MusingMuso Posted November 29, 2011 Share Posted November 29, 2011 I have not had the time recently to give much further thought to this topic, but David's point here set me thinking. I am not sure whether Vatican II was cause or effect, but it is undeniable that it did coincide with a growing clamour for congregational participation. But that alone does not, I think, account for the decline in the extent of parish choir-only performances. It was a fast changing world in the post-war years. The advent of television changed the concepts of broadcasting and home entertainment for ever. TV surely played an important part in increasing the secularisation of society. Added to this, the increasingly widespread availability of pop music and the evolution of a mostly very secular pop culture discouraged interest in classical music. There may be other factors as well, but these are the ones that stand out for me as explanations for the change in emphasis from classical choral music to lighter forms of congregational entertainment. One other thing that struck me, though, is that our church congregations have never been larger than when the "Parish Choral Revolution" (to tweak contrabourdon's term slightly) was at its height. In December 1884 the re-opening of the rebuilt organ at St Andrew's, Plymouth, was celebrated by a choir that numbered nearly 60, nearly all of whom were regular members - and it stayed at that sort of level for many decades. When Harry Moreton had the old Parsons/Gray and Davison instrument utterly transformed 10 years later it was because "the organ was then merely a specimen of an old-fashioned and out-of-date instrument, with a poor, thin tone, utterly incapable of holding together the increasingly large congregations or fulfilling the requirements of a full cathedral service, which was rapidly developing." Plymouth wasn't alone. At least some of this increase in congregations was undoubtedly due to the increase in the population generally, but is that the whole explanation? I would love to believe that the dignity of the ceremonial, including its music, was a major factor in encouraging the large congregations of that time, but I suspect it is not quite that simple. I can't see when, if ever, I am going to have time to look more deeply into this subject, but from the little digging I have been able to do, it does look as though my estimate of 80 years for this "flash in the pan" was little pessimistic, though I still doubt that it lasted more than 100 - from, say, 1860 to 1960. ==================================== I just know, that as I write this, I will be guilty of any number of sweeping statements.....but here goes. Although we have touched on this and that origin of Victorian church music, and its considerable outside the cathedrals and colleges (etc.) we have not really addressed the political aspect of it, except in vague reference to working-class roots. Let's go back a bit, to perhaps 1880 or so, because in the process of investigating the life and work of John Compton, I came across a remarkable comment, made by a very old lady being interviewed about her memories of village life. I'll have to paraphrase what she said, but apparently, if people of a certain standing were walking down the street, they would not speak to lowly people who worked the land on the farms, because they employed people. Master and servant; God and his dominions, King & Country; Patronage....everything was top-down and strictly hierarchical. In fact, when I was quite young, (say in 1965), I knew old people who had been born in that era, and they would talk of ordinary people doffing their caps as mill-owners passed in horse-drawn carriages; from whom they would receive no acknowledgement. Even the local vicar was often someone to be feared rather than loved, but of course, there were remarkable exceptions. A sweeping statement/question perhaps, but did the C-of-E care about anyone at that time? I suspect that they were more concerned about law and order, the hierarchy and the fabric of society, which they tried to maintain almost in spite of a vastly changing landscape. You've only got to look at the paintings of Hogarth to immediately appreciate the squalor, social deprivation and danger of gin alleys, child exploitation, prostitution (including well organised child-prostitution), smuggling, pick-pockets.....the list goes on and on.....a world accurately captured in the literary writings of Charles Dickens. Add to this horrendous child neglect, poverty, overcrowding, infant mortality, a lack of health care, poor sewerage, disease, pestilence, low life-expectancy, the work-house system and the various poor laws.........the whole country was a revolutionary powder-keg waiting to explode. Something had to be done in a hurry, and the French revolution was still in the minds of those with the most to lose. (Should that read Tolouse?) As early as 1954, Dr Spurgeon was preaching his great sermons, which caused great missionary zeal. The following is a fascinating, full-length drama documentary about him:- http://www.spurgeon.org/aboutsp.htm If I were to try summing-up everything that Spurgeon stood for in two words, I would be very brave, yet "self improvement" must be close to the core; the idea that personal faith and witness could become a power for change and social progress. But even before Spurgeon, Wesley and his followers had put into practice the foundations of social-justice; a far cry from the indifference of the laregly Anglican establishment of the day, which sought to blame people for being poor or destitute. It was John Wesley who reversed all that, with his statement:- "Make all you can, save all you can, give all you can." This was the protestant work-ethic with a heart, but more importantly, it was the foundation-stone of modern-society, which brought education, welfare, social justice and human rights to the fore. So powerful was the non-conformist charge, nothing could stand in its way, and rather than oppose it, some of the great philanthropists and liberal reformers joined the cause. After 1850 to 60, there emerged not only a social movement, but with it, social mobility; the latter an absolute essential in an increasingly technological age. Thus was born a powerful new middle-class, as well as the civilising thrust of middle-class music. I don't expect that Wesley or Spurgeon could have anticipated how church music took flight, but when it did, it took off in a massive way, to become the number one pastime of people great and small. If there is a lesson for us to-day, it is the fact that art, music, social progress, faith, hope and charity; all interlink at certain times....Luther, the Reformation and Bach being perhaps the most spectacular example. I tend to think that it is a mistake to assume the TV, pop music and increasing secularisation are the cause of the downfall in choral music as a pastime and as an expression of worship. In fact, I would suggest that the secular society is the lasting triumph of popular religion, for it demonstrates the coinfidence of ordinary people in shaping their own destinies and following the path of indivuality. Perhaps we should bear in mind that the church had rivals a century ago....music hall, theatre, fetes, galas, popular music, dance bands, brass bands and even pop-songs of a kind. Indeed, the biggest pre-war activity was cinema-going, when droves of people would queue in a snake around the larger cinemas of a Saturday evening. Now that the western world in in crisis once again, perhaps some great new movement will emerge, and when it does, music will probably be a part of it, as people place their trust and faith in whatever that movement attemnpts to achieve. Our hope must be that the Devil doesn't play the best tunes. MM Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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