The Gregorian soul

4 07 2021

Some time ago, I became fascinated with French organ music from the late 19th and early 20th century. I am not sure why, because it doesn’t really appeal to me aesthetically. Honestly, the organ hasn’t really been a favorite instrument. I suppose I am more interested in this music as tradition. At least in the recent past, the organ has played a substantial role in Catholic music, so in order to properly understand the evolution of the Catholic liturgy over the last two centuries, one inevitably encounters the organist and their instrument. In France in particular, with the likes of Charles-Marie Widor, Cesar Franck, and Louis Vierne, you have not only famous organists in prominent churches but figures who played an influential role in the emergence of the music of the modern French school. One of the last figures of this school, one whose life spans the ascent and decline of the Catholic cultural revival in France between the wars, was the organist and composer Maurice Duruflé.

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Everybody loves Rama

21 04 2021
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If there is one difficult thing about reading Vedic scripture as a modern Western person (aside from all of the many-headed cosmic snakes and superhero powers), it’s how differently we have come to perceive protagonists in a story. In the Ramayana and Srimad Bhagavatam in particular, Lord Ramachandra and Krishna are pure unadulterated heroes, or at the very least, they have a cartoonish and irresistible charm. Their enemies are only their enemies for the sake of the story, but everyone else seems to love them. Lord Rama in particular is the Perfect Man who can do no wrong. He doesn’t even sigh a hint of displeasure at being banished to the forest or when He has to banish Sita, nor does He ever lament His hardship. His family, on the other hand, blame themselves for not collapsing dead on the spot from witnessing Lord Rama’s misfortune. Krishna, on the other hand, tries to misbehave as a child and as a youth, but people still love Him anyway. They even love Him because of His misbehavior. In both cases, we are faced with an inexplicable charm and attraction. Something I think we very modern people can’t really imagine at this point.

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On persecution

20 06 2020
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A reader left the following comment on my last post:

What would your approach to the problem of persecution be? At some point, even in Krishna consciousness, one would assume that persecution of the faithful would still be an issue (granted, this could be my ignorance of the matter showing). Recognizing that material “reality” is not the end-all-be-all, and that it’s rather an elaborate game, gets you so far; but in the end, wouldn’t you still counsel steadfastness and longsuffering in the face of worldly aggression. Is it a case of counselling the same action (as a Christian, that is) but with different motivations, or is there an entirely different principle at work?

The modern Krishna consciousness began in persecution, namely, under the Muslim occupation of Bengal in early modernity. The Golden Avatar of Krishna, Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, had to negotiate around Muslim rule to spread His movement to chant the Holy Names of Krishna. At one point, persecution broke out, and Lord Chaitanya led a movement of civil disobedience and dialogue with the Muslim rule of Bengal, the Kazi, convincing him that the sankirtan movement was not a threat to Muslim rule. Lord Chaitanya’s Kingdom, in other words, was not of this world. Instead of being crucified, Lord Chaitanya and His disciples were allowed continue their spreading of the the public chanting of the Holy Names.

In modern times in the West, Hare Krishnas have also faced persecution. In the Soviet bloc before the fall of the Iron Curtain, this persecution involved jail and other penalties. Krishna consciousness in the capitalist West was often perceived as a cult, and deprogrammers would kidnap devotees using the excuse that they were brainwashed. In some cases, devotees would feign being “cured,” even up to the point of dressing normally and eating meat, only to escape back to the Krishna consciousness movement. In sastra (the Scriptures), it is permissible to deceive if the end is beneficial to Krishna consciousness. So there isn’t really a conundrum similar to the trials of persecuted Christians in Endo’s novel.

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Progress

11 05 2020

My entire adult life has been a refutation of the liberal idea of progress. (By liberal, I mean the intellectual principles coming out of the Enlightenment.) That’s a bit exaggerated, but I’m running with it. The first real historic milestone in my life was the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain: this brought about the unenthusiastic prosperous years of the 1990’s. These were my teenage years, and also the time I was most “politically active”. Having put that aside, I was welcomed into adulthood by 9/11, which took place around the age I would have graduated college (had I not dropped out). That was the first indication that rumors of the the End of History were greatly overblown. Read the rest of this entry »





The past I never lived but prefer to forget

5 04 2020

As an introverted teenager, I watched a lot of TV. Watching TV in the 1990’s without cable (too poor for that), you didn’t just watch snippets of things here and there. If something was on and you wanted to watch it, you ended up watching the entire series, some episodes multiple times. One of the basic cable channels we got was A&E, which became my second favorite channel after PBS. It was on this channel that I binge-watched the 1981 Australian series, The Brides of Christ. The story of the mini-series follows two young women who enter the novitiate of a religious order during the Second Vatican Council. They get to experience the changes in Catholic life happen over a very brief period. Both women are faced with the choice of staying in the order (and perhaps the Church itself) or leaving altogether. Overall, it’s bad melodrama in the same league as a Hallmark Channel movie or Mexican soap opera. Having grown up with the latter, I can stomach such maudlin story lines, but I would still counsel conservative and traditional Catholics to look into watching this mini-series. Read the rest of this entry »





Poor people’s religion

7 08 2019

There is a difference especially in the First World between religion as concern for the poor and religion of the poor. In my experience, especially in Mexican-American barrios in the United States, when people get religion or return to religion, they often never stray back into Catholicism but instead go to evangelical churches in storefronts or megachurches. These churches often lack a “social conscience”. Though most of the people who attend them are poor or working class, that’s not the focus of their identity or mission. While they are often built on social aide or prison outreach, the focus isn’t on the societal causes of their condition (think Archbishop Camara’s idea of helping the poor vs. asking why there are poor people), but rather on how Jesus can help people out of their condition, how their condition was caused by bad or sinful decisions, and so forth. Read the rest of this entry »





On Catholic authors

16 05 2019

A perhaps unpopular take that I had recently is that, in the English-speaking world, erudite Catholics used literature to replace an actual Catholic culture. Or perhaps a better way to put it is that they use literature to make up for the fact that English does not have a Catholic culture in which to speak. While certain convert authors seem to be popular elsewhere (for example, I know Tolkien and Chesterton have a following in the Catholic right in Latin America, mainly for their fiction), in general the concerns of the Catholic mind elsewhere have little to do with authors who originally wrote in English. I don’t really think that people in Catholic countries consider certain authors to be “Catholic authors,” but mainly just authors, or the role of literature is somewhat muted viz. their Faith. Read the rest of this entry »





The Benedict Option

6 02 2019

I have mulled over doing a review of this book that I recently read, and I am still not sure I can do it justice. The difficulty that I am finding is addressing the complexity and nuance of Dreher’s description of the problem of the contemporary conservative Christian malaise. The book draws inspiration from the last line of Catholic philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre’s book, After Virtue, wherein he contrasts the violent revolutionary Trotsky to the humble quiet movement of the monastic founder, St. Benedict. Dreher visits monastic communities as well as quasi-monastic lay communities that are trying to live a devout traditional life in the midst of the maelstrom of change that is 21st century society. Dreher, both in this book and on his widely-read blog, continues to document the perceived persecution of conservative Christians (Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox) who refuse to go along with the liberal sexual politics of the modern era, among other changes. Read the rest of this entry »





Pop

4 01 2019

This could be a contrarian post about how I once hated pop music but now I sort of like it (in moderation), but that would be expected. Recently I got around to reading John Seabrook’s book, The Song Machine, that is inside look at how most Top 40 songs have been made in the last two decades. Briefly, many of these songs are the work of a group of Swedish producers who work in a highly formulaic and methodical manner. Many of them are the product of a superior musical education program in that country, and some like Max Martin didn’t even start out in pop music. Seabrook even confesses at the beginning of the book being more of a rock critic, but saw an opportunity to investigate a phenomenon that he found obnoxious.

If pop music sounds like it’s in a bit of a time warp, as in songs haven’t changed much in the past 20 years, it’s because it’s probably because of the same people producing them. Compare music from 40 years ago on the radio to songs from 20 years ago and you might start getting the gist of this. From groups like Ace of Base and the Backstreet Boys forward, we are talking about the same cadre of producers, with some additions here and there. We also see that music has been revolutionized due to digital downloads, the Internet, and YouTube.

These are commonly known problems. The question I am left with is: Is the music any good? Is it a profound affront to actual music, as many people adamantly protest? I think a more interesting question concerns its universality. We all know the secrets if we forced ourselves to think about it: familiar beats, an infectious hook, and near-obnoxious mass marketing. It turns out that people like hearing what is familiar, even if they hate a particular song at first. How does one measure a song that has been viewed, listened to, or downloaded millions of times against a work by Bach or Couperin that may have been performed in a church a couple of times during their lifetimes, and perhaps only occasionally in concert halls now? Does scale ever factor into the consideration? Can one at least admire a little the global apparatus that is the “Song Machine”? Is that not a tremendous work of art in itself?

 





Dudamel

22 11 2018

I remember being quite moved at a YouTube video of Dudamel conducting Mahler’s Eighth. A very laudable endeavor.