Monday, 3 December 2012

Music that Suggests Rupture

I watched a repeat of an episode of the BBC's excellent Sacred Music series last night and was absolutely glued to it. The music that was highlighted in the episode on 'The Gothic Revolution' was just incredible and the presenter, several times, discussed the immense and dramatic impact that this development of the Church's music for many voices would have had on the congregations of the time.

The music just transports the listener into another dimension of Angels and Saints praising God with those on Earth. The question you are left with at the end of this programme is how can we have largely lost this stunning sound and replaced it with something that sounds secular and which has been adapted into musical settings for Church. It is just bizarre.

The arrangements for the Church music of this period, as the presenter notes, are really quite complex and what you hear is masterful and holy art. The music is even mathematically aimed at perfection, at rendering perfect praise to the Creator in Heaven Who is perfect and where all things are perfect and in total harmony and accordance with His will. How can Church music have degenerated so much? Why would we want to disassociate ourselves with this incredible music?

The more secular-world inspired music of the modern Church suggests rupture with the past. There is no getting over that message - that the tradition of the Church, liturgically and musically, has been abandoned and discarded in favour of something new which has supplanted it. It is just bewildering, especially when people think that the music above is some form of 'progression'. Inexplicable. This music was said to penetrate the soul and Heaven simultaneously. That cannot be said for 'Here I am, Lord'. The great danger is that if the Church has abandoned sacred music then perhaps the Church is saying, musically, that nothing's really sacred. I mean, can you imagine tuning into Songs of Praise and listening to this. Wouldn't people at home just say, 'Wow! It's about time I attended Church again!' If we are looking for the authentic sound of the Church at prayer, then is it not sensible to tell the World that the sound of the Church at prayer is completely different to the sound of the world not at prayer.


p said...

It's a bit like the Latin question - it requires a lot of training (and hence cost) at a time when attendances are plummeting. Bit of a chicken and egg, I know, and you could argue a return to traditional music would boost attendances, but there simply aren't enough trained chanters who have the time to practice (you would have to devote a large portion of each day to the activity or it would sound like a load of blokes shouting an out of tune carol). You may as well say 'why don't they use the London philharmonic orchestra in churches rather than some parishioner on guitar' - they probably would if they could pay for it

Anonymous said...

Returning to the traditional music of the church is easy if it's Gregorian chant. It's sung in unison which means anyone can sing the simpler melodies. Singing polyphony is impossible unless you have at least four very good singers, and one for each part. Try finding a good tenor who is available to sing at 10.30am on a Sunday morning in Brighton. Also, the Catholic church, unlike the Anglican church, generally will not put its hand in its pocket and pay for musicians. There comes a point when you cannot keep asking everyone to just do it for the love of God..

Sadly our music tradition in the Catholic church has been gradually eroded chiefly because we have become obsessed with the idea that active participation means that everyone should sing everything. Why have a choir when you can have one person, a guitar and a microphone and then everyone can join in.

Andrew Rex said...

I'm not sure I agree, I know plenty of people who returned to (catholic) church because of musoc such as I the Lord of sky and sea. I think it's based on a psalm so it is sciptural and therefore appropriate for a religious setting. OTOH I don't know any catholics who have returned to church because of 'sacred music'.

Btw - there appears to be a horrible jingle bells / santa claus music in the background of your blog which I can't find or turn off. It meant I wasn't able to hear the nice songs of praise recording.

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