There is a saying, amongst performers that is, namely: 'What goes on tour, stays on tour.’
The meaning fleshes out, practically speaking, as, “Orchestral musicians and choral singers who are away from home with their work, can sleep with their colleagues in cheap hotel rooms with impunity: there will be no personal relational repercussions to any infidelity.” It’s a version of what the staff and boys at my prep school called, “the eleventh commandment”; Thou shalt not get caught.
This Number 11 was a commandment I was very keen on obeying at school: multiple expulsions would have come my way, no doubt, had I been less vigilant. How proud my parents could be of me that, verily, “I never got caught” for a full 5 years of teenage adolescence school going. Keeping a hand grenade for instance in the Rigauds locker room, a stones throw (literally) from the Houses of Parliament, probably would have been a health and safety no-no, even in 1986 - oh, all right, it was defused, but it would have warranted a bit of explanation no doubt.
Still, on the matter of explanation, the “WGOTSOT” motto bantered at Le Pub, 250 miles from Dorking, might well also warrant a close examination on the “Dies Irae, Dies Illa.'‘ Speaking of cosmic cognitive dissonance, perhaps there might be a brace of eyebrows raised by the one true Judge of all, should there be such an acronym slogan emblazoned on the cotton of the t-shirts of that (for instance) “Puddleby-on-the-Marsh Sinfonia, roving Mozart Requiem series, in (20 churches) across Europe.” I would guarantee - with a heap of all my winnings - that a punt that something similar had happened somewhere along the way might make a pretty cent - if you could get better than 12-7. Is that really rocking the boat?
What am I saying?
People sing stuff, and a lot of the time they have no idea what they are saying.
(And that’s not good, ‘cause it’s a lie, and telling the truth matters.)
I’ve done that myself as a non-Catholic (singing important but not-understood words), years ago, multiple times. Less so now, but still occasionally, as the situation (eg sight reading in Latin) demands. Ask your choral director, “what do the words mean?” at your peril. You may not receive an answer: there will likely not be time to go into it in any case.
Christian music suffers conscious and unconscious cognitive dissonance from both schoolboy and professional sources. Radio 4 was broadcasting the reflections of the comedian who plays the eponymous anti-hero in ‘Old Harry’s Game’ this last week: much guffawing ensued from the studio audience at the assonance alternative that he claimed was the go-to gag at his childhood church choir, to the hymn with the line “breathe through the heat of our desires/thy coolness and thy…” (join the dots to get the joke).
Cognitive dissonance = Beautiful words to beautiful tune re-routed via schoolboy verbal flatulence. Been there done that. But it’s no good.
Words matter. Not in the post-modern, relativistic, power exchange way though. But because there is an attendant transcendent reality. Because if you say something you should mean it. Whether it’s saying you’re terrified of the day of judgement or ‘I love you’. WGTHSIH. Which is something you can’t say of purgatory.
So - I write casually, “there is a trascendent reality”. Is there? How do I know? What’s the proof?
Well, put it this way, if there wasn’t, “Harry’s” choir director would have winked at the bottom-of-the=barrel joke that his merry songsters were routinely cracking up to. Again: what am I saying?
Beauty matters. Beauty is truth. Excellence matters. The truth is (Bill and Ted notwithstanding) excellent.
If you seek equality of outcome then greyness will be your reward. Grey is only the colour of hope where the world around it is in almost complete shadow. But if grey is all that there is, then its monotony will suffocate all life. The Saints did not aim for a place in Dante’s second book.
The reason some words are banned from the feast is because the feast is just that: a feast. There is a context where certain things have no place to be present. A feast is a place where fruit and flowering can be celebrated and enjoyed: there is joy, happiness, and the like. It is a giving away that produces more fruit. Fruitlessness, self-seeking, aggrandised onanism have no place. According to the Torah, God sets before us death and life and bids us choose life.
If art is divorced from beautytruth, and shacked up in a triangle with fashion and sensationalism instead, then it doesn’t matter if you substitute the word ‘fart’ into a Christian hymn: you might make a name for yourself in the process even. IMHO, it’s sort of what Francis Bacon made his life and career about. Singing the Mozart Requiem whilst secretly thinking indecent thoughts about the Alto soloist is along the same lines. I think this is something of what Jordan Peterson meant by his lecture on “Who dares say he believes in God?” There’s a lot bound up in confessing that. We’re work in progress so long as we’re working to progress. And progressing is really important.
And so too is trying so to do.
There is a hint there of the reason that the early Christians called themselves followers of ‘The Way’. There is a place we are called to journey to, travelling “hopefully” in this life militant. Continuing to take your marriage vows seriously, even if you happen to be singing with 30 mates in a European Cathedral that night, is part of the deal.
If you don’t think that WGOTSOT is shorthand for a day trip to hell, may I invite you to check if you have the return half of your ticket? And your valid railcard?
“Rex tremendae majestatis”…
“Mea maxima culpa!”
With the Lord, a thousand years is like a day, and a day is like a thousand years. And the ticket inspector may be along before you get back to St Pancras.