Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Church of Beethoven...

My great friend and co-worker in this parish, the Cantor, dropped off a clipping from The Tennessean which reported on a church (loose term) without preaching or prayer -- a church of and for classical music. Now those of you who know me, know that I consider little music composed after, say 1850 or so, to be noteworthy. I am a devote' of classical music from the solo voice in Gregorian chant to the Lutheran chorale to the great symphonic sound to instrumental music of various kinds to choral and vocal music. I believe that nearly all the great composers were Lutheran (Pachelbel, Buxtehude, Walther, Praetorious, Bach, Brahms, Mendelssohn, etc.) or were Lutheran and they just did not know it. So you might think I would be sympathetic to this new church which worships classical music. You would be wrong. While I love the aesthetic of classical music, you cannot understand much of it without knowing the faith behind it. This is true in an obvious and overt way with Bach (who signed his music SDG -- soli Deo gloria) or in a contextual way with others (like Beethoven).

The secular perspective on classical music may love the music for what it is, but it is within the context of the overwhelming religious faith and fostering of the culture and life of these composers that we come face to face with what classical music is for. Luther said it best when he described the relationship between text and tune as a master and servant, the music being the handmaiden or servant of the Word. When music and message coincide they become larger than either. The great composers generally were under the patronage of the Church (yes, often reluctantly so) but they were also formed and shaped by the Church -- implicitly if not explicitly. The spiritual character of music is not that it stirs that soul alone but that God created the mind, ear, voice, and heart for music and music's purpose for His glory.

The truth is that many who appreciate classical music are rather secular individuals, socially liberal, and tolerant of just about anything except dogma and doctrine. I do not understand this. The Japanese, whose culture is so closed to religion deemed Western, have a love affair with classical music and, in particular, with Bach. This passion has resulted in many conversions -- for reaping the mind of Bach yields the fruit of the Gospel.

So don't count me in for a religion of classical performances. I am squarely in the camp that sees the composers and their work within the context of what is often an explicit Christian faith and, at very least, an implicit Christian context. And don't try to change my mind by mentioning the exception to this rule. I won't consider it. Period.


Steve said...

This post was just so cool, you could have written from the beliefs in my soul; the nice part is that there is more in your brain. I imagine our ipods are quite similar in their music.

I wish you God's blessing as you go throughout the next couple of weeks (I had to peruse your earlier post quickly) and may our beloved Synod state that traditional liturgy is what we should embrace and that the ancient landmarks of music are not to be removed. Tune serves text; it must, and yes, Bach and his "brothers" wrote like they did for very very good reasons.

Jerry Miller said...

Dear Pastor Peters,
By way of introduction, my name is Jerry Miller and I am a co-owner of the Factory on 5th Art Space in Albuquerque NM. Home to the "Church" of Beethoven. Interesting take on the C of B and I must say you make a good point about the religious underpinnings of good classical music. I agree with your premise. I would like to give you a little more info on the C of B. Other than the fact that our show is on Sunday Morning and we offer free Cappucino...we are a "church" in name only. Members of the NM Symphony Orchestra select the pieces performed and performing in an "old" warehouse, (with great accoustics) adds to the fun. We also usually throw in a poet and sometimes a banjo player or world class baritone from Egypt. So we are bringing classical music to alot of people who would probably never attend the symphony or get a chance to hear these fine players. It's all about community, fun, and music on a Sunday Morning. Hmmm...maybe we are a little bit like a church. Wishing you the best. Sincerely,
J. W. Miller

Anonymous said...

Church of Beethoven never claimed to be a "Church" in the religious sense. The only thing it has in common with a church is the Sunday morning time. Felix Wurman,the musician who started it, picked that name to "raise eyebrows" as he said. He obviously succeeded.
But I'll stop here I don't think it's worth arguing with someone who thinks inspired music stopped in 1850

Anonymous said...

I posted the last comment and I noticed it says anonymous so here is a signature:
Jean-Luc Matton, musician here in Albuquerque. and as far as religion, I was raised catholic but I am still in search of a church that would quench my spiritual thirst. And now I think it won't be lutheran for sure.

Pastor Peters said...

To Jerry Milleer I make my mea culpa. I knew that this was a performance venue and not a church in the strictest sense. While this was occasioned by the article on the Church of Beethoven, it was not particularly directed at this group and I apologize if offense was given. My point is that so often those who love the aesthetic of classical music are closed to the mind and heart of the music, which is in most cases explicitly or implicitly religious, the music of faith, for faith, and born of a culture in which faith was central.

This kind of church -- where the music is worshiped and adored without hearing the message -- is what I was going after -- not this particular group.

As to Jean-Luc Matton's dismissal of me because of my 1850 cut off date, could you allow me some hyperbole? It was a statement bent upon exaggeration for effect.

If you are looking for a church with strong proclamation, liturgical worship, and rich music, a Lutheran Church should be among your visits -- pick one of the traditional stripe and not the contemporary style.

If you look at our own web page, you get a sense of what we do on Sunday morning... by the way, this afternoon our choir is doing Saint Saens Christmas Oratorio, with orchestra, harp, soloists and a lessons and carols format...

Anonymous said...

I would have to add Sibelius (b. 1865)to the list of Lutheran composers, although he didn't do much in the way of purely religious works.

And don't forget the Church of St. John Coltrane:

Steven P in Knoxville

Anonymous said...

Dear Pastor Peters,

I would like to invite you to the Church of Beethoven when you are next in Albuquerque so you can appreciate how the the Church of Beethevone is a celebration of community, creativity and life. This celebration is not done through the 'worship' of music but through the coming together of an amazing group of people including musicians, poets, baristas, visual artists, and appreciaters of those with such wonderful talents and skills. It's a time for people to come together and celebrate what is greater than any one of us.

You are always welcome to come and celebrate with us.

Kindest regards,
- Kelly White

Vagabondette said...

Dear Pastor Peters,

First off, let me thank you for feeling compelled to address our humble Sunday morning gathering in your blog. Our founder, Felix Wurman, and dear friend of mine, passed away last week after a long battle with bladder cancer and I can assure you that he would be delighted at this debate stirring in Tennessee over the philosophy of his weekly concert series.

A little background;
As a staunch secular, Felix wanted an option for human beings to, on Sunday morning, gather with their community and enjoy the myriad facets of human expression, music, poetry, visual art, artisinally prepared coffee, etc.
As a brilliant cellist in the New Mexico Symphony, this includes a classical piece or two on the bill each week. His mission was to present these arts in a setting where EVERYONE feels welcome, and as Kelly^^^ so beautifully put it, "come together and celebrate what is greater than any one of us".
Felix was a man ahead of his time: drove a 100% electric car, practiced a simple, holistic lifestyle, and believed in the power of music and art to unite us all. Again, he would be thrilled that someone from a religious order was perturbed about our secular, Sunday morning celebration.

Next, I'd like to address a few errors in your understanding of The Church of Beethoven, what goes on there, and the philosophy of our founder Felix Wurman.
Number one, there is no "worship" included in the program. The nature of the concert series is absolutely irreligious. We have a two minute celebration of silence in each program, so that our patrons may take a quiet moment for gratitude, reflection, prayer, peace, or whatever they would like.
Secondly, your statement that referring to Church of Beethoven as "a church of and for classical music" is simply wrong. On past bills we have had a beatboxer, gypsy jazz geniuses, a trombone choir, folkies, you name it. And every week also includes a featured poet, reciting original works, plus a visual artist to aestheticise our bare walls.

You should find these clarifications extremely comforting. We are not a religious gathering, thus you should not be religiously offended.

But, having found myself caught up in this debate, I must say I find your argument, "those who love the aesthetic of classical music are closed to the mind and heart of the music, which is in most cases explicitly or implicitly religious, the music of faith, for faith, and born of a culture in which faith was central" deeply troubling. Is that to say Muslims, Jews, or heathens like myself are not "open to the mind and heart" of classical music?
This is the twenty-first century. We must evolve, as a species, beyond truths dictated by a book of Jewish folktales, (or any religious dogma) and embrace a higher, universal Oneness. Throughout history, religion has divided us. As you yourself feel divided from those who enjoy the music "without hearing the message". As for myself, I am happy to hear of your enjoyment of classical Lutheran composers as a part of your faith. I only wish that the believers respected people like myself who hear a slightly different, all-encompassing message through such divine compositions.

Until then, all the best in love and light to you and your flock. The sunday morning bill ("Saint Saens Christmas Oratorio, with orchestra, harp, soloists and a lessons and carols format") sounds sonically divine!

Maggie Ross
Barista and Kosmonaut in Chief

Anonymous said...

Maggie, I can not say it any better than you just did, so I won't. Bravo. But...and there is always a but, isn't there? But...I would like to address the same passage you quoted: "the mind and heart of the music, which is in most cases explicitly or implicitly religious..." The only reason, and I do mean only reason that the referred-to music might be construed as religious is because "The Church" (meaning all extant denominations of the time) was the primary institution paying the bills! As in everything in life, follow the money, folks. Musicians have always written and performed music for the bill-payer. It just so happens that in the era referred to, the primary bill-payer was the church. Thank _____ we no longer have to suffer that oppressive dogma in this more enlightened age.
Maggie, right on.
Cindy Young

Pastor Peters said...

I must say that the comments section has stirred some very interesting discussion. First of all, it appears that the later comments describe the Church of Beethoven as more "church" than I had initially thought. Since it is a celebration of something greater than any of us, a moment or two of silence is offered, and the group is looking for community (albeit a secular one), it may be more of a "church" than the protesters admit -- perhaps an "anti-church" church for those who want some of the ambiance without the baggage of belief. This makes me all the sadder.

The idea that musicians were/are so shallow as to cater to those who paid the bill, thus compromising their creative genius, is an even sorrier proposition. That Bach or Brahms acted religious because it was the Church that paid the bill? That would make them the ultimate hypocrites (Greek for actors). Further it would mean that they were like prostitutes-- paid for the pleasure of others and willing to compromise themselves for the wishes and pocketbooks of others. At this, I must say, I must draw the line. Even though I might be mired in oppressive dogma, I have a much higher view of the musician than the poster above. I believe that the majority were neither shallow nor for sale -- that their moved their creative genius to give voice to faith, values, virtue, goodness and truth -- Divine Truth, embodied in Jesus Christ.

Heathen and pagan, Muslim and Buddhist, Hindu and ancestor worshiper, agnostic and atheist may enjoy the music but they most certainly miss its point. The b minor Mass of Bach, for example, is incomprehensible without its center in God.

Steve said...

Please allow me to comment here, I want Pastor P to do most of the commenting but let me just come from my own forte. I have been a church and professional military musician for most of my adult life. I have seen and been part of "sacred and secular" kinds of performing groups. There is a distinct difference in performance of a sacred piece of music when it is performed by a "secular" group than when it is performed by a group of musicians that have faith in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is not one of effort or skill; I have been part of secular groups that were technically much more accomplished than some church choirs or orchestras I have performed with. The difference is in the faith God has given the regenerated heart to praise its Creator and sing/play from a basis of love, thankfulness, and awe. It is a difference that the musician and audience of faith can sense and hear. It is mostly a difference the God who gave that group its faith can accept as opposed to a group of musicians that do not believe His work of regeneration.

I truly hope I do not offend and of my new New Mexico acquaintances; I do not expect you to understand, I have been around musicians like you most of my adult life. I have sung and played with musicians from New York to Los Angeles. It is truly not the musical skill that determines the understanding of the music; it is whether the heart of the composer, the music, and the heart of the musician have all believed in the Way, the Truth and the Life.

On a strictly personal comment; there is much music out there that has nothing to do with the God of the Bible; should that music not contain things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable then that music or its performance really isn't justifiable in the sight of God.

Anonymous said...

There's no arguing with a True Believer. They "won't consider it. Period." :)

Anyhow, here's to all good music and the appreciation thereof. And to communities and silences and reverence for the mysteries.

BH in TX

Anonymous said...

You say: "Heathen and pagan, Muslim and Buddhist, Hindu and ancestor worshiper, agnostic and atheist may enjoy the music but they most certainly miss its point."

I don't think that argument holds much water. Would you really say that many of Beethoven's most monumental works like the 5th Symphony, 9th Symphony, 4th and 5th piano concertos, his "Ode to Joy", etc. (which are all works that champion his idea of the individual triumphing over the many, man triumphing over the 'institution', and of the brotherhood of humanity rising above all else) are irrelevant because the focus is not on God? Beethoven, as are many of the great composers/artists, was most certainly above all a Humanist. In my view this does not make his music less beautiful or more pointless than music that focuses on God.

The fact that some music is not religious or doesn't focus on God doesn't mean that the agnostic/atheist/pagan/Muslim/whatever can't find spiritual meaning and beauty - in fact I think some of the clearest and most profound music/art is that which makes us question the very existence of God and the place of religion in society.

To prove my point further, look at so-called "praise bands" so many churches employ now. Would you say that kind of music is more relevant/meaningful than music that doesn't focus on God?

I think the C of B is a phenomenal idea. Why not start a church of Mozart? A church of Monet? A church of DaVinci? It doesn't mean that people are 'worshipping' these artists, it simply means that people can come together and enjoy the art for what it is instead of the distraction of dogmas and oppression.

Tim Bradley
(former resident of and freelancer in New Mexico)

David said...

Pastor Peters, I find your post irrational and illogical. If you were able to see outside of your europeanized, neo colonial frame of mind, you would realize that profound music has been created and passed down for thousands of years, most predating Christ and Abrahamic religions on the whole (by the way, Islam also worships the god of Abraham). And if you want to talk solely western classical music, what about janacek,Tchaikovsky and stravinsky? Is it an objective truth that Mendelssohn is a better composer? It's time to put aside the bigoted views you boastfully share here - your pejorative and disparaging comments about non religious musicians writing/performing for the church, for instance. In his sermon on the mount, Jesus calls for us to love those who do not love us and salute those who are not our brethren (Matthew 5:46-47). Need I continue from chapter 7... judge not? Be a light of this world, man. Start an interfaith community, pray for and with those you've chosen until now to persecute. The Quran says, “Verily, those who believe and those who are Jews and Christians, and Sabians, whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day and do righteous, good deeds shall have their reward with their Lord, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.” (al-Baqarah 2: 62), remember that. No one is asking you to convert to Judaism or Islam, but if you are so grounded in your faith, why would opening a dialogue and communing in prayer be a threat to you? Stop judging and persecuting others, as Jesus urged. Instead, get to know them - you may just be pleasantly surprised.

David said...

I agree Maggie, thanks for posting that. "God" is not a bearded Caucasian man on a golden throne. Rather, a personification of the delicate interconnectedness of our universe that is difficult to describe.
"The way that can be spoken of is not the constant way; the name that can be named is not the constant name. The nameless was the beginning of heaven and earth; the named was the mother of the myriad creatures." I think Lao Tzu sums it up pretty well.