Sunday, July 24, 2011

The More Things Change. . .

I picked up a copy of the festschrift for one of Lutheranisms premier spokesman, teacher, and advocate of Lutheran church music and the liturgy, Walter E. Buszin.  As I paged through the book, I was surprised to find that my copy of Cantors at the Crossroads was the personal copy of Robert Bergt, one of Buszin's successors at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, and included an inscription in Buszin's own hand to his friend.  Those who do not know of Walter Buszin should avail themselves of the volume of the Good Shepherd Institute on the Life and Work of Walter E. Buszin, edited by Kirby Koriath and available through the Concordia Theological Seminary Bookstore (Ft. Wayne, Indiana).

From time to time the Lutheran Church has grown weary of its own worthy heritage and chosen instead the lesser song.  Buszin noted in the 1965 a circumstance which has not changed all that much “...never were we greeted [by the Roman Catholics] with shaking heads, cynical smiles, and vocal boos, as we have been in our own circles while speaking of great Lutheran traditions and the superb character of our heritage [of church music].”  It seems that no prophet is without honor except in his own hometown.  Or this from Buszin: “ I cannot help but hold my breath when I think of this, fearing that they will catch on to what the situation is among us Lutherans before we make an honest and prompt attempt to remedy matters.” (1948)  Another most timely quote from about 5 years earlier:  "By seeking today to introduce revivalism, the gospel hymn, and other features commonly identified with religious zealotism, the [Lutheran] churches show that they are at least a generation behind times and show likewise that they have not learned from the tragic mistakes made by others in the past..."

I could go on and on but... the point is this.  The battle for the church's music and liturgy is not a new battle nor are the parameters changed much over the years.  We as Lutherans hold our own heritage in low regard and look to other churches with great envy and covetousness.  We are so casual about our treasures and treat them as of dubious worth and value.  It is a little like the Antique's Roadshow in which an item esteemed to be junk and used as a door holder turns out to be of great value to the shock and consternation of its owner.  Buszin reminded us once that the hymnal, agenda, liturgy, lectionary, and missal are the holy books of our Church which accompany the holiest of books, the Bible. 

We Lutherans are so often our own worst enemy -- disdaining what others recognize as our heritage, legacy, and treasure.  Again, Buszin: "We are often so ignorant, so bigoted, so wise in our own conceits [for the present moment], so prejudiced against the past and against tradition... that we actually rebel when someone suggests that we might be wrong and that we can learn... even from the distant sixteenth and seventeenth centuries."  As Buszin noted, great liturgy like great hymnody and great church music should be received with thanksgiving and affirmed because it is the gift of God, whether or not our minds may fully grasp it in this moment, and I would only add that we run the great risk in every generation of not esteeming the value of what has been handed down to us and discarding what are our greatest treasures...


Anonymous said...

Walter E. Buszin (1899-1973) retired
as a professor at the St. Louis Sem
in 1966. Unfortunately, his impact
on the LCMS was behind the scenes
as he worked to bring the Lutheran
chorales into the Divine Service.

In his era he heard the slogan: "The
sermon is the meat and potatoes and
the music is jello." You can still
hear that today.

Anonymous said...

Robert Bergt (1930-Present)was a
professor at the St. Louis Sem from
1956-1974. In the classroom he
taught worship courses and outside
the classroom was a symphonic and
chorale conductor in the St Louis

His influence in the classroom in the
1960's was not widely felt. He
videotaped Sem students in a "studio"
conducting the Divine Service.
They were graded on how they obeyed
the Worship Manual of AC Piepkorn

Anonymous said...

Kirby Koriath (1941-Present) is
a 1967 grad of St. Louis Sem and
has an earned doctorate degree from
Eastman School of Music, New York.
He is currently on the faculty of
Ball State University where he has
served since 1971.

His forte is as an organist and he
was already playing for chapel
services at Concordia, Milwaukee
as a high school senior in 1959.

Terry Maher said...

It ain't just the Lutherans.

After my sophomore year, my music theory professor, also ordained ad organum for die Abtei and director of the schola, was boofed in a Vatican II Kristallnacht and replaced by a triumvirate of a theology professor, a German professor and a sociology professor to direct musical activity.

All three of them subsequently left the monkery.

Shortly before his effective exile, a number of monks and students gathered in die Abtei church at night to record some Gregorian chant under my professor's direction should somewhere sometime someone might care about it.