Do you know Modo Lascivo?
Back in the day — in a magical time when people were remarkably sensitive to such things — certain musical scales were associated with lasciviousness. That is to say, a certain spacing between tones was thought to incite lust and sexual urges in the listener.
The Church (which at the time was a tastemaker much in the way the Illuminati, Katy Perry, and some secret Swedish guy are today) prohibited music made on those scales–ones associated with modo lascivo. It was a matter of controlling antisocial behavior — and exerting control, period.
Much of the history of the Church involves efforts to control sexual behavior. Most of the heresies starting in the 9th century were the result of Church trying to take control of the natural institution of marriage. That led to a lot of grief, not to mention schism, thirty years of war, tens of thousands of deaths, and the modern world’s dismissal of the Church as a collection of goofballs and cranks.
It was basically all about sex.
Anyway, so the Aeolian major and minor mode, those which we know in some form as the major and minor scales, were banned from Church music in the middle ages. Too sexy. The Church made only one semi-exception for one genre: Gregorian chant.
By now you won’t be surprised to learn that I once found myself enrolled in a minuscule college run by Catholic lay people. These terrifically-inspired and truly educated people (and I am speaking sincerely) were on a mission to bring not only the wisdom of the ancients and medievals to the woods of New Hampshire, but also the calm and beautiful aesthetic that went with that age.
And if you’ve ever been gently bathed in light through the alabaster windows of St. Paul’s Outside-the-Walls in Rome, you’ll know what I’m talking about. There was a beauty to certain things of that time that was lost in the Enlightenment.
So it came to pass in my third year there that one of the co-founders of the school arranged for lessons in Gregorian chant for the students. Chant was hot back in those days of the early 1990’s, with top-40 hits from monks chanting over beatboxes and synth flutes.
We all greeted Herbert the internationally-known chant impresario when he started spending time on campus and organizing choruses among the students. There was a great deal of excitement, especially among the most pious and faithful.
One of these was a guy who’s done quite well since. I’ll refer to him as “Donald”. Donald came from a very seriously Catholic family. He seemed to have slightly diverged from the family’s desires by not going directly into the seminary, but with him serving at every Mass and never getting drunk in the woods with the rest of us horny idolators and always wearing pleated trousers, we assumed that he was only one step away from pursuing the priesthood. He hadn’t seemed much of a singer, but out of sheer holy duty he joined one of the singing groups.
Herbert the Impresario couldn’t stand him. But then Herbert had problems with a lot of people.
I would hear Herbert going off as I studied in the cafeteria during the chant rehearsals next door. He’d lay into people — shaming them for their lack of devotion to chant. He’d invoke the names of saints and even Jesus Christ, of course. He’d shame people he had seen laughing and relaxing at the coffee-and-cookies dance in the basement the night before. It was abusive. Some of the girls would break down in tears. Some of the boys seemed like they were close behind them. I’d listen and want to walk next door and punch Herbert in his mouth. Those were my friends he was denigrating.
Besides, I was trying to read Nietzsche and he was distracting me with this chant shit.
So this Donald was a very applied young man, and really wanted to do his best in this endeavor. It was a sacramental thing to him, because it said “Church” all over it and stuff. So he went to Herbert one day and asked for assistance after class.
The day after, Donald went to the President of the college. He was very upset. He had a concern.
Apparently during their private session, when Donald asked how he could improve his singing and hit the chant notes more accurately, Herbert had suggested he stand naked in front of a mirror while squeezing his balls. Additionally, there was a wink-wink nudge-nudge vibe going on that took Donald aback, even more so than the mere mention of “balls” would have ordinarily.
The school President laughed, being the jovial guy he was.
Then he walked downstairs and fired Herbert on the spot.
Let me tell you: There was something about those medievals and their modo lascivo.