Mortification at the Musical Instrument Museum
The introductory gallery at the MIM in far-north Phoenix had been quite inspiring. While I hadn’t been looking forward to the trip, the initial exhibit reminded me of the influential role that music has played in my life, first during my teenage years, later in my reversion to the Catholic Church, and currently in my love of worship music.
The museum is organized first by continent, and then by country. As we entered the European gallery, I did not expect to see the first country to catch my eye: on the left was a display marked “Vatican City.” I was filled with excitement at the upcoming possibilities of hearing traditional Catholic hymns, music created for the Mass by classical composers, the booming of pipe organs with notes lifted toward Heaven, haunting Gregorian chant, and the magnificent sound of bells in their towers. I decided to mortify myself just a little bit by starting on the right side of the room.
Each country display has an printed text describing the exhibit along with a TV screen showing more detail about the people and music of that culture, with wirelessly-transmitted audio examples, which can only be heard on the museum visitor's personal headphone system when in close proximity to the particular exhibit. Since the beginning of the tour my headphones had not been working well, so when I arrived at the Vatican City display and heard nothing, I walked in circles in front of it, trying to capture the audio by positioning my head just right. When I had no success picking up the recording, I decided to settle for watching the video without sound. I searched the rather small exhibit for the screen, certain that I would see cathedrals and choirs. It took at least a minute for it to sink in. There was no screen. The Vatican City exhibit had no audio and no video.
As my outrage bubbled to the surface, I imagined what people already less than enamored with the Church would be thinking at this point. “Those Catholics and their rules! They even regulate bells!” “Ha! Flying Easter eggs… How typically ridiculous is that?” “Those Catholics have interfered with music throughout history!” To the best of my recollection of the other exhibits, the Catholics have the only instruments respectfully referred to as “noisemakers.”
One of Scooby Doo’s supporting characters had her own screen. She had audio too. Admittedly, the display wasn’t really about the animated show itself but rather a discussion of player pianos. I’m sure that player pianos have contributed at least as much to music history as the Catholic Church, right?
This treatment of the Church by the Musical Instrument Museum reminded me of the continued and increasing disrespect for Christianity in our modern culture. And it is my belief that it is becoming dangerous. Father Lankeit at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral recently published an article in his parish bulletin discussing the hostility of the secular media toward Christians. He included headlines from 15 articles displaying such bias from two weeks in September 2011 alone. His article from the October 2, 2011 bulletin can be found on the cathedral website, http://www.simonjude.net/. (Click as follows: KNOW/Publications/Weekly Bulletins/October 2, 2011)
I would like to urge all Catholics to take notice of the portrayals of our Church being offered to the public at large. We try to combat negative depictions when they occur in obviously offensive movies and TV shows, but even more dangerous assaults upon the history of the Faith are also being committed using subtle and seemingly high-minded means such as museum displays. The MIM's "Vatican City" exhibit is a startling example of selective and malicious misrepresentation: it’s not false that Catholics change up the bells during Lent, and there probably was some folklore related to flying Easter eggs. But to represent those details as the Church’s sole contribution to music history? That’s just plain deceptive.
Sharon Rayner is a Catholic wife and mother living in Phoenix. This piece originally appeared on her own blog, In Joyful Hope.