Friday, April 25, 2014

Shooting for historical accuracy. . .

Scholars often debate the role should historical "accuracy" and other scholarly musicological work should have on current performances.  You can purchase, for example, Handel's Messiah using historically accurate instruments and size of choir or Bach's Brandenburg Concerti using historically accurate instruments for the time.  They are interesting but I am not at all sure that musical practice should be to recreate an exact replica of the original setting for such music.  I am no expert on what is or isn't known or what should and should not be considered accurate historical performance.  What is a concern, however, is when we insist upon recreating the true sound of the historical setting as the real or intended sound by the composer.  Who knows what composers of a previous era would do if they had modern instruments and resources available?  Is that truly our concern?

Now let me translate the discussion into the realm of church architecture and liturgy.  Some believe the past represents a pristine model and the goal of the present is to recreate that perfect moment in time when church architecture, church music, and the liturgy of the church were in their apex (perhaps the baroque era?).  I am not one of those.  Although I joke about no good music being composed after the 18th or 19th centuries, the truth is that not all that is contemporary or modern is terrible or inauthentic. 

The goal of good church architecture is that it serves its purpose well -- that is, to serve the purpose of worship and provide for the assembly a space authentic to the liturgy, singing, choral, and instrumental music in support of the liturgy.  Our goal ought not to be the recreation of another building (much as it pains me to say this when I am confronted with such poor church architecture all around me).  We can do no worse than the past but it is not without trying to do better.

The music of the church need not isolate one era or one composer and seek simply to recreate that moment in time.  Church music should do no worse than the best of the past but it can seek to do better.  If this principle is used, what is modern will represent a clear continuity with the past while expressing in fresh ways the church's song, choral music, and service music.

The same goes with the liturgy.  Our goal is not to pick a time when we think the liturgy was most pure and its use most faithful and then recreate that moment.  Our goal is to live in continuity with our past while adding to the liturgy the best we can offer, an organic development and not one of radical disconnect with the legacy of the saints.  Liturgy is meant to evolve slowly and this is a good thing.  The Lutheran reformers were slow to integrate obvious changes and not because they feared leaving behind the lay people or desired to deceive folks about their true agenda.  Their concern was not only pastoral but catholic.  The catholic principle requires that who we are be consistent from age to age and Sunday morning is no place for spontaneity.  That said, neither is Sunday morning the place where we disdain anything new or different simply because it is new or different.  We Lutherans have particularly shown that modern composers and performers can bring to the moment something thoroughly in tune with our history while thoroughly faithful to our gifts for today.  Think of folks like Carl Schalk when I say this.  I could add a few dozen names here but for now think of how Carl Schalk has done a superb job of marrying our past to the contemporary moment and provided the church good hymn tunes, great anthems, and good liturgical music.

We do not shoot for historical accuracy and the recreation of a past moment.  We receive the living heritage of the past and add to it the best of the present and thus the living tradition of the Church's life of faith and worship expands.  If it is worthy, it will endure.  If it is not, the Church will cast it aside.  I have confidence in the endurance of the catholic tradition without feeling the need to recreate a specific moment in time.  The greatest damage done to the Church and the faith is often by those whose seemingly good intention is to find such a moment and break with the received tradition in order to encapsulate that moment rubrically and liturgically.  The liturgical innovation following Vatican II is one such example of the danger of discontinuity but, strangely enough, it was foisted upon the faithful in the name of something more authentic to the early church.  Even more strange is the way Lutheran liturgical innovation has mirrored the post-Vatican II Roman cue.  Slow, plodding, and deliberate liturgical change is always the most faithful, the best for the kingdom, and the most enduring.  The Church should not be captive to pendulum swings of piety.


Cliff said...

Pastor Peters, I really enjoyed reading your balanced, well thought-out explanation of how we should integrate change in the church. Sudden change is never good, as it integrates a moment in time (history) that may not last at all.

We are more "catholic" than we want to admit, but that in itself is not necessarily a bad thing. As you so aptly explained connection with the historic church is absolutely necessary.

Where my beef comes in is that some want to take an era in time, a snapshot of time and make it mandatory for all time such as Bach, a time in history that is long since passed.

Contemporary music, I believe has its place in the church, if done properly and in conjunction with historic catholic tradition. Don't throw out the baby with the wash.
Let’s be reasonable and recognize the work of the Holy Spirit.

Janis Williams said...

As in any era of history, we need to define our terms. What is meant by "contemporary music" for one person is not what it may mean for another. Contemporary is not a style, but 'current.' As well, the "work of the Holy Spirit" should be well defined and understood by all.

I think we should not throw out Bach with the bath water, either. As Fr. Peters says, recapturing what the composer "meant" is not possible. Emotions, tempo, voice, and markings (forte, pianissimo, etc.) are all open to interpretation. If you listen to say, a Beethoven symphony directed by Herbert von Karajan, it will sound very little like one by Leonard Slatkin (both men are dead, but their recordings live on).

I am not against contemporary music if it is excellent. By that I mean is there serious thought put into the composition both of music and words? Is this music fit for use in worship, or better played at home or in the car? I heard today as bump music a version of A Mighty Fortress done in almost heavy metal style, in a minor key. Took me a few minutes to recognize it. I can't say I liked it, but I appreciated the crafting of the score. It was fine as bump music, or outside of the divine service, but never in the Liturgy.

As for the Holy Spirit, He is not inspiring composers today or of the past in the way He inspired the Scriptures. We can speak of a composer as "inspired," but not in the manner of Apostles and writers of Scripture. Music and the Liturgy are tools of the Spirit as He points us to our Lord Jesus Christ. They are not set in stone; what we have or had are creations of men using their gifts to honor Christ in the continuing tradition of the Liturgy.

We must never forget the direction of the flow; the Divine Service is from God to us. It would scare me to death to think I was commissioned to 'adorn' the Church's Liturgy, music, or sanctuary.

Cliff said...

Janis, for the most part you have stated your case well, and I see your point. You are correct in stating that what is the work of the Holy Spirit should be well defined, and scripture bears that out in the 1st book of John, "to test the spirits"

But that is not to negate the work of the Holy Spirit in the Lutheran Church, you must realize that Jesus promised to leave us the His Spirit to guide us. To simply eliminate contemporary or modern music would be doing a disservice to the Holy Spirit and allowing man to have full reign in making decisions, and then of course we would only have the "rules of men".

Let us truly be sincere in our endeavors to be obedient unto God and give Him a chance to direct our church instead of leaving it solely in the hands of men.

Janis Williams said...

@Cliff: Please don't misunderstand me. I have no problem witn contemporary music, even in the Liturgy. As you have said, we must follow St. John's instructions to "test the spirits." Though I think St. John was likely speaking to the spirit of antichrist(s), we should be able to apply a certain testing of the music written and produced for the Church. We must test the music's ability to proclaim the Law and Gospel (it's Theology -sorry for the 'nasty' word); not test the sincerity of a writer's heart/intentions.

And certainly the Spirit is ours to "guide us into all Truth." It was not my intntion to criticize contemporary/modern music, but to suggest we use our minds to analyze, and not our feelings, as some are wont to do.

Thank you for your polite response to my post, as it gives me a chance to hopefully clarify things for you, and what likely confused other readers.

Cliff said...

Janis, I think we are in far more agreement than we both realize!

We both esteem to the cautious side when it comes to change, but none-the-less, we cannot ignore the work of the Holy Spirit, who guides into new ways to present the same "old Gospel", including contemporary or rejuvenated music, what ever we want to call it, but change is something we cannot overlook, especially if claim to believe in the Holy Trinity.

As one matures in life, we do come to appreciate the historic value of the Liturgy and our understanding of it. We cannot throw out the baby with the wash.