Monday, February 4, 2008

Whatever of the good, the true, and the beautiful

At Touchstone S.M. Hutchens engages in a wonderful rant about what has happened to worship, and especially to music in worship:
Yet another painful experience of modern Evangelical “worship,” once the fury and chagrin has drained away, awakens in my mind this scene from my boyhood:

It is a summer Sunday evening service in a little Baptist church in rural Michigan, hard by the fields and woods. Everyone who plays an instrument (all “acoustic” in those days), young or old, skilled or not, has been invited to accompany the congregational singing, for that is what is done on Sunday evenings, when the service is less formal. The minister stops the music near the end of the hymn, taps the pulpit, and says, “Last verse a cappella.” Everyone knows what this means and in four-part harmony a hundred voices, men, women, and children, sing,
Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies;
Heav’ns morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
The sound drifts from the open windows and fills the glade, the hymn ending, as life does, unaccompanied by anything that can be heard or seen. Even as a small boy I find this almost unbearably beautiful, and must choke back tears. [....]

My generation, my abysmally stupid and culpably foolish generation, had the opportunity to keep the good - for there was very much good here - discard the bad, and bring in a golden age of church music, an age of beauty and invention, now in obedient harmony with the Great Tradition, with good theology instead of bad, and with an eye trained upon the history of whole Church and its music. Instead, however, it went as bad as it possibly could, seizing upon all the old mistakes it could find and amplifying them.

Instead of cultivating the use of the human voice combining in part-harmony that reflects the glorious differences of age and sex in the congregations of the faithful, it took away the good its church already possessed, electronically increasing and augmenting the instrumental voices, promoting the soloist and “praise team,” reducing the congregation to a unison accompaniment by taking away the hymnals and (being weighed in the balances and found wanting) projecting the words on the wall. ....

Not everything that has been produced in the last forty years has been bad. Some of it is excellent, especially songs that put scripture to music. That is the right track, and I would say to these young people that it is not one you need to follow alone. You should reject the mistakes of not only your parents’ generation, but those of your grandparents, your great-grandparents, your great-great grandparents - and your own - all the while appropriating whatever of the good, the true and the beautiful you have found among them. .... [more]

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