second Vatican Council.
When we joined the choir I realized that I'd have to sing all of those songs. Choking back my distaste for them, doing my musical best despite my utter disdain for most of these ditties, trying to forget the clever parodies I've read of their lyrics, I've sung them, figuring that it's an act of penance for me and that better music will eventually be preferred to this awful stuff. I haven't had to worry about learning most of them, either--no one can forget tunes that have all the musical staying power of "The Itsy-Bitsy Spider" or the theme song from Gilligan's Island.
What I have, on occasion, forgotten is that my girls don't know these songs. Thanks to Mom's vocal boycott of these misbegotten musical monstrosities, thanks to the fact that they've never attended a diocesan Catholic school and had to attend school Masses replete with the simplest and most simpering of these auricular assailants, they don't know the vast majority of the exemplars of the "rich musical heritage" of the last forty or fifty years. Which is something for which I should thank God on my knees, but it does occasionally make my children's puzzled glances from the choir loft as we launch into "One Bread, One Body" or some such tune seem pretty amazing, not only to me, but to anyone else among the choir who notices that my children are completely unfamiliar with these "favorites."
And this Sunday, we sang "On Eagle's Wings" as the Communion hymn.
My older two daughters picked it up pretty quickly. It's not an especially challenging hymn. But my youngest wasn't really sure about it, and stayed pretty quiet at my side for the whole thing--not really a problem, since she's sometimes a bit tentative even when she knows a song fairly well, but I could tell she didn't recognize the song at all.
Later Sunday evening, I asked her about it. She admitted that she hadn't heard it, and didn't know it, and so hadn't sung much of it, though she'd read the words and tried to follow along.
"What did you think of it?" I asked curiously, though perhaps a bit unfairly since they all know how Mom feels about most of this stuff.
"I kind of liked it," she admitted, pausing for a moment. "It reminded me of The Hobbit."
I looked at her for a moment, confused. I knew she'd just finished reading The Hobbit and had enjoyed it tremendously, but why on earth would that book remind her of... "Of course!" I cried, laughing suddenly. "The Eagles!"
"The clouds were torn by the wind, and a red sunset slashed the West. Seeing the sudden gleam in the gloom Bilbo looked round. He gave a great cry: he had seen a sight that made his heart leap, dark shapes small yet majestic against the distant glow.
"'The Eagles! The Eagles!" he shouted. "The Eagles are coming!'" (The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien)
I smiled at my youngest daughter. I've read Tolkien repeatedly for years, and never associated the rescue of Bilbo and his companions with Psalm 91 before she made the connection, all with the help of "On Eagle's Wings."
Sure, it's not well written. Sure, the music is simplistic yet just difficult enough to make congregational singing conveniently impossible, or at least painfully discordant. Sure, it tends to be called "The Youhoo Song" owing to its difficult first phrase, "You who dwell...etc." which begins on a note approximately 93% of human beings are incapable of striking correctly on the first try.
But if "On Eagle's Wings" can inspire a complex literary/biblical connection like the one my daughter noticed, well, I may just have to accord it a tiny measure of grudging respect.
Update: While juggling multiple links for this post I inadvertently posted the link to the book of Psalms instead of the CNS news article about Catholics' favorite music at the top of this post. The link has now been fixed, and should make a whole lot more sense! :)