We cannot do without Church choristers – and acolytes – and they must be male:
- If cult is to form the culture properly, men must be involved in its hierarchy, at all levels. Where men are not involved in the cult of the Most High, they involve themselves in other, lesser things, and the culture suffers because they then steer its attention away from First Things, and so from Truth, and from the proper adaptation thereto. If the cult is mostly a female thing, so will the culture follow it, and culture will then become mostly a female thing. The men, and typically male concerns, will then be sidelined. The culture will become effeminate. An effeminate culture will sooner or later fall before a masculine culture.
- Male inculcation in the cult must begin long before puberty. It must be clear to boys that one of the paths of highest honor open to them, as boys and men, is the service of the cult. It must seem to them that the noblest thing a boy – or a man – might do is to serve the cult. It must seem to them that only the best of the boys can graduate to that service; so that, a career spent otherwise is but small beer by comparison.
- If the cult is to remain important to boys throughout their lives, and so remain a focus of the culture at large, then even if they make their careers elsewhere, the cult must become to them supremely important before they grow interested in girls. Once boys become interested in girls, girls naturally become the main thing for them, unless they are already deeply involved in something else that has nothing to do with girls, in which men whom they admire are also deeply involved, for life.
- Involvement in the cult must seem to boys to be one of the most important things that men can do. Or else, they’ll do something else, that seems to them – and to the men in their lives – more important: hunting, or fighting, or drinking, or sex, or whatever. Not to deprecate hunting, fighting, drinking, or sex, at all; but these are obviously not First Things. A life ordered first to any such subsidiary creaturely worldly good cannot be ordered properly first to truly First Things, and must therefore fall short, qua life. A hunter or warrior reverent to the cult, on the other hand, is by definition ordering his career of work with Second Things and Third Things under the Lógos of First Things; and, so, ordering it more properly than he might otherwise have been able to do.
- Prepubescent boys find girls disgusting. If girls are involved in choir or service at the altar – or anything else whatever – prepubescent boys will hate it. If you want young boys to find some activity terrific, you must prevent girls from it, absolutely.
- Choirboys and acolytes are the raw material of priests and monks – and religious genii of other callings, such as academics and warriors. If you’ve got lots and lots of choirboys and acolytes around, and girls are in no way part of their liturgical activities, why then you’ll have no problem harvesting a sufficiency of vocations for the priesthood and religious life.
- In short, then: the vigor of the tradition of the cult – and, so of the culture, and then of the nation – depends upon the involvement therein, throughout life, of males. It must begin before they reach puberty. And because prepubescent boys despise girls, girls must be excluded from that involvement. So, boys must be able to take liturgical offices as choristers and acolytes, and girls must be prevented from so doing.
Herenow, a disquisition in greater depth, that touches upon other aspects of the predicament.
The sublime music of the West is founded upon the monastic choir of men and boys. That tradition got its start in the first centuries AD, at the latest. Records are nil, but there are indications that its Christian manifestation continues a monastic tradition thousands of years older. The Psalms are annotated with instructions for the choirmaster.
Almost all the great composers got their musical start as terrified 6 year old choirboys in churches great and small. They were the top boys, the most talented and musical, with the best voices, who were kept on after their voices changed, and so kept singing (and learning) alto, tenor, and bass – and indeed, if my own experience is any indication, treble, on long into their twenties. They continued their keyboard and musicological training under the guidance of their choirmasters. Most of them ended up earning a living from one month to the next (for, commissions and gigs cover the rent reliably for only the top 1%) as singers, organists and choirmasters (and therefore – as themselves teachers & doctors of music – petty local maestri of an ancient initiatic order). They often graduated to the job of choirmaster from that of solo singer and leader of a section of singers; from virtuoso first chair, to put it in the terms of the symphony orchestra.
I myself made a small living for a while as such a soloist. It fit my early peripatesis. Wherever I went, I had a good shot at one of the best church jobs in town – even in the biggest towns, like New York or San Francisco. So with a few exceptions – Lander, Wyoming, say – I could scratch by as a church countertenor almost no matter where I found myself.
To be a virtuoso church singer (and, so, a fairly consistent soloist at profane venues) is a good life, albeit too poor to fund a family. In worldly terms at least – i.e., in the terms that do not matter ultimately – it is therefore a bootless enterprise, despite the sublime elevations and ravishments a good singer can produce in audiences.
In otherworldly terms, on the other hand, there are few higher callings. Looking back on my career as a liturgical singer with the dourest most cynical eye I can muster, and fully aware (o so fully; you have no idea, and do not want to have any such) of the moral defects that inveterately plague the choral offices, I cannot but say: sub specie aeternitatis, the calling of the Levite chorister in the Temple is of all human occupations second in nobility and majesty only to that of the priesthood.
Excursus: I have martial training, but no military experience. I do not at all doubt or question the glory of the way of the warrior. But I do not know it myself, as my own profession. So I do not speak of it; for, I cannot. I know – from the outside – that the way of the warrior involves the sacrifice epitomized on the Cross, and at the stake by Nathan Hale.
I doubt not therefore that the way of the warrior is as sacred – in potential, at least – as any other. No way could donate more, or even as much, except that of the martyr. But then, every way, of every calling, ends ultimately at the donation of everything to the Good; to martyry, that is, and an utmost rejection of anything less than the Good; or else at damnation.
In the end, everything boils down to everything else. In a coherent system of things, how could it be otherwise? To be a priest then, e.g., is to be a warrior; and to be a warrior is likewise to be a priest (in this lies the primordial unity and concord of the various anointed sacred offices of priest, king, and prophet, in virtue of which a man of any such order might serve also in one of the others – and, in virtue of which, the king was High Priest and Great Prophet (in coherent organic societies, anyway)). All occupations must in the end serve the Truth, at bottom; or else, they are but deceptions, and ruinations. So may any soldier speak dour dire prophecy; so may any professor speak governing truth; so may any priest preach a Crusade.
I shall however say but this: the Levite chorister in the Temple is *not at all concerned in his quotidian offices with worldly affairs.* On the contrary: the heart and soul of that music which absorbs his whole attention, its whole end, its whole fulfillment, and its whole expression – whether performed, contemplated, enjoyed, or composed – is the Lógos. The true ends of the Levite’s attentions to his official duties strictly as liturgist *cannot therefore injure.* In this, his official acts are, with those of the priest, unlike those of any other social officers. Every other sort of social actor acts for the most part socially, and so might by his strictly official acts injure. The Priest and the Levite, per contra, are in all the acts proper to their strictly liturgical offices ordered only to the Most High, on behalf and instead of their social fellows. Their properly liturgical acts then cannot injure, except insofar as those acts are themselves defective.
They might of course hurt. Contact with eternity, such as is the meat of liturgical offices, cannot in its reproaches to our worldly attachments do otherwise than to diminish them, at least apparently. Such is the whole point of worship. And that can engender the pain of ascesis – of that peculiar pain we feel when we revisit our past injuries to the moral Truth, and feel them. It is the pain of repentance: of a repain.
A religion that does not challenge you totally and to the roots, and indeed painfully, is useless to you, and false. It is a Fake Religion.
Improper religious acts there are of course in plenty. Most acts, of any sort, are mostly false, and wicked, and wrong. And they work wreak of our wickedness. Of such consists almost all of ecclesiastical history. So it goes, for those of us yet constrained by this mortal coil, under the orbit of the Moon.
Church choirs are still the basis of the musical profession. Professional musicians try first to get a church job in order to secure a portion of the rent; then, they take a shot during the regular work week at setting up on the side some concerts with a consort of friends that might garner a recording contract, or a few paying gigs, or a tour – usually, of municipal churches in the near vicinity. Only the top 1% get a paying job with a musical institution like a symphony orchestra.
College jobs are good, too, to be sure. But there are not nearly enough of them to keep the tradition going.
The great difficulty – the pinch point in the history, not just of the Christian cult of the West, but of her high music, which now we traverse – is that there are almost no church choirs of men and boys these days, anywhere. Boys are no longer trained as singers and musicians in anything like the numbers of even 50 years ago. There are no longer thousands of boys learning each year in thousands of churches from thousands of quondam choirboys that music is the most reliably delicious and rewarding of all earthly pursuits, and so realizing that they must do their best to stick with it, come what may, whatever else they might do, and despite the inevitable disaster of puberty and the loss of their pure puerile untrammeled capacity to channel the Platonic Forms into the created order without taint of noise or buzz or disharmony.
Excursus: Speaking as one such choirboy, I can testify that the capacity so to channel the Forms unsullied and make them manifest here below, and so to ravish souls with unspeakable, unearthly Beauty, is the mightiest power I have known. And I have been fortunate to know and to exert several other powers, of quite different sorts; so that I have a basis for comparison.
There are no longer thousands of thousands of such boys. There are rather a few thousand each year, these days, or maybe only a thousand in all, worldwide; no more.
That is not enough to sustain the cult. It is not enough to feed the symphonies, chamber orchestras or piano quintets with the cream of the crop. It is not enough to supply the necessary piano teachers or university professors of music (who are any good). So, it is not enough to sustain the West.
All the foregoing is as true for acolytes as for choirboys, I should emphasize. We choirboys always looked down on acolytes, a bit, thinking them dull. I bet the acolytes returned the favor, thinking us choirboys too fancy by half. But both orders understood each other as allies, at bottom. And the firmament between the two orders is permeable; a talented boy who started singing just as I left for university is now a verger.
I have nothing against girls, NB. I have girls as children and grandchildren, and would not by any means prevent their involvement in music per se. But I would prevent their involvement in liturgy, not because of any defect in them, but rather only because the little boys upon whose deep love for her activities the future of the Church and of the West depends find little girls revolting.