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Morning Worship Radio 4 Today


Peter Clark

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I caught a few seconds while the kettle boiled - ugh!

 

The piece I heard was a macoronic take on the Agnus Dei, quote..."Agnus Day, (sic) you take away...." sung to a horribly mawkish tune with the singers putting a little turn on the leading edge of every note. I think that even the piano was actually a piano substitute.

 

Glasgow Episcopal Cathedral next week.

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Guest Patrick Coleman
Is it a sneer? I thought it was an opinion.

 

Among other things, the Oxford English Dictionary defines 'sneer' as "to speak of write in a manner suggestive or expressive of contempt or disparagement". QED. I am still quite interested in hearing a response to the original question.

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Among other things, the Oxford English Dictionary defines 'sneer' as "to speak of write in a manner suggestive or expressive of contempt or disparagement". QED. I am still quite interested in hearing a response to the original question.

 

It is a matter of opinion as to whether contempt or disparagement has been expressed - as opposed to dislike, criticism, disapproval, disapprobation, loathing, opprobrium, etc.

 

From what I heard, the music was banal in the extreme and served only to trivialise the words it was setting. The first hymn was ineptly harmonised. There was a lack of joy and spontaneity: the congregation sounded as if they had been drilled to within an inch of their lives. I had to turn it off at the Gloria - I couldn't stand any more.

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Interesting to see what another forum thinks:- http://www.ssg.org.uk/phpBB3/viewtopic.php...5f28a1ed165454f

 

This link was interesting. I have never heard of the two musicians in question not have I had any experience of the SSG or CJM Music organizations nor am I aware of their position in the RC church but the general effect this morning I felt to be decidedly miserable!

 

A

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It is a matter of opinion as to whether contempt or disparagement has been expressed - as opposed to dislike, criticism, disapproval, disapprobation, loathing, opprobrium, etc.

 

From what I heard, the music was banal in the extreme and served only to trivialise the words it was setting. The first hymn was ineptly harmonised. There was a lack of joy and spontaneity: the congregation sounded as if they had been drilled to within an inch of their lives. I had to turn it off at the Gloria - I couldn't stand any more.

 

Agreed.

 

My comment was neither sneering nor contemptuous but based on a dislike of poor quality music badly performed.

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Among other things, the Oxford English Dictionary defines 'sneer' as "to speak of write in a manner suggestive or expressive of contempt or disparagement". QED. I am still quite interested in hearing a response to the original question.

 

Fine.

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Posters above have variously described this service as mawkish, enervating and depressing. Having waded through the whole service on iPlayer, I have to say that I think these descriptions are both accurate and objective. Without the music it would have been a very fine service. However, the music was nothing more than sentimental self-indulgence, the nadir being the cringingly banal contribution to the intercessions.

 

It is high time the church woke up to the fact that, whilst sentimental self-indulgence may be what many people like, it does not constitute worship. It is a self-serving opiate, nothing more. Those who think otherwise delude themselves, for such maudlin cheesiness does nothing to express the glory or the holiness of God and does no credit to the church's image amongst a predominantly secular populace. If you want a real expression of glory in music, try the Gloria from Howells's St Paul's Service – to name but one.

 

When people worship in private they can commune with God in whatever way they see fit; it is a matter entirely for the individual and nobody else's business. But a church service is a public act of witness – no more so than when broadcast – and as such everyone should be endeavouring selflessly to ensure that God is offered the very best of which man is capable, with the best possible balance between quality of content and delivery. God deserves no less. Sincerity is a sine qua non; it should not be accepted as an excuse for lowered quality.

 

All this is equally valid whether the music is classical or in one of the more popular styles. The Victorians especially were responsible for many humdrum offerings that it would be undesirable to perpetuate, but there is plenty of worthwhile fare to make up for this. I have yet to encounter any popular-style church music worthy of filing under "man's better achievements".

 

A few weeks ago the R4 Sunday Service featured a 'worship' song (I use the quotes pointedly) that was plainly intended to express joy and praise, not least because of the mantra-like repetition of the word Halleluyah. Despite a fine, committed, well-drilled performance, the mundane, repetitive tune failed to generate any sense of joy or praise whatsoever. The effect, far from being uplifting, was literally depressing. I switched off.

 

Self-indulgence in worship does the church no good at all, which is why I believe that public acts of worship only really work when the quality of the offering is put above personal gratification. Our cathedrals have long realised this. I guess I am suggesting that lesser churches might do well to re-examine what their public worship is about instead of merely bleating, "We are not cathedrals; services are not musical concerts. We serve the person-in-the-street." Do you? Do you really cut so fine a figure?

 

This morning's service didn't. What is the point of background music with a voice-over? Atmosphere? Hardly: you only have to listen to the result. The music does not illuminate the words; it merely obscures them – and vice versa. You cannot concentrate on both properly - and if you are concentrating on one, you don't need the other. It is a tired cliché with its roots in pop songs from forty years ago.

 

What is the point of composition after composition in which the only concern seems to have been to find a "nice" tune, albeit in a vocal range too restricted to allow any sustained interest, underpinned by a harmony that merely rings the changes on a limited selection of chords in the tonic key?

 

And what, pray, was the point in using an acoustic guitar (amplified or not) in a space like that? It sounded like nothing more than a bundle of sticks being knocked together. If you really must have a guitar, at least make it an electric one with decent speakers capable of providing a sound with some body.

 

Even though some forum members will disagree, probably strongly, with my views above, I hope we might at least agree that the best place for mid-Atlantic accents is the mid-Atlantic.

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Guest Patrick Coleman

Thank you, Vox - you articulate my own views perfectly. My problem with the previous views as posted is that they are no help to the cause of fine music in worship, because they are too easily dismissed. Mutual lip-curling is never going to benefit any cause. Constructive discussion may do just that. I might have offered something similar if I hadn't been in (three different) churches for the best part of yesterday (one of them twice!)

 

 

Self-indulgence in worship does the church no good at all, which is why I believe that public acts of worship only really work when the quality of the offering is put above personal gratification.

 

Exactly! What I occasionally call 'boudoir church' (yes, and sadly also sometimes with a sneer!) has little or nothing to do with the awesome realities we worship and seek to reflect in music.

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What is the point of composition after composition in which the only concern seems to have been to find a "nice" tune, albeit in a vocal range too restricted to allow any sustained interest, underpinned by a harmony that merely rings the changes on a limited selection of chords in the tonic key?

How does vocal range restrict sustained interest, Vox? One of my favourite liturgical tunes is the old plainsong Our Father/Pater Noster which uses 5 notes, 1 of them twice and 1 only once. And plainsong Psalm and Canticle chants are generally of small vocal range.

And what, pray, was the point in using an acoustic guitar (amplified or not) in a space like that? It sounded like nothing more than a bundle of sticks being knocked together. If you really must have a guitar, at least make it an electric one with decent speakers capable of providing a sound with some body.

I heard Segovia play in Derby Cathedral 35 years ago. Every note was clear as a bell throughout the building. And contrarywise, I've heard harpsichords up close that sounded like your bundle of sticks!

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How does vocal range restrict sustained interest, Vox? One of my favourite liturgical tunes is the old plainsong Our Father/Pater Noster which uses 5 notes, 1 of them twice and 1 only once. And plainsong Psalm and Canticle chants are generally of small vocal range.

It is essentially a matter of degree. One of the first composition tips anyone learns is that the essential requirement of a good melody is a satisfying shape. If the melody is short, it ought to be possible to use a mere five notes in a satisfying and interesting way. However, if you have to listen to half an hour of music in which the melody never strays outside that limit I think you might soon become rather bored. The longer you listen, the more shape a melody requires. The same goes for the harmony. If during that half-hour, the tonality never leaves the tonic key, listeners are likely to experience dissatisfaction, even if they cannot pinpoint exactly what it is.

 

I think chanting is a rather different thing. The plainsong psalm tones were not intended to be satisfying melodies; they serve a rather more functional purpose. The mantra-like repetition of psalm tones, or litanies, can be very satisfying in its own way, but it is still the case that I can only take so much before tedium sets in - especially where several psalms are sung under one antiphon and therefore to a single psalm tone. The plainsong Pater noster (assuming we have the same tune in mind; I only know one) inhabits a sort of halfway world - almost half melody, half intonation - a little more advanced than the elaborate Gospel and Epistle tones. It serves its purpose well, but it would not be one of my desert island melodies.

 

I heard Segovia play in Derby Cathedral 35 years ago. Every note was clear as a bell throughout the building. And contrarywise, I've heard harpsichords up close that sounded like your bundle of sticks!

Actually, I was thinking of RVW's comment about harpsichords when I wrote that. Yes, I accept that everything depends on the acoustic and I can certainly think of some buildings where an acoustic guitar would carry effectively. It did not come over that way in the Sunday Service, however, at least through the hi-fi speakers I was using. But for all I know microphone placement may also have played a part. Bottom line is that it was not a nice sound.

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When people worship in private they can commune with God in whatever way they see fit; it is a matter entirely for the individual and nobody else's business. But a church service is a public act of witness – no more so than when broadcast – and as such everyone should be endeavouring selflessly to ensure that God is offered the very best of which man is capable, with the best possible balance between quality of content and delivery. God deserves no less. Sincerity is a sine qua non; it should not be accepted as an excuse for lowered quality.

 

Whilst I agree with your comments, there are those in the other camp who will argue (and have done with me) that (1)this was all that these 'men' were capable of, and (2)what they did offer was heartfelt and sincere with an emphasis on the personal aspect worship, rather than the glorified concerts that a number of churches put on in the name of worship.

 

It's not my cup of tea, but I know that what I prefer isn't their cup of tea either (mostly due to a lack of exposure, education or both), the fact is, at least in some places (eg large towns and cities), there is a choice and there are opportunities for churches to carve out a 'niche' market. Here in the countryside, that isn't an option without lengthy drives (and with children in tow, believe me, I've tried it, and still am trying it). One of our local vicars isn't keen on children coming to the 1662 services as he would rather they went to the 'Family' service. Personally, I'd rather they were made welcome at a service with a decent liturgy and hymns to match, but at those services, there are no creche/Sunday school activities for them to go to for part of the service.

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Whilst I agree with your comments, there are those in the other camp who will argue (and have done with me) that (1)this was all that these 'men' were capable of,

This issue of capability is a valid point and is what I meant by striking a balance between content and delivery. God is no more served by performers performing good music badly than by performing bad music well. The important thing is to choose good music that is within your means so that you are able to perform it well.

 

and (2)what they did offer was heartfelt and sincere with an emphasis on the personal aspect worship, rather than the glorified concerts that a number of churches put on in the name of worship.

This is indeed the stock excuse and I am sure we have all heard it at some time or other. I have already explained why I do not agree with it, so won't repeat myself. However, the fact that many people (including not a few choir members!) seem able to see such performances only as concerts rather than a vehicle for worship is saddening and shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what church music should really be about.

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The belief that 'sincerity is all' is no more accurate than the opinion of one infant school teacher I knew whose pattern was to stand back and let the children run riot. She once explained to me her sincerely held belief that 'Love was Enough'. Love isn't enough - in education, skill, patience, experience, framework and discipline are all equally important to love. In worship, the banal should have no place, and in a catholic church there is the added impetus that Pope Benedict has stated this in no uncertain way himself.

 

Like Jim Treloar, I wanted to take part in this topic so I logged in to the Listen Again facility. I sampled freely from the broadcast with growing disappointment. I came to the conclusion that if this service had been presented without the musical 'shock troops' (CMJ was it?*) that were brought in specially, the listening public might not have been treated to a polished concert, but Sunday's worship would have still been a warm and sincere service and well worth having for that. As it was, the musical input (to my ears) smacked of the laziest of commercial music-making. Oh dear, oh dear.

 

* Why not visit their website? I did.

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The important thing is to choose good music that is within your means so that you are able to perform it well.

I know that, to members of this forum, it is like teaching Grandmother to suck eggs, but I learnt this lesson very many years ago when for the best part of a year I acted as an unofficial (and unpaid) assistant organist at a small parish church on the outskirts of a small market town. I was more than happy to give my services as the organist, "Bob", was a friend of mine and the church was the only place in the area where good music was to be had. Bob, who was much happier in front of a choir than a keyboard, had a choir of just six boys, three men (one each of ATB, expandable to ATBB or even AATTBB at a pinch) and an acoustic to die for. I remember a visiting priest explaining in his sermon that he had once been walking down the road outside the church with his bishop and that the bishop had turned to him and said, "You know, the music in that church is something wonderful." What a nice thing to take the trouble to say in a sermon! But the reason the music was wonderful was that Bob drilled his boys well and took care never to be over-ambitious. We could bring off such pieces as Britten's Jubilate and Weelkes's Hosanna, but mostly it was less elaborate fare. He was perfectly content to do a simple hymn such as Drop, drop, slow tears to the Gibbons tune and so was everyone else - because it was done superbly.

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One of our local vicars isn't keen on children coming to the 1662 services as he would rather they went to the 'Family' service. Personally, I'd rather they were made welcome at a service with a decent liturgy and hymns to match, but at those services, there are no creche/Sunday school activities for them to go to for part of the service.

 

Yes we have a "family Mass" once a month which sometimes ends up like cabaret with sacraments thrown in as an afterthought. The school runs it; I avoid it. One of my young choristers (aged 10) goes to that school and was told off by a teacher for going to the 11.00 (Sung) Mass rather than the 9.30 (family) Mass. "But I'm in the choir," said young Lydia, and good on you, thought I !!

 

Peter

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Yes we have a "family Mass" once a month which sometimes ends up like cabaret with sacraments thrown in as an afterthought. The school runs it; I avoid it. One of my young choristers (aged 10) goes to that school and was told off by a teacher for going to the 11.00 (Sung) Mass rather than the 9.30 (family) Mass. "But I'm in the choir," said young Lydia, and good on you, thought I !!

 

Peter

 

I was talking to an abbot recently at a monastic occasion (not at his own abbey) who enquired if the abbey where we were was where I usually attended for mass. I explained that it was as I could not stand the plummeting and banal standards of parish masses. His reply, "I know what you mean."

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'Much nicer today - they always do it well from St. M's Cath. Glasgow - contemporary elements with taste and well executed - and a decent bit of JSB at the end!

 

Alastair

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Guest Echo Gamba
A great improvement! I liked the descant and reharmonisation of Was Lebet - also the second piece the choir sang - contemporary - anybody know what it was? It sounded to me like something Christopher Walker might have written.

 

 

Cheers

 

 

Script not yet up on website when I looked, but it should appear here

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It is essentially a matter of degree. One of the first composition tips anyone learns is that the essential requirement of a good melody is a satisfying shape. If the melody is short, it ought to be possible to use a mere five notes in a satisfying and interesting way. However, if you have to listen to half an hour of music in which the melody never strays outside that limit I think you might soon become rather bored. The longer you listen, the more shape a melody requires. The same goes for the harmony. If during that half-hour, the tonality never leaves the tonic key, listeners are likely to experience dissatisfaction, even if they cannot pinpoint exactly what it is.

We did Alleluia, Sing To Jesus this morning to Hyfrydol. A great marriage of tune and words. The tune uses only 6 notes and never strays from the tonic yet is completely satisfying, even over four verses.

 

I'm not quite sure where your half-hour comes from as a critique of the service in question, Vox.

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