roots of my own kakophony or doesn't steve ever tire of church musik

Mark and David,

My recent conversations with Mark have caused me to seek the roots of my own philosophies and understandings of Church Music as a Pastoral Art. Here are some:

“In the recitative of the cantata (No. 51) for soprano and orchestra, Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen, Johann Sebastian Bach sings: ‘We praise what God has done for us, Though our feeble lips must mumble of his wonders, Yet simple praise may nonetheless please Him.’ We agree with Bach that our lips are much too feeble to sing to God the praises due Him and that, therefore, even the most artistic music will, before God, never rise above the level of a ‘simple’ song of praise. Heinrich Schutz’s motto from Ecclesiasticus (43:30-32) expresses this idea most appropriately: ‘When ye glorify the Lord, exalt him as much as ye can; for even yet will he far exceed; and when ye exalt him, put forth all your strength and be not weary; for ye can never go far enough.’ Here, too, these words of Holy Writ apply: ‘When you have done all that is commanded you, say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty” ‘ (Luke 17:10). Unfortunately there are also many people who are of the opinion that these words of the Savior do not apply to artists within the church; they need not exert themselves, and indeed it is even hazardous if they do. God is satisfied with ‘simple’ praise–simple not only in the ears of God but also of man. And then ‘simple’ is taken to be synonymous with ‘modest’ or even ‘mediocre.’ That the tones always ring true is not so important as that the heart is pure through its song of praise. Indeed, the church patriarch, Jerome, even feels impelled to invalidate all artistic standards: in his commentary on Ephesians 5:19, he extols one whom others dub a kakophonos—a miserable singer—as a good singer before God so long as his conduct is good; the servant of Christ should sing in such a manner that not the voice but the words bring forth pleasure (Patrologia Latina, edidit Migne, XXVI, 528). But even if one does not go this far, the opinon is nevertheless widely prevalent that the performance of music in church is principally a matter of the heart, of inward participation, and it is asserted that this inner participation is brought into question if the singer or instrumentalist concentrates on an artistic result.

“Now it cannot be denied that there is a type of virtuoso for whom the worship service or musical vespers is merely a coveted opportunity to display his voice and to whom it is completely immaterial what he sings. Not only is such a virtuoso an abomination to our ears in a place of worship, but he is also unworthy being considered an artist. For only he is an artist who subjects himself completely to his art with mind, body and soul. Therefore one should be cautious of setting the heart against art.”

Oskar Sohngen, “Church Music as Art” (I have a photocopy of the whole essay)

“It is a fundamental goal of the church musician to approach music as an act of theology. It is better to use theological categories than musical ones. To be a liturgical musician is to be a practical theologian. In practical or pastoral theology, we often find power issues permeating our considerations. It is tempting to frame these considerations in terms of leveraging what we think is good and we think isn’t good. But when creating theology it’s better to be aware of what kind of theology we are creating. So I propose a method to do so. One can think of it as a participant-observer approach. Social sciences teach us something here even as we realize we are not doing science. In order to achieve the data we need we can wed performance with anthropology. The ethno musiciologist gathers data and then attempts to make good judgments on it. The current thinking is that the best evaluations and understandings occur from within community.”

Ed Foley, my lecture notes from a 1997 lecture. Foley goes on to mention the idea of lex orandi, lex credendi (the idea that the law of prayer is the law of belief) and quotes the Eucharistic theology Louie Bouyer: “It’s not because we believe that we sacrifice, it’s because we sacrifice we believe in God.” This is a fundamental notion of my understanding of my own belief and how liturgical prayer can work. Foley continues to publish work about liturgical musicology.

I have also been highly influenced by the writer Paul Hoon in his excellent book, “The Integrity of Worship,” which I read right out of grad school. In it, he writes, “In these essays, then, it will become evident that i take the professional theologians with a degree of realism even as I liberally draw from them. I think that some of them—and certain historical theologians and devotees of the liturgical movement in particular—have bypassed some important matters the pastor understands better than they do. In fact if I were to tip the scales one way or another in making a judgement on how we best enter into liturgical truth, it would be in favor of the parish minister.” I think that we (you, Mark, and you, David, and I) are parish ministers.

Hoon actually puts forth some liturgical principles worth considering. It would probably be best if you read him, but here’s a quick synopsis. Under the second in his book called, “The Contribution of Art,” he divides the principles into two groups. Unity and Vitality.

I. Principle of Unity:
includes principles of style
principles of proportion

II. principles of vitality
include principles of truthfulness, movement, rhythm and concreteness.

He takes twenty pages to flesh these out.

In his introduction to the book, “Leading the Church’s Song,” Paul Westermeyer puts forth seven basic suggestions for seeing the forest of church music,not the trees (hey it’s his metaphor). Again it would be better to read his words but here’s the reader’s digest version:

1. Leaders should know as many liturgical and musical styles as possible
2. You and your community can sing far more than any of you individually can imagine
3. We are called to be stewards of the musical resources and idioms God has graced creation with
4. we learn to lead by leading and sing by singing
5. the song of the church is for the long haul
6. the goal is not complexity
7. it is tempting to reduce our choices to stereotypic menus,but we need to resist inaccurate and discriminatory bifurcation

Anyway, there’s an attempt to provoke some thought and maybe start a bit of a conversation around these ideas. Let me know if you are interested in pursuing any of this.


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0 thoughts on “roots of my own kakophony or doesn't steve ever tire of church musik

  1. Your first two paragraphs are very good and meaningful…I found during my gray period that I couldn’t sing at all and so I considered to myself that I would do my best and make a joyful noise unto the Lord

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