Sunday, October 7, 2007

Better music, better faith

In looking up last week’s news on the global Anglican soap opera, I found an interesting musical commentary entitled “Does Simple Music Form Simple Faith?” by NY Times classical music columnist Bernard Holland. Reacting to contemporary worship music, Holland writes
With its hand-clapping, inspirational, just-folks character, how different this music is from a tradition that ran from plainchant through Josquin and Palestrina to Mozart and Beethoven, and finally to Messiaen and Britten. Without the church to inspire -- not to mention finance -- great composers, how diminished the history of music might seem to us.
After citing the Verdi Requiem as an example of both musical and religious power, Holland recalls the tension between poetry and effective evangelism with (to me) a very familiar recollection of childhood past:
The church has reason to fear great beauty … from the mesmerizing graces of the Latin Mass or the splendid poetry of the Anglican Church's Book of Common Prayer. I am one small example, having spent the Sunday mornings of my youth in the Episcopal Church allowing Thomas Cranmer's magical imagery and liquid liturgical responses to roll off my tongue without a thought to God at all.
As a confirmed 1928 BCP ritualist who discovered Christianity as an adult, to that I say “Amen, brother!”

Still, Holland holds out hope that those of us seeking to preserve the music of traditional liturgical worship may someday be vindicated:
Ritual-driven, beauty-ridden Catholics, Episcopalians and Lutherans may not be doing as well right now as they would like, but history keeps turning in circles, and they may have their day again.

Meanwhile grab that guitar. Clap those hands.