I have to agree with you. Much of the music our church sings is a repetition of the same lyric over and over. We don't sing near enough of the old hymns with a good solid message. And the currrent stuff is not even necessarily theologically correct. I have complained to our music director a couple of times about a song that repeats (over and over) "there is no God LIKE Jehovah", which implies that there are other gods to which Jehovah can be compared. Change LIKE to BUT, and then I can deal with it.
I find your experiences interesting. I grew up in a United Methodist church which was unusual for its denomination and time (70s). It had a glorious Casavant organand an organist/choir director who could really play it. There were 3 choirs (adult, teen, and children) and later several bell choirs. The organ also had bell stops and we later bought it trumpet stops. We sang 3-5 hymns every service, as well as the Doxology and Gloria Patri (sorry, this was 20+ years ago and I can't precisely recall the latter). The choir(s) sang processing and recessing as well as several songs and leading the hymns. The senior minister was an intellectual and his sermons were incredibly thinky. I adored that time and church, for the music especially. The whole place would come alive and vibrate with song and music. For choir practices the organist would get to the organ (or piano or harpsichord if that was what he was using) and goof off, starting with (for example) Toccata in D and improvising on the theme with trumpets and whatever.
I no longer participate in organized religious practice, but I do miss that music!
Sounds like a church I could live with.
Where I sing now is pretty much straight-up Episcopal--which means there's intellectual content, standard liturgy, observance of the church year (Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, etc.,etc..) The music department is outstanding. There are an auditioned adult choir, an unauditioned adult choir, and an auditioned a capella choir that does much older music on Sunday nights. Plus children's choirs, bell choir, and the musicians for the less traditional services in the other sanctuary. The range of music we sing--well, two Sundays ago it was all Mozart (including an all-Mozart Evensong with small orchestra and organ), last Sunday a Schubert anthem, this Sunday the Shaw/Parker, and in two Sundays, Benjamin Britten's "Jubilate Deo." David, the music director, is sensitive to both theology and music, and besides stretching our choir's skills and educating us on the reasons to do what he demands, he marries the music to the meaning with great skill.
The auditioned adult singers join other singers he's directed in the past (anyone who's sung with him wants to again, I suspect) to do major pieces with orchestra--including, in the past few years, the Austin Symphony. (Year before last, Bach's "Magnificat" and last year we were the choir for "Messiah".) But with other orchestras, and sometimes joining with another church choir, we've done the Mozart "Requiem," Durufle "Requiem," Britten's "St. Nicholas," French baroque pieces (the names are escaping me...), various Bach cantatas. Oh, Campra and Desmarest. We had to learn to trill. Even those of us who thought we would never learn. So now, he writes in trills on things where he thinks it will improve the effect...and so we don't forget how to.
He's very demanding, but you don't want to sing great music badly...as you know.
Yeah, the music for my funeral will come out of that, plus (if I can lay enough aside for it) one of the movements of the Mozart Requiem.
424, second tune. (That's the Tallis tune for "I heard the voice of Jesus say...")
446 Passion Chorale ("Commit thou all that grieves thee...")
281. Beethoven by way of Wesley..."Joyful, joyful..."
268, only the Deirdre section
Thank you! I attend the 'traditional' service at my local UMC church, which means it uses the hymnal, versus the 'modern' service with the power point slides and praise songs. I thought I was the only one lamenting the dumbing down of church music..
Ugh. Power point. Dumbs down everything. Sorry to hear about it at church.
I used to attend Episcopal services with Dave when we first met. I loved singing the Psalms, but when it came to hymns, tended to be like the joke about why Unitarians make poor choir members -- they're always reading ahead to see if they agree with the words. Fortunately, I'd learned solfege (do-re-mi) when my kids were studying piano, so I could always ignore them. Now our shared faith community is the local Quaker meeting, so the whole issue is moot. (Unless, of course, someone is spirit-led to burst out in song, which happened this morning.)
One of the loveliest uses of music in Jewish worship is called niggun. A niggun is a simple wordless melody used to focus the mind and spirit. There are thousands of them, some widely known, others unique to a teacher or congregation. Some are very old, others recently composed. We also use them to focus our intention (kavanah) before meditation or study. This reminds me these are all valuable spiritual pathways.
My first contact with the old, good stuff was singing in a chamber choir during high school. We did Bach but then we also explored the old madrigals, which I enjoyed.
The Dutch Reformed church I grew up in went the praise and worship route before services and it did do something for the old stiff folks, forcing them to stand up and get a bit more energetic (a good thing, mind you).
Sadly, when I brought a guitar into the children's Sunday school the mothers complained that it was "unbiblical" but while it was going, the kids loved it. The piano was so boring and you couldn't interact with them as well as you could with the guitar (because you faced them).
Given that the piano evolved to a recognisable version of its current form in the 17th and 18th centuries, I have no idea what they were complaining about. If a guitar is 'unbiblical', so is a piano :P
At my old church (Episcopalian), we had an unauditioned adult choir, a bell choir, and an on and off children's choir. Our choir director took the title "Minister of Music" seriously, and stretched us musically. We didn't have the depth to do the works your choir does, but we did a variety of musical genres (straight up Anglican to Sacred Harp to Russian Orthodox). I miss working with him, but I live too far away now.
I fret over the trend to printing the entire service, including the music, in the bulletin. Besides wasting paper, it takes away the opportunity to read the words (John Donne needs to be savored) and chase down authors or composers.
That is one thing that distresses me about our church - the service is printed. Of course, when you're pulling liturgy from the Anglican Church of New Zealand, it's not going to be in the book in the backs of our pews, so in some cases it is justified. But I do miss the Great Thanksgiving "which can be found on page 333 in the book of common prayer."
Strangely enough, music was a force to drive someone out of the church in my experience. My parents were staunchly Episcopal until the guitar showed up. For people who considered themselves artists and open-minded liberals, for some reason the guitar in the church was just unacceptable in the extreme. Never did understand that.
But another friend's experience was much more understandable. After Vatican II when all the great high mass music was banned, he, an accomplished bassoonist, Fan of Verdi, composer, and music professor swiftly converted to Greek Orthodox and never looked back. He tells me many of his generation did the same.
There is power in those notes, enough to shake foundations.
For me, one of the treasured experiences was wandering into the Milan Cathedral when there was a power failure and, by coincidence, a master organist was tuning the organ. Once he was completed, he tested his work with Toccata and Fuge in D minor while I stood next to the organ (placed centrally). To be suspended in darkness, hearing Bach's mathematics ripple and permutate along the lines of the stained-glass windows was an experience like no other. Hair is rising on the back of my neck just thinking about it.
I can imagine: the hair on my arms (not quite the neck) stood up at the thought! I'm convinced that when mountains talk to each other, they speak Bach organ toccatas and fugues.
I happened to be in York in 2005 at the time of a church music festival, and got to hear that music played in the kind of architecture for which it was written for the first time. Incredible doesn't come close.
I tend to agree with you - I'm fortunate enough to attend a church where we've got a good mix of the older & newer more meaningful hymns, and where the projection screen is used just for the lyrics, for people who have trouble reading the hymnal. Still, more than once, I've been the one on a planning committee to point out that when trying to attract us younger folks (20s-30s), not all of us are interested in the praise music stuff. For whatever reason, it's hard for some people to believe that younger people can like the older hymns.
Yes...there's a pervasive belief that young people are musically all of one mind. And yet--supposedly I'm of the generation that brought rock music (and later "folk masses") to the fore, but I remember being bored by the first rock music I heard...it didn't worked for me. (Individual pieces occasionally *almost* made it, but not the genre.) Almost immediately there were older people sure that I must be as crazy for it as "everybody else" but I wasn't-nor were many of the young people I knew.
No generation is homogenous.
Amen, and preach it, sister!
Our choir does a variety of music, and every so often the director will throw in something more "praise" style to mollify that demographic (though he cuts the endless repeats), and I've noticed that the "praise" music is actually more difficult to learn and sing than, say, Mozart, because it's undisciplined music. Mozart has a logic to it, so once you catch the pattern, it flows, but the praise music is very random. It looks to me like music written by people who don't actually read music. It's full of random key changes and time signature changes so that it's difficult to sing if you haven't heard it before. I've visited churches that went with a praise format, and they don't even use songbooks or hymnals that show the music, just the words on a screen, which makes following that music even more difficult. It's like you have to be in the know to follow, so it seems to me that it's more exclusive than using traditional hymns that are found with music in a hymnal, so that anyone who happens to be in the church can join in and follow along.
Ah, sung services. The Episcopal church I attended as a child in Connecticut was semi-high, and much of the service was sung or chanted. I loved it, and was thrilled when my childhood pastor offered to sing most of my wedding service in his marvelous basso.
I recently came back to the church after a 30+ year hiatus and joined a tiny congregation in a wonderful little historic chapel in rural NJ. We're between pastors (though lead by a wonderful interim priest; one of the first generation of women to be ordained by the Episcopal church) and trying to reinvent ourselves and revive our music program. I haven't yet fallen in love with the 1980 hymnal the way I did the 1940 (what comes of being a historian and a musical luddite - my husband courted me by playing Bach on the clavichord his father built for him), but part of that may be due to my shaky sight-singing skills. I find trying to read both the melody and the fourth verse a challenge. We're still a long way from performance music, and have just signed up a tiny group to form a new choir. Our first challenge, and one that I'm looking forward to, will be to build a repertoire of hymns that are both spiritually and musically fulfilling, while appealing to a variety of ages and tastes. I would love to revive chanting the psalms in the old way, even if we cast our nets wider in time and space for hymns and anthems.
All of which is a roundabout way of saying thank-you for your perspective on the evolution of Anglican music.
Oddly enough, this is resonating with something I was thinking yesterday; I attended Evensong at my parents' church, and we chanted the Magnificat and the Nunc Dimittis - and, indeed, the versicles and responses, which my husband and I haven't done for many, many years and were amused we could remember how. But I was taught the chant at school, and we would sing a psalm in Assembly at least once a week (UK - schools could and did still have religious assemblies in the 1960s). I was wondering whether the young are still taught how to do it, or if you need to be part of a church large enough to have a music director and a choir to teach the congregation how.
Which, alas, I am not; we do not even have a pianist, but must rely on ghastly karaoke-style CDs, which are better than nothing, but not very good. We do sing traditional hymns and some modern worship choruses, although mostly we eschew what one friend referred to as the "Jesus is my boyfriend" stuff.....
As an alto, I really like to have hymnbooks with the music in four part (at least) harmony.
I'm not much for church music any more, Elizabeth, but when I was still a Baptist (and still young) the music was an attractive part of the service. I got my initial choral training singing from the hymnal we used, which was also in use among our Methodist cousins. Lots of good stuff in there, from Old Hundredth to Rock of Ages to a Mighty Fortress. None of the sort of thing you are talking about as "praise music".
I've reacquired an old musical love in the last couple of months, an Appalachian mountain dulcimer. This instrument was much played in church 150 years ago, in poor back-country congregations who'd never afford a bigger instrument like an organ or piano. Church dulcimers were played on a table for greater resonance, but they are not loud, believe me - even my relatively modern Folkcraft needs to be miked in a big hall. My point? Church music in the denominations that are now the centre of Praise Music - Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, etc., - was simple, quiet, and beautiful.
We have a number of hymnals around the house, from various denominations, and you're right--many of the older ones have really good stuff in them. I happen to think some of them lean too much to one side or the other, but they're all superior to the most recent praise music.
I haven't been a church going person for years; a lot of reasons. The only part that I ever enjoyed in church was the music, but often times it was depressing more than uplifting. How exciting could it be to hear a bunch of people drone? Your current church choir sounds cool! I definitely do miss musical outlets in my life. I really should get back into playing the piano more.
Droning, not so good.
But I don't demand that it all be uplifting or exciting...there's room for far more emotion than that, IMO.