Monday, July 6, 2020

Singing together

.... Almost the only people who still sing together are the religious.

The Christian tradition to which I’ve belonged most of my life—the Reformed tradition of Protestantism—is not famous for its contributions to the western musical canon. But it is famous for its hymns and hymn-singing. The Lutherans have Bach; the Catholics have Monteverdi and Mozart and many others; the Reformed have . . . Louis Bourgeois. He compiled and composed hundreds of fine hymn tunes in Geneva during the 1540s, including “Old 100th,” to which many Protestant congregations sing the “doxology.”

The great majority of the Anglophone world’s best hymns have emerged from the Reformed tradition—either from Presbyterianism or the evangelical side of Anglicanism. While the rest of 18th-century Europe was awash in ideas of the Enlightenment, the Reformed in Britain, Ireland and North America wrote hymns. The hymns of Isaac Watts and John Newton, John and Charles Wesley, and William Cowper are models of poetic efficiency: fresh ideas, evocative phrasing, natural rhymes. From Watts’s “O God Our Help in Ages Past”: “Time, like an ever-rolling stream, / Bears all its sons away; / They fly, forgotten as a dream / Dies at the opening day.” The 19th century produced many other gifted hymn writers associated with the Reformed wing of Protestantism, foremost among them Reginald Heber, Cecil Frances Alexander and Frances Ridley Havergal. ....

.... There is something mysteriously fortifying about the act of singing together. Oral and chest cavities vibrating in rhythmic unison—which is all corporate singing is—creates a peculiar companionship among people who, apart from their creed, may have little else in common. You might barely know the lady in the pew next to you, but when you sing a common song or hymn together, she may as well be your auntie.
It is one of the great tragedies of modern Western life that people so infrequently sing together. We may sing in the car or the shower, but mostly we listen to soloists gurgle the nonsense lines of pop songs. Somehow, with the rise of radio and recorded songs in the last century, we stopped singing together. .... (more, probably behind a subscription wall)

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