Friday, November 18, 2011

On Music in Church

Hard-hitting short essay on the collapse of music in church(es).  The author is a Protestant minister.

...Beginning with the charismatic revival and the Jesus movement, the most theologically conservative Protestant churches abandoned the tradition of Christian music and took on musical styles adapted from popular music. It has been an astonishingly rapid and thoroughgoing change. Praise songs routed gospel hymns, and today Reformation-era Psalms and chorales are unknown in wide swathes of American Protestantism. Presbyterian theologian T. David Gordon captures the shift with an anecdote about a theology student at a Protestant seminary puzzled by a professor’s reference to Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress.” Musically, evangelicals are all charismatics now.

Contemporary music arose just as general music education collapsed in our schools. As Ken Myers points out, the church did nothing to fill the gap, apparently content to let advertisers, disk jockeys, the Stones, Steve Jobs, and Madonna provide musical training for Christians, especially young ones. It is no surprise that contemporary worship music takes its cues from commercial pop. No surprise, but surely a concern. Pop music is a relatively new cultural phenomenon with its own set of commercially driven values—accessibility, immediacy, instant gratification, freedom, sex. It has its own, extremely limited, range of musical and emotional possibilities. For all its variety, pop music is dismally monophonic.

Is remedy available?  Maybe not.

Expertise is one of the values of modern culture, but expertise has always had a limited scope. We trust experts in physics and computer programming and perhaps foreign affairs. But the suggestion that there are experts in aesthetics, musicians who know what music one should appreciate, is greeted with hostility, also in the church. “I know what I like” stops every argument, buttressed by “Musical taste is subjective.” Lebanese organist Naji Hakim has lamented that in the Catholic Church “many in positions of liturgical responsibility, with no musical education as regards technique or aesthetics, have come to believe in a tabula rasa, denying any lineage whatsoever.” Professional musicians have been “sidelined” as “the lost common denominator has become the rule.” He wonders whether Catholics “realize the level of mediocrity which the present liturgy has reached.”

In the Catholic church, much of this is true, but not all of it.

And the new translation will present a distinct contrast to the pops-praise bunch's musical offerings.  That contrast will be noticeable to the people in the pews.  And eventually, the generation of Woodstock will pass.

1 comment:

Badger Catholic said...

Interesting that it's not just a Catholic problem.