“There are two musical situations on which I think we can be confident
that a blessing rests. One is where a priest or an organist, himself a
man of trained and delicate taste, humbly and charitably sacrifices
his own (aesthetically right) desires and gives the people humbler and
coarser fare than he would wish, in a belief (even, as it may be, the
erroneous belief) that he can thus bring them to God.
“The other is where the stupid and unmusical layman humbly and
patiently, and above all silently, listens to music which he cannot,
or cannot fully, appreciate, in the belief that it somehow glorifies
God, and that if it does not edify him this must be his own defect.
Neither such a High Brow nor such a Low Brow can be far out of the
way. To both, Church Music will have been a means of grace; not the
music they have liked, but the music they have disliked. They have
both offered, sacrificed, their taste in the fullest sense.
“But where the opposite situation arises, where the musician is filled
with the pride of skill or the virus of emulation and looks with
contempt on the unappreciative congregation, or where the unmusical,
complacently entrenched in their own ignorance and conservatism, look
with the restless and resentful hostility of an inferiority complex on
all who would try to improve their taste – there, we may be sure, all
that both offer is unblessed and the spirit that moves them is not the
- CS Lewis
In response to this meme.
As I’ve said in comments on Phil Ritchie’s blog, I do think that some modern music used in worship is pretty awful. So is some of the older stuff. But this isn’t really about “old” vs “new”; new music doesn’t need to replace more ancient offerings but can exist alongside it, with a bit of liturgical and musical sensitivity. I am definitely not a worship band kind of girl, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to include as many people as possible. In addition, there are some real theological and aesthetic bloopers among older music, too. Some of it has been sifted out through decades or centuries of persnickety musicians and clergy saying “no more” but some of it is remarkably persistent.
There are significant challenges to anyone trying to create new liturgical music. These include the passive, consumer-oriented nature of many people’s primary musical experiences today, the huge breadth of styles available in popular music (so that emulating one style really won’t make more than a fraction of listeners feel “at home”), the deplorable state of many church instruments (organs are the main things allowed to fall apart, but church pianos can be pretty horrendous too) and the expectation by many churchgoers of not having to engage with anything that doesn’t fit them exactly.
These challenges are real, but they are not insurmountable.
- people will always respond better to good music, performed well and with some liturgical sensitivity, than to bad music that is not in context
- there is a lot of really good music, old and new, that people simply don’t know about because they only ever experience what happens at their local parish church or at larger gatherings where the music is chosen for familiarity
- the fact that people are complaining about the music at all, in any capacity, shows that they care… there must be a way to harness this enthusiasm!
So I ask:
- What is your favourite piece of music for congregational singing? Why?
- What is your favourite piece of music for performance by a group of specialist musicians within a liturgical context? This might be a worship band or a cathedral choir or just a very snazzy organist or something else entirely, but the point is that it is not congregational singing and it is live music in liturgy.
- What is your favourite piece of music which makes you think about God to listen to outside of your place of worship? Why? This could be secular music.
- What is one thing you like about the music at your usual place of worship? Have you told the musicians about this lately?