thinking about church music


I’m up early as usual. But this morning is the first morning I haven’t been joined by some of our guests. Both groups of visitors have been dealing with the time difference. This has meant rising at early local time while bodies deal with the change. But all is quiet this morning at 7 AM.

I used the time to carefully read Chapter one in Nicholas Temperley’s The Music of the English Parish Church Vol 1.

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I interlibrary loaned this volume after it was mentioned in a Facebook conversation on one of the church music feeds I peruse, possibly the Anglican one. The commentor said he owned it but had never read it.

Published in 1979, I found the first chapter had some interesting aspects that motivated me to begin typing out some notes into a google doc.

Temperley rather elegantly outlines the three approaches to use of music in worship.

“There have always been those who recognize the great emotional power of music to move men’s spirits. Some have as a consequence come to mistrust this mysterious power and to exclude it altogether from worship, in spite of clear biblical injunctions to praise God with psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, and with instruments of music (e.g. Psalm 150:3-5, Colossians 3:16). This was the attitude of the Quakers, and, for a time, of the General Baptists, but it has never found appreciable support in the Church of England, except perhaps from the unmusical. Others, acknowledging the emotional power of music, have been concerned to harness it for the good of men’s souls. This view has been held by Lutherans, Puritans, Evangelicals, and Tractarians; it has led to a concern that music should be sung earnestly and spontaneously by the entire congregation, and that both the text sung and the music itself should be appropriate to the purpose—but of course, opinions have varied widely as to what music is appropriate. A third body of opinion denies the role of music as an actual vehicle of religious expression, but values it as an ornament in the offering to God,as part of the ‘beauty of holiness.’ This was the prevailing view in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; it has often gained the support of the moderate churchman of no particular zeal or party, of those more or less agnostic or apathetic church members who value church as a political or social institution, and of those who want to relieve the tedium of the service with pleasant music. it has encouraged professionalism and has often led to the virtual silencing of the congregation.”

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Later Temperley says that “the most effective weapon against any tradition of folk psalmody was an organ” and quotes a Dr. Busby form 1820 who said ‘an instrument powerful enough to drown the voices of parish clerk, charity children [SBJ note: a source of choral singing], and congregation, is an inestimable blessing.”

This is a hilarious quote. But it reminds me of loud organ playing being done to this day by many professionals while people struggle to hear themselves sing.

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