Debating the U2 canon: How long must we sing this song?

In the first song on U2's new album -- "Songs of Innocence" -- the singer once known as Bono Vox sings the praises of the punk prophet who led his teen-aged self out of confusion into stage-stomping confidence.

"The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)" proclaims: "I was young, not dumb. Just wishing to be blinded, by you, brand new, and we were pilgrims on our way. I woke up at the moment when the miracle occurred. Heard a song that made some sense out of the world. Everything I ever lost, now has been returned. The most beautiful sound I'd ever heard."

Actually, this could be a metaphor, noted Greg Clarke, leader of the Bible Society of Australia. What if Bono is actually describing another earthquake that rocked his life in those years -- his Christian conversion? What if God is the "you" in this song?

Dave Brubeck's long pilgrimage

Dave Brubeck had a problem and, as a short concert intermission turned into a long and mysterious delay, the jazz master sheepishly came back on stage to make a confession. It seemed that his son Chris had locked his electric bass in a dressing room and the Baylor University stage crew couldn't find the right key. Without that bass, the Two Generations of Brubeck ensemble -- pianist Brubeck backed by sons Chris, Dan on drums and Darius on electric keyboards -- was in trouble.

"I really don't know what to do," said Brubeck, on that night in the mid-1970s.

High in the Waco Hall balcony, a voice called out: "Play the piano!"

Brubeck laughed and went to the keyboard. First he played some Bach, which evolved into gentle jazz improvisations that eventually turned into a stomping blues that roared on and on -- until Chris Brubeck finally had his bass.

Afterwards, Brubeck explained that for him music was music and he never could separate the many forms of music that he loved. In later interviews -- four in all, over three decades -- it became clear to me that his religious beliefs followed a similar path down the years. Brubeck died of heart failure on Dec. 5th, the day before he would have been 92.

As a composer, Brubeck was haunted by themes of justice and faith and, even during the glory years of the Dave Brubeck Quartet, he expressed his yearnings in explicitly religious classical works, often with lyrics written with his wife Iola. These compositions continued for the rest of this life.

"Really, I have trouble expressing myself about these things. I still do," he told me, during a 1984 interview that was published in the National Catholic Reporter. "Have you ever seen the notes in 'Light in the Wilderness'? ... I really said it all there. That still says what I believe -- although I guess no one's beliefs ever really stay the same.

"To me it all seems like the same journey."

In the liner notes for that 1968 recording, Brubeck wrote: "Although reared as a Presbyterian by a Christian Scientist mother who attended a Methodist church, and, although this piece was written with the theological counsel of a Vedanta leader, a Unitarian minister, an Episcopal bishop and several Jesuit priests, I am not affiliated with any church."

In particular, he cited the influence of "three Jewish teachers" -- philosopher Irving Goleman, classical composer Darius Milhaud and Jesus.

"This composition is, I suppose, simply one man's attempt to distill his own thought and to express in his own way the essence of Jesus' teaching," wrote Brubeck.

The soaring, chant-like theme from that oratorio's most famous piece, "Forty Days," became the hook for jazz improvisations in Brubeck concerts for decades to come. In the choral version, the verses cry out: "Forty days alone in the desert, days and nights of constant prayer, seeking in the wailing wind an answer to despair. Forty days of questioning: Why was he there, in the lonely desert? Forty days of fasting and prayer, searching for his destined role. …"

Eventually, Brubeck -- who had never been baptized as a child -- stunned his family by making the leap from his liberal Protestant background to Catholicism. The decision grew directly out of his experiences composing a Mass, completed in 1979, at the request of the Our Sunday Visitor publishing company.

Brubeck wrote "To Hope! A Celebration" in stages and, once it was complete, discovered that he had failed to write an "Our Father" anthem. During a family vacation in the Caribbean, he dreamed the entire missing piece -- jumping out of bed to sketch parts for chorus and orchestra.

The experience left Brubeck so shaken that he decided to be baptized as a Catholic, at Our Lady of Fatima parish in Wilton, Conn. While many insisted on calling him a convert, he always resisted that term and repeatedly explained that he found it impossible to describe precisely what he was "converting from" when he decided to enter Catholicism.

"You could say I was a lot of things or you could say I was nothing in particular" before becoming a Catholic, said Brubeck, the last time I interviewed him. "My wife and my kids didn't understand why I wanted to join the Catholic church. I'm not even sure I completely understood what happened. ... It was a calling."

Hallelujah, saith the masses

As millions of YouTube viewers know, the "Hallelujah Chorus" is even hotter than usual this year. The wave started with a flash-mob performance by the Opera Company of Philadelphia and hundreds of local choristers. Dressed as shoppers, they sang the best-known anthem from George F. Handel's "Messiah" oratorio at noon in the downtown Philadelphia Macy's, which was already decked out for the holidays on Oct. 30th.

Then came the Nov. 13th performance that sent this viral-video trend into overdrive, when 100 vocalists -- led by a young woman singing the opening hallelujahs into her cellphone -- shocked a food-court crowd in a Welland, Ontario, shopping mall.

There are online reports and rumors about similar "Hallelujah Chorus" sneak attacks in the marketplace. The key is that many onlookers know this classic by heart and can sing along without missing many beats.

These are strange scenes, but they would not surprise anyone who has studied the history of Handel's masterwork and its stunning popularity, especially among American believers, said Calvin R. Stapert, a retired music professor at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich. He is the author of the new book, "Handel's Messiah: Comfort for God's People."

The Macy's performance was spectacular and the food-court performance was just as fascinating in its own way, he said.

"One part of me says, 'Wonderful!' It's thrilling. ... Then I look at the comments that people keep writing" at as they respond to the videos, said Stapert. "Some of them are so deeply moved that this anthem to their Savior is being sung in such a secular environment. Then there are others who make it clear that, for them, this is nothing more than ... a novel way of saluting a cornerstone of Western musical culture."

No one knows why "Messiah" has become so popular, noted Stapert, in his book. The work's omnipresence -- with performances in churches, civic centers and elite concert halls -- is probably the result of "musical, textual, social, religious and psychological factors that will never be completely unraveled." There is no precedent in music history for this phenomenon.

For starters, Handel is an unlikely hero for today's musical masses. He was a "reluctant eighteenth-century German Lutheran composer who would have preferred to continue writing Italian operas in Protestant England, a country that had no oratorio tradition until he 'invented' it. The rest, as they say, is history," wrote Stapert.

This musical form -- the oratorio -- was also a unique and at times controversial kind of art. Handel composed "Messiah" and many of his greatest works in a cultural no man's land between the music common in sacred sanctuaries and the lively, entertaining, operatic works that were popular in theaters and concert halls. Nevertheless, most oratorios were based on the lives of biblical heroes and early Christian saints.

Then there was "Messiah: A Sacred Oratorio," which was composed in 24 days and performed for the first time in Dublin in 1742 and a year later in London. The libretto covered the drama of the full Christian liturgical year, yet the work was never intended for church performances. Handel originally composed the work for approximately 24 skilled singers and 24 instrumentalists.

Today, "Messiah" is often performed with choruses consisting of 100 singers or more and orchestras of every imaginable size and composition. In many performances, amateur performers are forced to cut the tempos of Handel's mercurial, dancing choruses until they resemble lumbering musical stampedes.

To state the matter bluntly, noted Stapert, no complex work of classical music "has survived, let alone thrived, on so many performances, good, bad, and indifferent, by and for so many people year after year for such a long time."

Now, the most famous anthem from this Christian masterpiece has reached the true public square of our age, in the same mix as "Jingle Bells" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."

"You have to ask," noted Stapert, "if many people are really listening to the words. After all, who is this 'King of Kinds and Lord of Lords'? ... You have to think that the cultural police would be out in a matter of minutes to shut this down if people were paying attention to this profoundly Christian work that is being sung right out in the open, in a mall. Has the 'Hallelujah Chorus' become so familiar that people cannot hear what it's saying?"

John Lennon, 'spiritual,' not 'religious'

Few images of John Lennon are as iconic as that of the ex-Beatle playing a white piano in a white room, gazing into the camera lens while singing "Imagine." "Imagine there's no heaven. It's easy if you try. No hell below us, above us only sky. Imagine all the people, living for today," said Lennon, in the anthem that for many defined his life. "Imagine there's no countries. It isn't hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too."

Critics of the rock martyr have quoted these words almost as often as his admirers, especially in light of another quotation about religion that haunted the enigmatic superstar. In a 1966 interview about life in England, Lennon stated: "Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue with that. I'm right and I will be proved right. We're more popular than Jesus now."

Months later, his words were published in America. Many churches responded with bonfires of Beatles records and some Bible Belt radio stations banned the group's music -- for a while. Lennon received death threats.

Responding to the firestorm, Lennon told American reporters: "I pointed out that fact in reference to England, that we meant more to kids than Jesus did. ... I was just saying it as a fact and it's true more for England than here."

Decades later, pop-culture scholars and religious leaders continue to argue about what Lennon believed and when he believed it. This is the kind of topic that is being discussed in England, America and elsewhere during the fall of 2010 -- when Lennon would have been 70 years old.

Despite the images in "Imagine," Lennon "certainly wasn't an atheist, he was clear about that," noted Father Robert Hart, an Anglican traditionalist from Chapel Hill, N.C., whose "Hard to Imagine" essay was recently published in the journal Touchstone.

"What he was missing in his life was the certainty of a specific, definitive revelation of a particular religious truth. It's not that he denied that this kind of truth existed, but he was never able to find it. That's what he lacked and he knew it."

In other words, he was a vivid example of an attitude toward faith that has only gained power in the decades since his death. Lennon was "spiritual," but not "religious" before that stance became all too common.

And what about his statement that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus?

"The real problem with what John Lennon said in 1966 is not what so many were quick to assume and to decry in a knee-jerk reaction," noted Hart, in his essay. "The real problem is the element of truth in what he said. The Beatles WERE more popular than the Lord himself among youth in England at the time, as was Frank Sinatra among the older set in America -- and as are television, video games and many other things of this world to very many people today.

"Lennon, the eccentric artist, poet and musician, spoke all too accurately."

Lennon's life was defined by symbolic moments, noted Hart. He was -- literally -- born during an air raid and died after being gunned down by a mad man. As a teen, the vicar of the Liverpool parish in which Lennon was baptized and confirmed banned him from services for laughing at an inopportune time, almost certainly during a sermon.

As a global superstar, Lennon pushed his art and psyche to the limit while trying drugs, Eastern mysticism, psychics, astrologers and other ways of coping with life and his fear of death. As an adult he exchanged letters full of spiritual questions with televangelist Oral Roberts, at one point writing, "Explain to me what Christianity can do for me. Is it phony? Can He love me? I want out of hell."

For a brief time, Lennon tried to embrace evangelical Christianity. In the end, he called himself a "Zen Christian," among other labels.

One would have to conclude, Hart said, that Lennon both reflected his times and influenced them. He did his searching right out in the open.

"This was a man who, if anything, was almost too honest about his doubts and his beliefs," said Hart. "There are people who keep things bottled up inside. Well, that wasn't John Lennon. The question is whether anyone really listened to what he was trying to say."

Synagogue for Jewish seekers

For centuries, Jews have watched their rabbis show reverence to God during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur rites by doing a prostration at the front of the synagogue. This symbolic act takes place during the "Aleinu" prayer that reminds worshipers of their duty to "bend our knees, and bow down, and give thanks, before the Ruler, the Ruler of Rulers, the Holy One, Blessed is God."

Rabbi Shira Stutman isn't sure how many people will accept her invitation to exit the pews and perform this prostration for themselves during her seeker-friendly High Holy Days service at the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue in Washington, D.C. But many of those who do, she said, will find themselves assuming a familiar meditative pose.

It helps to know that this unusual synagogue offers occasional services that blend yoga with traditional Shabbat prayers.

"There are different ways to do a full prostration, but one of them looks exactly like the yoga position called 'Child's Pose,' " said Stutman, referring to a move in which individuals sink to their knees, bow their foreheads to the floor and extend their arms forward. "I'm guessing that for most of the people who will attend the service I'm leading -- young professionals in their 20s and 30s -- the Child's Pose will be more familiar than the tradition of the rabbi prostrating during the Aleinu prayer.

"This will let me use this simple yoga pose to talk about what the act of prostrating can mean for us in worship."

This is the kind of multi-layered experience that is common at Sixth and I, which offers four radically different services -- Orthodox, conservative, family friendly and progressive -- during the holy season that begins at sundown today (Sept. 8) with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and ends 10 days later with Yom Kippur, the solemn Day of Atonement.

This multi-domed sanctuary on the edge of the Chinatown neighborhood has a complex and poignant history. Built in 1908 for the Adas Israel Congregation, it was sold in 1951 to the Turner Memorial AME Church and, by 2002, was hours away from being converted into a nightclub.

However, a trio of Jewish developers rushed in and purchased it for $5 million. Before long, they had created a coalition that focused on creating an urban facility that was part synagogue, part education complex, part community center and part concert hall -- yet independent from the branches of Judaism that have defined the faith for the past century or so.

"Jews in this generation, or generations, don't want to define themselves by the terms of the past," said Esther Foer, the synagogue's executive director. "Those denominational labels -- like 'Conservative' and 'Orthodox' and 'Conservadox' -- don't matter much anymore, especially when you are talking about how people want to worship.

"What matters, at the end of the day, is that we are all Jews -- who are praying."

While Stutman was trained in a liberal Reconstructionist school, she stressed that the synagogue does not have one defining congregation or rabbi. Instead, it uses six prayer books and is served by six rabbis and scores of other worship leaders. Her "Sixth in the City" services are attempts to create "primal worship" experiences, mixing English and Hebrew with themes from many sources, including Judaism, mass media and different world religions.

All of this is fitting in an age in which the vast majority of young Jews have no affiliation whatsoever with traditional Jewish institutions. Jewish leaders are struggling with this reality, as demonstrated by a 2001 survey that defined a Jew as someone whose "religion is Jewish, OR, whose religion is Jewish and something else, OR, who has no religion and has at least one Jewish parent or a Jewish upbringing, OR, who has a non-monotheistic religion, and has at least one Jewish parent or a Jewish upbringing."

What matters, said Stutman, is that people are searching for connections and experiences that help define who they are -- as Jews.

"We are not defined by any one set of doctrines or dogmas ... so every Jewish service is a fusion service," she said. "At any Jewish service there are people in the room with 1000 different views of God and half of them are probably atheists anyway. That's a given. What matters is that people know there is a place where they find community and keep searching."

The soul in Dave Brubeck's jazz

Any jazz fan who has been paying attention at all during the past half century will recognize the quirky 5/4 riff that means the Dave Brubeck Quartet is swinging into its classic "Take Five." But there's another tune the pianist keeps playing that is completely different. "Forty Days" opens with the haunting, chant-like lines that define the most famous piece in his first sacred oratorio, "The Light in the Wilderness."

"Forty days alone in the desert, days and nights of constant prayer, seeking in the wailing wind an answer to despair," sings the chorus, in verses inspired by biblical accounts of the temptations of Jesus. "Forty days of questioning: Why was he there, in the lonely desert? Forty days of fasting and prayer, searching for his destined role. ..."

Through the decades, Brubeck has struggled to talk about the private journey that has defined his faith. In the program booklet for that 1968 cantata, he explained that he was "reared as a Presbyterian by a Christian Scientist mother who attended a Methodist Church." He also stressed that three Jewish teachers shaped his life -- philosopher Irving Goleman, composer Darius Milhaud and Jesus.

"With 'The Light in the Wilderness' we were really trying to get at ... the heart of the New Testament," said Brubeck, decades after the oratorio -- with lyrics by his wife Iola -- reshaped his work as a composer. "We decided that we would try to provide contemporary settings to help people hear what Jesus was saying."

Last weekend, Brubeck came to Washington, D.C., for a White House reception, a Kennedy Center gala and all the other festivities that accompany being selected as one of the five recipients of America's highest annual award for lifetime achievement in the performing arts. The celebration took place on Brubeck's 89th birthday.

The emphasis, of course, was on his life as a jazz superstar.

"It's understandable that nobody really talked about his work in sacred music," said orchestra conductor Russell Gloyd, who is also Brubeck's longtime manager. "The problem with Dave is that he's been around so long that he's done almost everything." The religious side of Brubeck's repertoire is "something that often gets overlooked, which is sad because this music means so much to him," said Gloyd.

Not long after the pianist became famous, the husband-and-wife team wrote a large-scale work called "The New Ambassadors." It contained "They Say I Look Like God," a bluesy Gospel number written for jazz legend Louis Armstrong that combined a Gregorian chant melody with lyrics based on the book of Genesis.

That led to "The Light in the Wilderness," which was followed by two more major religious works, "Truth Has Fallen" and "The Gates of Justice," which drew on passages from the Jewish Torah and speeches by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Then there was a Spanish-tinged Christmas cantata called "La Fiesta de la Posada," the Easter cantata "Beloved Son" and a series of musical meditations based on "Pange Lingua," a Eucharistic hymn written by St. Thomas Aquinas.

Finally, the Our Sunday Visitor publishing company asked Brubeck to compose a Mass, which was completed in 1979 and given the title, "To Hope! A Celebration." The experience was so overwhelming -- Brubeck said the complete "Our Father" piece came to him in a dream -- that the composer ended up joining the Catholic Church.

The Brubecks are still hard at work. While the other Kennedy Center honorees arrived a day or two early, Gloyd noted that Brubeck was busy squeezing in another performance in a Catholic church -- performing "Canticles of Mary," which blends jazz, Gregorian chants with a new hymn written by the Brubecks.

For centuries, Brubeck once told me, the world's best composers worked to create music that would appeal to audiences in sanctuary pews as well as in elite concert halls. For him, composing a complete Mass was one of the greatest technical challenges of his career because it had to be challenging and simple at the same time.

"I really wanted it to be something that everyday people could perform," he said. "Most of the time, the faith that really matters and really affects people is the faith out in the local churches. The Mass was written for those kinds of people -- not just for professionals. ... What good is religious music if it can't be performed in churches?"

Quiet Lutheran worship wars

If members of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod have heard it once, they've heard their national leaders repeat this mantra a thousand times: "This is not your grandfather's church." That's certainly what musician Phillip Magness experienced when he took a sabbatical at Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, Ill., and began a research tour after the 2006 release of the Lutheran Service Book. Since he led the committee charged with promoting the new hymnal, Magness wanted to see what was happening in the conservative denomination's sanctuaries.

"What I found out is that we're a lot like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates," he said. "It says Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod on the sign, but when you go inside you have no idea what you're going to get. ... Some of our churches are playing with the structure of the liturgy and some are playing with the content and our whole synod is trying to find out how to draw some boundaries."

One pastor wanted to offer five worship services in five musical formats to meet the needs of what he perceived as five separate audiences in his church.

The "TLH" service was for members still attached to the 1941 volume called "The Lutheran Hymnal." Then there was the "Valpo" audience, which yearned for the "smells and bells" approach to high-church worship popular at Valparaiso University in Indiana. Then there were fans of the pop "CCM" music found in the "Contemporary Christian Music" industry. The "Gen X" crowd wanted its own post-baby boomer music.

The fifth service? It would feature country music.

These struggles are particularly poignant for Missouri Synod Lutherans, who are part of a 2.3 million-member denomination that occupies a tense niche between the larger, more liberal Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the evangelical megachurch marketplace.

It's crucial, said Magness, to understand that the churches linked to Martin Luther are part of the Protestant Reformation, but it's hard to pin a simple "Protestant" label on their approach to piety. Missouri Synod Lutherans, for example, have much in common with evangelicals, especially in terms of biblical authority and conservative morality. However, some parish leaders are not sure they want to make radical changes to modernize their worship services.

Magness, for example, is one of about 30 Missouri Synod musicians known as "cantors," an honorary title once held by Johann Sebastian Bach and many others in Lutheran history. Magness has created "Liturgy Solutions," a company that helps churches of all sizes maintain Lutheran traditions, while mixing old and new music.

"We know that culture is not static," he said. "We want to find the way to proclaim the church's message in ways that remain reverent and appropriate, yet sound fresh today. Otherwise, we'd be singing chants in Latin every Sunday."

The problem is that many pastors resort to forming separate congregations that worship under the same roof -- variations on a "traditional" vs. "contemporary" split. What is "traditional" worship? That's whatever older church leaders were doing before new leaders decided to change what Magness called the "soundtrack" for worship.

Sadly, these worship wars often drive off some faithful members, losses that negate whatever growth followed the changes that were adopted to attract newcomers.

Magness believes that church leaders should attempt to work with all their members to create services that are faithful to the past, but not stuck in the past. A common warning sign that trouble is ahead, he added, is when pastors begin altering the words of crucial prayers and liturgical texts -- even the ancient creeds.

The bottom line, he said, is that dividing a church into separate, even competing, worship services rarely produces growth. At least, that isn't what is happening in the Lutheran congregations he has studied.

"Maybe the saints prefer a place where the real practice of the church -- preaching the Gospel in its truth and purity and administering the sacraments rightly and reverently -- are much, much more important than whether Jack's son gets to play his trap set in church or whether the patriarchal families get to pick all the hymns because they don't want to sing any new songs," said Magness, at a national worship conference.

"I do know this: the congregation that works out these issues the old-fashioned way provides a better confession of 'one Lord, one faith and one baptism' than the congregation that doesn't share the Lord's Supper together."

Life after CCM, the remix

The first time Jay Swartzendruber held a compact disc, he wondered if music fans would miss the artwork, readable lyrics and other goodies that came inside old-fashioned album covers.

Years later, industry insiders started talking about selling music online and it was deja vu all over again. The voice in his head said, "Fans will forgo CD art and packaging altogether? You seriously believe that?"

Swartzendruber also likes reading magazines he can hold in his hands, especially when it's the one that he runs. But that's changing, too. After 30 years of defining a subculture it helped create, CCM Magazine is facing its last press run. After April, it will appear online -- period.

"On one level, this is just part of what is happening everywhere," said the 40-year-old editor. "Lots of magazines are moving online. But there's more to it this time and everybody knows it. This is part of even bigger changes in the whole Christian music business."

For decades, CCM stood for "contemporary Christian music," while executives debated precisely what that meant. It helps to know that Nashville is a place where judgments about the state of an artist's career can be based on theology as well as sales.

In the beginning, CCM meant pop tunes that youth choirs could sing in church. But over time, some artists ventured into heavy metal and alternative rock, while others dug back into country and rhythm and blues.

During one identity crisis a decade ago, the Gospel Music Association -- focusing on lyrics -- struggled to establish criteria for its Dove Awards.

"Gospel music," it proclaimed, "is music in any style whose lyric is: substantially based upon historically orthodox Christian truth contained in or derived from the Holy Bible; and/or an expression of worship of God or praise for His works; and/or testimony of relationship with God through Christ; and/or obviously prompted and informed by a Christian world view."

Industry leaders predicted a bright future. They cited huge Soundscan sales numbers in 2001, but that included mainstream records -- such as the "O Brother Where Art Thou" soundtrack -- that sold in Christian as well as mainstream stories.

Those numbers looked great, but a revolution was taking place backstage. Bands like P.O.D., Sixpence None the Richer, MercyMe, Chevelle, Switchfoot, The Fray, MXPX, Mute Math and others were jumping into the mainstream. Some artists ignored the CCM scene altogether or fought for their legal right to escape.

Realists could see several trends by 2003. The first was that sales were falling for the "adult contemporary" artists -- such as Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant and Steven Curtis Chapman -- whose success had defined the CCM industry. Meanwhile, sales were rising for Christians who reached the mainstream. And finally, Christian stores were selling truckloads of "modern worship" CDs containing the explicitly religious "praise music" that bands play Sunday after Sunday in megachurches across America.

When CCM asked its subscribers what they wanted to read, they requested more coverage of "artists in the mainstream" and "modern worship artists." So Swartzendruber and his team redesigned their magazine last year, focusing on a wider spectrum of music and artists.

In a letter to readers, the editor stressed: "We're going to start mixing indie and general market Christians in with those who have Christian label affiliation on a more regular basis. In other words, we're going to stop perpetuating the myth that what is and what is not 'Christian music' is based on where the music is sold. (If you think that last sentence sounded confessional, you're right.)"

The bottom line was that the old CCM label had become "out of date and marginalized." So the editors changed the name to "Christ. Community. Music."

But it was too late to save the magazine, in its old form. The work of redefining the familiar CCM label will continue online, said Swartzendruber, at an expanded website that will include daily coverage, blogs, podcasts, digital music and other signs of the times.

"What we learned is that contemporary Christian music was perceived -- by people in our subculture and people in the mainstream -- as music made by Christians, for Christians," he said. But what readers are saying now is, "We want to hear more about the artists of faith who are having an impact on our culture, not just artists who are preaching to the choir."

Catholic choirs, alive or dead?

Lucy E. Carroll has never actually attended a Catholic Mass in which a cantor belted out, "He'll be coming 'round the altar when he comes! He'll be coming 'round the altar when he comes!" At least, that hasn't happened yet.

"I know that some people have used Stephen Foster music in a Mass," said the musical director at the Carmelite monastery in Philadelphia. "I've heard about people using the melody from the waltz scene in 'Beauty and the Beast' for the 'Gloria.' And I've heard more than one report about people singing the 'Agnus Dei,' which means 'Lamb of God,' to that old song 'Send in the Clowns.' "

In many parishes, she said, pop songs and the modern hymnody inspired by them have all but replaced traditional hymns and, heaven forbid, ancient chants and actual Catholic anthems.

This is old news. What many outsiders may not realize is that many Catholic parishes have, in the past decade or two, followed the lead of Protestant megachurches and now feature plugged-in "praise bands" and worship-team singers -- complete with solo microphones -- who sway in the Sunday-morning spotlights.

Legions of Catholics like this music, admitted Carroll. But many do not, including some younger Catholics who are drawn to candles, incense, sacred art and the mysterious melodies of ancient chants. In many parishes, she said, it may be time -- as shocking as this may sound -- to start a choir.

Carroll is an unrepentant choir director. She believes there is more to being a Catholic musician than the ability to play some guitar chords while singing, "Here I am Lord, Is it I Lord? I have heard You calling in the night." She can speak words like "Victoria" and "Palestrina" without flinching.

"Most people who lead music in our churches today are not trained to be liturgical musicians," said Carroll, an adjunct professor at the Westminster Choir College at Princeton University. "They do not understand that there is music that is sacred in nature and then there is music that is secular in nature. There is Christian music that would be totally acceptable at a revival service or a youth rally, but it is not ... acceptable in a Catholic Mass."

What should someone do if they want to start a choir? Carroll recently published a list of tips in the conservative Adoremus Bulletin ( that included:

* Obtain the full support of the priest, including a pledge that he will praise the choir from the pulpit and cooperate with its efforts.

* Find a choir director and an accompanist. It helps to have money to hire someone and the person must understand worship as well as musical notes on a page. Carroll suggests that parish leaders search at local high schools and colleges, perhaps even seeking out talented students seeking practical experience.

* The best way to find singers is by personal contact. Do not, she emphasized, advertise with phrases such as "Do you like to sing in the shower?" The goal is to find choir singers, not soloists whose volume control is cranked up to "water buffalo." Avoid people who say, "I'll be there for Mass, but not rehearsals."

* Start slow, perhaps singing at the same Mass once a month. Resist the temptation to hide your fledgling choir under a wave of instrumental sound. Train the singers to handle some traditional, a cappella (voices alone) music.

* Start with unison music then let the choir sing "antiphonally," with women singing one line and men the next. Then attempt canons and rounds, such as the anonymous "Dona Nobis Pacem" that congregations have enjoyed for generations. Eventually, the director will learn who can sing soprano, alto, tenor and bass. At that point, the choir can try two-part chants and then easy anthems from a traditional Catholic hymnbook or by modern composers who write sacred music for use in Mass.

The goal is for the choir to become a close-knit family of musicians who lead the church family in worship, said Carroll. She is convinced that soloists with microphones inevitably turn into performers.

"We have to get away from the rock bands and the folks groups and the polka players and everybody else," she said. "We need to stop entertaining our people and get back to our own worship tradition -- which is leading our people in the worship of God."