Monday, December 2, 2013
It was the best of times... it was the worst of times. . .
At no time in history has the Church had to hand, in print music and recordings, such a wealth of liturgical music of amazing variety and of the highest quality. At no time have such numbers of highly trained church musicians been available to sing and play that music. At no time has there been such a pitch of interest in liturgy and its music on the part of everyday, churchgoing Catholics. These are the best of times. At the same time, only a tiny fraction of the liturgical music thought by Catholics and non-Catholics alike to be among the most beautiful ever conceived is ever heard by everyday Catholics at mass.
But words which would apply to Lutherans as well, perhaps equally so! Lutherans piety and the Divine Service produced Johann Sebastian Bach and his children, hymnwriters such as Philipp Nicolai, Johann Heermann and Paul Gerhardt, and contemporary folks the like of F. Melius Christiansen, Paul Manz, and Carl Schalk. Sadly, probably half the Lutheran congregations do not even have an adequate organ on which one might be able to the keyboard music of Bach, perhaps a higher percentage of Lutheran parishes do not have a choir or a choir able to attempt the choral music of the composers mentioned, and most Lutherans do not even recognize the names of these three premier Lutheran hymnwriters.
Instead we sing Amazing Grace until we are blue in the face, we are more aware of Marty Haugen than the mighty trio of Lutheran hymnwriters, and we know the kings and queens of pop gospel from the radio and Sunday morning. We are in the strange paradox of having available to us more of the great heritage of church music from the past and wonderful collections of the best of contemporary hymnody (see LSB or any modern hymnal and hymnal supplement) but we choose to listen to and sing music of much lower quality, of dubious liturgical value, and whose words often consist of a couple of phrases repeated over and over and over again.
It is like we have a sumptuous banquet of food before us and we hit the candy jar instead. We are starving ourselves of nutrients necessary to the faith and risking becoming a diabetic addict to the surgary stuff that does little to nurture us and help us grow into the people we were declared to be in our baptism. But we are oblivious to it all and content in our diet of less than salutary church music in and out of worship. It is not for lack of availability as much as it is the lack of desire on our part. But we who have been nourished on the rich diet of good church music, as beautiful in sound as it is faithful in text will bequeath to those who come after us something less, all the way around. Unless we wake up to the treasures and begin to teach them anew and to demand nothing less than the best for our generation and from our own generation, we will be the last to remember that Bach composed for the Church or that the King and Queen of Chorales were written by Lutheran pens or those who raised up the faithful voices of good music in our own age...