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New harmonies

New harmonies

The Christian Century wonders about the current state of church music in Church music after the worship wars, music and identity at four congregations:

Decades after the first time an organ console was unplugged to make way for a guitar amp, the worship wars rage on. Nine years after Tom Long, in Beyond the Worship Wars, prescribed excellence across a range of musical styles, worship planners still find themselves talking about the relative merits of exactly two. There’s either the densely theological hymn by Wesley or Luther (gobs of words sung over gobs of chords) or the vapid pop-rock song by some cool young person (maybe five words over three chords).

It’s a stark difference, and it doesn’t offer battleground churches a great set of options. A worship service should be cohesive, aesthetically pleasing and broadly inclusive. Worship that juxtaposes hymns with praise choruses is often a jarring, bipolar experience. And congregations that segregate by musical taste, creating separate services according to style, end up reducing diversity to an abstraction, reflected only on the membership roll.

Fortunately, these options are false ones. Church music is wonderfully diverse. Centuries of hymnody don’t constitute a single style; neither, for that matter, do decades of praise choruses. And in which category would we put new classical hymns, old gospel hymns, black spirituals, Taizé chants or the folkie liturgical music borrowed from late-20th-century American Catholics? Then there’s the minor matter of music from parts of the world that aren’t dominated by white people. This wealth of music—and the fact that neither the organ people nor the praise-band people own it—offers rich possibilities for defusing the worship wars.

Read about 4 congregations making music here.

How is the music at your church?


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Clint Davis

Jim you are reading entirely the wrong points into my frustrated statement. First of all, I don’t see this as a matter of taste, my musical taste is broad and diverse, from Wagner to Tina Turner, but I will not bring these into church. It IS a matter if faith to me that all taste is put aside as much as possible when entering into church. It IS a matter of faith to me that the liturgy is an entirely integrated experience, music included, that has a feel and sound intended to transmit an experience of the Christianity not found anywhere else, and that is the most important thing that happens at church because it cant happen anywhere else. That experience is a sacred trust. Justify to me why personal or even collective taste is reason enough to dispense with this inheritance. I really want to hear an argument that doesn’t just boil down to “well we just dont like this anymore.” All statements like “not relevant” or “this just doesnt speak to [whomever] are just versions of this.

And I have never disputed anyones right to worship with us, but why would they want to if they are turned off by those things about us that are most unique?

Lois Keen

As a former chorister in TEC from the age of six, I second what Paul wrote.

In my own congregation, since you ask about the music at my church, there is much use of the Hymnal 1982, frequent use of Wonder, Love, and Praise, and since I learned that the Afro-Caribbean people who came to my church 40 years ago missed such gospel hymns as “Power in the Blood”, we have something from LEVAS almost every Sunday.

On the last Sunday of the month it gets interesting. The primarily English speaking congregation and the Spanish speaking congregation come together for bilingual worship. This means that while there may be a hymn or two from 1982, it is usually one that also has a good Spanish translation. Advent one, for instance, there is a four verse translation of “O Come, O come Emmanuel”. There are also some translations of hymns in LEVAS. the Spanish El Himnario is not used at all. A lot of the Spanish songs come from Columbia and Puerto Rico and are in no hymnal. Some have English translations. The Christmas carols in the latino tradition, called villancicos, are not anything like the European ones to which we are accustomed, which has made Christmas Eve very interesting to plan. “Noche de paz”, however, accompanies the parade of the Holy Family to the creche in both languages.

And clearly I’m writing a treatise so I shall stop.

Paul Martin

Many people do not understand the demands placed on the organist / choirmaster. In a typical Episcopal church, the choir is 100% volunteer, meaning that they can walk out at any time. These generous volunteers come from a variety of backgrounds with training ranging from moderate to none. The best choirmasters have a broad familiarity of the available repertoire so that the can find music that is easy enough to learn, yet good enough to make the choir sound good. In some cases, this may mean making compromises between preferred styles of a disparate group and their actual capabilities.

In addition, the volume of music performed by the average choir is immense. There is a new anthem, and perhaps more, performed every week. An orchestra chorus doesn’t do this much sight reading.

A professional music director who can do all of this effectively is extremely rare, and there is never enough money to pay them what they deserve.

Jim Naughton

Clint, I’d appreciate it if you could manage to show a little respect for people with whom you disagree. Matters of taste are, in fact, not matters of faith. And you need to stop questioning people’s right to worship in our churches because they don’t appreciate the same music that you do.

Clint Davis

OMG Jeffrey, if you’re an antique, then what is our religion? My God, there’s been thousands of years of music and these silly people just want to throw it all out, all of it, every bit, they care nothing for the musical traditions of our ancestors in the faith, they just want what they want and silence all the saints, who cares, UGH. Why be Episcopalian if you have a problem with our sacred music? That’s a central part of our identity, for God’s sake!

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