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Guest Lee Blick
If you insist on feeding the people cheap hamburgers, because it's what you think they really want and like, how will they ever grow to appreciate the vastly superior quality of a fine steak? If they were offered the latter more often, most of them (except the brain-dead philistines) would soon appreciate the difference. (Which is not to say there isn't a place for the best of both; there is.)]

 

I think that is a fair analogy, but how many churches are able to support the superior quality of music? Not as many as 20, 40, 60 years ago. Many churches can't even muster a organist these days, let alone an organist/DoM with the ability to develop choral singing and good music in the liturgy.

 

So it is all very well saying 'Let them eat cake', or 'eat steak', but if the Church of England does not put enough resources into educating and training organists/church musicians, which they don't do nearly enough at present, then you cannot be too surprised if churches are calling on other musicians who have no liturgical/classical music experience, or in many cases, close down.

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I think that is a fair analogy, but how many churches are able to support the superior quality of music? Not as many as 20, 40, 60 years ago. Many churches can't even muster a organist these days, let alone an organist/DoM with the ability to develop choral singing and good music in the liturgy.

 

You're right, of course. And I think *part* of the reason for this is the unwillingness of many decent musicians to have anything to do with certain "non-traditional" styles of music.

Time was when your local grammar school music master was also the parish church organist/choirmaster, with a steady stream of trebles from the school. As somebody (Tommy Steele? Joe Brown?) once sang, "Fings ain't wot they used ter be"!

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... Many churches can't even muster a organist these days, let alone an organist/DoM with the ability to develop choral singing and good music in the liturgy.

 

Unfortunately this is largely due to clergy who propagate low-quality music. Neither I nor many of my colleagues would be remotely interested in applying for most of the jobs advertised in the Church Times, due to the nature of the music which is on offer in the churches with vacant posts.

 

This is probably a no-win situation.

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I am going to tread carefully here because I realise that this subject raises considerable sensitivities. I also appreciate that the two sides of this argument are finely balanced with very good points on both sides.

 

I hope, however, some of my personal experience may be relevant.

 

I have been involved in C of E worship at Parish Church level since I was 6 - that is nigh on 40 years.

 

7 years ago I married a Catholic, and our little boy is baptised Catholic and attends a Catholic school.

 

For that reason, it suits our family to spend more time at the local Catholic church than at the Church of England parish church.

 

The Catholic church has modern liturgy with a guitar group.

 

The music in the hymnbook is uninspiring and inept. The way it is performed is embarrassing - embarrassing because of how badly it is performed (the bass player, for example, plays a line that bears no harmonic relation whatsoever to the rest of what is going on ; not only that, he seems to have no idea that this is what is happening) and embarrassing because, candidly, the nice people who do it have nothing like the pizzazz that is needed to pull off this sort of stuff well.

 

I am not being precious here, but this sort of thing is a real obstacle in my spiritual life. I sit at church and cringe, rather than being lifted closer to God.

 

I have no problem with the commercial thrill of popular music - to be honest, I probably listen to pop music much more than I listen to classical music on a day to day basis. I love it, it can move me, it can reach my spirit, I can draw closer to God through it ; the stuff peddled at church does none of those things.

 

The music provided for the liturgy in the hymnbook has no depth or lasting power to touch you deeply, either in music or in word.

 

For these reasons, I have not been to a really good Anglican service with what a friend of mine would call 'good Christian hymns' for quite a few years. A few weeks ago I found a recording of hymns from King's Cambridge and put it on. I literally had to blink back the tears as I realised how deeply this music moved me - and how we are in danger of losing it.

 

For some years, as a result of my family circumstances, I thought quite seriously about being received into the Catholic church. One evening, whilst singing evensong at Winchester Cathedral, I suddenly realised that the one thing I could not leave behind was the heritage of liturgy and music I had grown up with. In making that decision, I am sure I was not idolising music and putting it before God ; I was being spoken to by God through the music.

 

I just cannot see that the great majority of liturgical music dished up at my Catholic church has any possible chance of touching people's spirits in the way that the great heritage of hymnody can, and we lose that at our peril.

 

One other thought.

 

When I was the organist at my old (C of E) church, the new vicar who had mildly trendy leanings, hit upon the idea of a 'people's choir'. I was happy to go along with the idea, although it meant that a high standard of music making became watered down. As I say, I had no particular problem with it because I recognised that it was appropriate for the resources of the church at that time, and because it did not take over the entire show.

 

However, when I mentioned this to a friend of mine who is a well known Cathedral organist, he made a very pertinent comment ; who are these people who, apparently, do not feel able or happy to join the 'proper' choir, but feel that they are qualified to sing to us with their natural ( = lack of) talent in a 'people's choir'.

 

I am not sure that I agree with his comment, or, at any rate, it may be appropriate for a cathedral in the way that it is not appropriate for a parish church with limited resources, but it is a question I have thought about many times since.

 

M

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Guest Barry Williams

MAB has neatly summarised the problems. It is not merely a lack of real modernity in the so-called 'Contemporary Christian Music', it is, in many cases, sheer lack of expertise that spoils the result.

 

By all means let these good people make their musical offerings to God, even if it is far from being well performed and the musical style is seriously out-dated. But please do not inflict it on the captive audience called a congregation. When the standard of performance is so bad that it is distracting, then a said service is better.

 

A musical offering is always acceptable to God, but it can be made privately. It matters not whether it is a 'music group', a choir or an organist, the standard must, in a public performance, be sufficiently high not to be a distraction.

 

Barry Williams

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Guest Lee Blick

So it goes back to the question:

 

How does the Church of England go about improving the standard of music and liturgy in the worship?

 

Lets have some positive solutions. I am sure there must be some....surely? :blink:

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I see something of a dilemma in situations where there are significantly different levels of competence between the formally trained musicians in a church (e.g. organists, choir directors), and other enthusiastic but less competent musicians.

 

I sympathise with and relate to MAB's comments about "sitting at church and cringing, rather than being lifted closer to God." The problem is this business of "nurturing and giving encouragement" as described by Lee Blick. There is a balance to be had between providing opportunity for people to develop their talents, but not putting them in a positions of leadership (musical or otherwise) in which their currently level of ability has a detrimental effect to worship.

 

But aside form ability, for me a bigger bug-bear is lack of preparation. Informal and light styles of music should not justify informal and under-rehearsed performances. I suspect that worship band's can "get away with" a much less rehearsed and hence less presentable performance than an organist and choir. This really irritates, me and I wonder if this is due to the informal nature of worship band music, or the typically (?) less formal training of such musicians.

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But aside form ability, for me a bigger bug-bear is lack of preparation. Informal and light styles of music should not justify informal and under-rehearsed performances. I suspect that worship band's can "get away with" a much less rehearsed and hence less presentable performance than an organist and choir. This really irritates, me and I wonder if this is due to the informal nature of worship band music, or the typically (?) less formal training of such musicians.

I think this chimes with what I wrote earlier about the standard of people's contribution to worship being important. If God exists, he deserves the best that mankind can offer.

 

Lee asks how the Church of England should go about improving the standard of music and liturgy in the worship. I do not feel qualified to comment on the liturgy, but maybe restoring a little more emphasis on worship at the expense of praise might be a good thing. As for the music, is it really the job of the church to effect a sea change here? The church has to respond to what the populace needs/wants. It may well be that it is failing to do this, but as I pointed out earlier, I believe that this merely discourages people from engaging with it. What is needed is a shake-up at state level of our whole attitude to education.

 

In the pre-technological era when I was at school we expressed ourselves practically through class singing (which most enjoyed), but we were also taught a degree of musical appreciation and history. In contrast, our art lessons were all about actually painting, about "doing" - and few if any of us without natural ability seemed to learn anything. From what I have seen (notably from what was expected of my children at school) the current music syllabus seems to have degraded to the level of those art lessons. I daresay - I certainly hope - that there are some teachers who are keen to educate to a higher level, but the state does not appear to require it.

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But aside form ability, for me a bigger bug-bear is lack of preparation. Informal and light styles of music should not justify informal and under-rehearsed performances. I suspect that worship band's can "get away with" a much less rehearsed and hence less presentable performance than an organist and choir. This really irritates, me and I wonder if this is due to the informal nature of worship band music, or the typically (?) less formal training of such musicians.

 

One must tread delicately on a topic that can generate so much heat. But if anything, my experience of a "good" worship group is that they would spend more, rather than less time rehearsing, than some church choirs I've conducted. Though it has to be said, a good part of that time is actually spent setting up the sound system and adjusting the mics - at least not something you have to worry about with a choir!

 

There are good and bad organists, and good and bad music groups. My church has a rock group (I hear some forum members hearts palpitating!), but the musicians in it are extremely accomplished and only those who are good musicians get to play for the Sunday service. (They actually let me on the organ too for the hymns, I must be good;-) ) Whilst much of the music they play is pretty transient and some is downright musically inept, it sounds a whole lot better if played on the instruments it was intended for, rather than a half-baked attempt strumming along on an unamplified guitar and a hoarse soprano screeching into the mic.

 

I'm not condeming or condoning one style of music over another, but rather pointing out that it really does make a difference as to how well it's played. I'd venture to say that even if you aren't "into" pop, some of the modern choruses, with a professional band, sequencer, keyboards, drummer etc can sound a whole lot better than they usually turn out in the sort of services where they feed the perception that modern church music is altogether dire.

 

Now, what can we do to improve the standard of playing in churches, whether organ or guitar?

 

Contrabombarde

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I have only personal experience of the Roman Catholic Church, but friends tell me the same is true of the CofE, so here is my two pennyworth.

 

As I go to mass in several different places I here music in a variety of styles and performed at a variety of standards. When I hear the "sixties" style music played well, I am not drawn to it, but it does not repel me. I am not really at mass for the music. I just wonder how they could be bothered to do all the practice they have obviously put in. However, it would be a boring old world if we all liked the same thing, so they are welcome to do a bit of it provided they do not take over the whole church in the neighbourhood. On the other hand, most renderings of such music are performed unspeakably badly. A couple of elderly ladies, the generation that like this sort of thing is getting on a bit now, screech tunelessly into a microphone while accompanying themselves on an electronic keyboard with every aid it has switched on, auto rhythm, single finger chords, multiple voices. It all sounds like Darth Vader on his way home from a night on the tiles. If you ask them why they do it, they always say "Someone's got to do it for the children." They have not noticed that the children cannot stand it and stopped coming as soon as they were old enough to stand up to adults.

 

More traditional music is not immune from dreadful standards too, but it does seem to inspire amateur musicians to practice more and to take lessons, which helps.

 

I propose two guidelines for catholic parishes:

 

1) Don't sing in parts unless you are competent. Unison works fine with simple repertoire.

 

2) There is no requirement to sing anything at all. Said mass is permitted.

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Guest Barry Williams

Lee Blick has made a valid point and asks a valid question.

 

There are two parts to the answer:

 

1. In respect of music played in public worship, it must be well performed by trained musicians. The style is irrelevant for this consideration. Even the utterly loathsome 'Contemporary Christian Music' can be performed well, though it often is not.

 

2. In respect of the formal liturgy, the language needs to be of a higher register. Series 3 to Common Worship inclusively uses mock tudor and is no more modern than the 'CCM' mentioned above. ("In marriage husband and wife begin a new life together in the community" is utterly banal.) Yet many of the newly written parts owe far too much to Cranmer.

 

The ICET sections of the Ordinary (with which musicians are largely concerned) were not written for use in Great Britain. They were intended to be understood in a multiplicity of countries, a number of which do not have English as their first language. No-one would attempt that nowadays.

 

Cranmer's prose is still comprehensible. Do school children sing: "Drink to me only with YOUR eyes".

 

" And also with you" is far more effective as " And with you also", but the Liturgical Commission would have none of it, nor of anything else with stylistic grace and felicity.

 

It has been a case of 'baby and bath water', though there is a move now to appreciate the theology of Cranmer's work of 1552 in the Holy Communion Service which owes much to Scripture, as well as the incomparable language. The Oxford Dictionary refers to "Thee" and "Thou" as archaic EXCEPT when addressing God!

 

Members of the Board will be aware of the dreaful and awkward alterations made to the words of hymns. One 'modernisation' of "Angel Voices ever singing" has 'Thee' in the last line because the re-writers could not make it scan without.

 

Barry Williams

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More traditional music is not immune from dreadful standards too

This is undeniable. However, it does seem to me that bad Victoriana (which is usually what is at issue) is at least harmless. I do not find it nearly as buttock-clenchingly awful as bad light music. I might be in a minority thinking this, though.

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Guest Barry Williams
This is undeniable. However, it does seem to me that bad Victoriana (which is usually what is at issue) is at least harmless. I do not find it nearly as buttock-clenchingly awful as bad light music. I might be in a minority thinking this, though.

 

At least Victorian (and Edwardian) music has undergone the refining fire of history. I wonder whether our forebears would have been as tolerant of the low standards of performance as many seem to be nowadays.

 

Barry Williams

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Guest Lee Blick
This is undeniable. However, it does seem to me that bad Victoriana (which is usually what is at issue) is at least harmless. I do not find it nearly as buttock-clenchingly awful as bad light music. I might be in a minority thinking this, though.

 

Bad performances whether light music or bad Victoriana are equally awful, in my view.

 

Very elderly sopranos warbling through 'Turn thy face from my sins' makes me wanna commit one.

 

I joined one parish and someone in the congregation came up to me and asked if I minded her playing the recorder in the hymns. I said I didn't mind, as long as it wasn't within hearing distance of the organ. Didn't deflate her totally, as I suggested she join a music group that was being set up.

 

I think the worst music killers are organists who play far too slowly and loudly.

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Bad performances whether light music or bad Victoriana are equally awful, in my view.

Yes, I agree. Bad performances are bad performances, simple as that. However, I was thinking of the quality of the music rather than the performances.

I think the worst music killers are organists who play far too slowly and loudly.

I agree - closely followed by organists who play too fast. Recently I heard a service on the radio. The choir was immaculate - very well drilled and in tune. The organ playing too was as clean and accurate as you could want. It ought to have been a really uplifting spiritual experience. In some ways it very nearly was. But in fact the music just sounded trite and perfunctory - all because the speeds were too fast. I am sure the DoM's intention was to make the music vital and indeed it was. It's just a pity that he didn't manage to maintain nobility with it. There's a happy mean, I think.

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I agree - closely followed by organists who play too fast. Recently I heard a service on the radio. The choir was immaculate - very well drilled and in tune. The organ playing too was as clean and accurate as you could want. It ought to have been a really uplifting spiritual experience. In some ways it very nearly was. But in fact the music just sounded trite and perfunctory - all because the speeds were too fast. I am sure the DoM's intention was to make the music vital and indeed it was. It's just a pity that he didn't manage to maintain nobility with it. There's a happy mean, I think.

How do you measure that? You comment as if it is the same as boiling an egg for the 'correct' amount of time. What are the secrets to achieving the desired result? Too slow is bad. Too fast is bad. How do we achieve the happy medium?

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How do you measure that? You comment as if it is the same as boiling an egg for the 'correct' amount of time. What are the secrets to achieving the desired result? Too slow is bad. Too fast is bad. How do we achieve the happy medium?

Perhaps I should have made it clear that I was thinking principally of hymns. For me the "happy medium" is a speed (or, rather range of speeds, for some hymns require faster speeds than others) that sounds neither boringly tedious, nor flippantly fast, but is nevertheless one that gives the music a sense of movement whilst retaining dignity and, above all singability. By "singability" I mean a quality that encourages the congregation to fill its lungs and sing lustily (one can hope!) without allowing them either to over-indulge and drag or to feel short-changed and hurried.

 

This summer I took my choir to sing for a weekend at one of our larger and more venerable piles. The very competent organist who was playing for us liked his hymns to be lively. The speeds were, however, were totally inappropriate for the resonant acoustic in which we found ourselves and I had a devil of a job to slow him down to a reasonable level. I am pleased to say that he ended up agreeing that my speeds were absolutely right for the circumstances. :blink:

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Guest Barry Williams

Mere speed, whether fast or slow, may not be the whole issue.

 

Playing must be rhythmic. Rhythm is more than tempo. A slow pace with strong rhythm will seem faster than a quick tempo without vital rhythm.

 

The organ is notoriously difficult to play rhythmically because all accent on the organ is a mere illusion.

 

Barry Williams

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The ones I have in mind could not be diginified by the term 'musician'! Their presence would guarantee an unmusical performance of anything.

 

Furthermore, many (most?) musicians would I believe not term themselves Christians. It is not necessary to be a Christian, or a believer of anything in particular, to be a competent musician in any form of church.

 

The leaves the professional consideration - I can symphathise here with your point of view.

 

Hi

 

I fundementally disagree with this statement - and I think the atitude reflected in it is at the root of many problems in churches - in particular where, for the organist (or other instrumentalists and singers) the music is more important than worshipping Almighty God.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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I am going to tread carefully here because I realise that this subject raises considerable sensitivities. I also appreciate that the two sides of this argument are finely balanced with very good points on both sides.

 

 

 

The Catholic church has modern liturgy with a guitar group.

 

The music in the hymnbook is uninspiring and inept. The way it is performed is embarrassing - embarrassing because of how badly it is performed (the bass player, for example, plays a line that bears no harmonic relation whatsoever to the rest of what is going on ; not only that, he seems to have no idea that this is what is happening) and embarrassing because, candidly, the nice people who do it have nothing like the pizzazz that is needed to pull off this sort of stuff well.

 

I am not being precious here, but this sort of thing is a real obstacle in my spiritual life. I sit at church and cringe, rather than being lifted closer to God.

 

 

One other thought.

 

When I was the organist at my old (C of E) church, the new vicar who had mildly trendy leanings, hit upon the idea of a 'people's choir'. I was happy to go along with the idea, although it meant that a high standard of music making became watered down. As I say, I had no particular problem with it because I recognised that it was appropriate for the resources of the church at that time, and because it did not take over the entire show.

 

However, when I mentioned this to a friend of mine who is a well known Cathedral organist, he made a very pertinent comment ; who are these people who, apparently, do not feel able or happy to join the 'proper' choir, but feel that they are qualified to sing to us with their natural ( = lack of) talent in a 'people's choir'.

 

I am not sure that I agree with his comment, or, at any rate, it may be appropriate for a cathedral in the way that it is not appropriate for a parish church with limited resources, but it is a question I have thought about many times since.

 

M

 

Hi

 

2 comments:-

 

performance standards are (or should be) just as much an issue for non-traditional worship styles as for traditional. Both can be done well - and both can be done badly (and I've heard some pretty dire examples of both - including worship at a national Baptist event earlier this year. Maybe someone (the priest ideally) should encourage the music group to get some training - it is available. Doesn't St Paul tell his protege "study to show yourself approved of God"?

 

Secondly, with regard to the people's choir - there is scope for this sort of thing - many people these days are just too busy to commit to yet one more thing every week, but may well make the time for a few weeks rehearsal for a "one off". We had this sort of set up in my previous church, and it worked reasonably well (although I did have to push a bit to get more than simple unison singing out of them!)

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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So it goes back to the question:

 

How does the Church of England go about improving the standard of music and liturgy in the worship?

 

Lets have some positive solutions. I am sure there must be some....surely? :blink:

 

Hi

 

1) encouragement from church leaders to improve (and appreciation for participation in EVERY service)

2) training - it is available. Maybe local churches need to bite the bullet on this one and put some money up for training of musicians and worship leaders.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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Lee Blick has made a valid point and asks a valid question.

 

 

Members of the Board will be aware of the dreaful and awkward alterations made to the words of hymns. One 'modernisation' of "Angel Voices ever singing" has 'Thee' in the last line because the re-writers could not make it scan without.

 

Barry Williams

 

Hi

 

I wish the editors would give congregations some credit for intelligence and leave well alone! Anything really obscure can always be explained! One advantage we have at Heaton is that use a data projector for hymn and song words, so I can use traditional versions of hymns, and not the banalities derived from "Hymns for Todays Church" that the compilers of "Baptist praise and Worship" saw fit to inflict on congregations a couple of decades ago. Interestingly, the latest offering of this stream - "Sing Glory" has removed some (but not all) of the siilier re-wordings. Interestingly, for all its faults, "Songs of Fellowship" has, in the main, retained traditional versions of hymns.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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I also think that to make enquiries about an individual's beliefs or non-beliefs is an assulat on privacy. The relevant trait of a musician is their musicianship.

I've often wondered about this in terms of job adverts. To advertise for an organist who "must be a committed Christian" smacks to me of some kind of religious discrimination. Clearly this board demonstrates that it is not always the case that a decent organist and musician IS a believer. Fundamentally though, is that kind of advertising illegal? (insofar as discrimination on the basis of sex or race is illegal and I had a feeling age discrimination is also nearly illegal)...

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