Sunday, June 28, 2020

The future of liturgical music. . .

Liturgical music is not performance music but music in service to the Word, literally in service to the Divine Service.  It had and has a supporting role that is not at all insignificant but a solemn reminder that this music is not for entertainment defined by preference but for the glory of God and for the extension of His work.

Liturgical music is under fire like never before.  First of all are the numbers of once stalwart liturgical churches experimenting with or choosing contemporary Christian music (so-called worship and praise music) over hymn, chant, choir, organ, etc...  The reason organists are in short supply has less to do with the organists than it does the prospect of gainful employment.  Second is the fact that music has been unhitched from its role as servant of the Word and become its own thing.  The liturgical musician is less likely to think of himself or the congregation to think of his or her role apart from the Divine Service.  Other music used in worship is just the opposite.  It has a life outside of church and is used in worship as a secondary place for music that is already marketable and self-supporting due to the CCM play lists so popular among evangelicals.  On top of that technology seems to render parish musicians obsolete with promises of digital music without need for a person or his or her talent.   Finally there is the slow decline in congregations who think they can afford an organist or who have the people resources for even a small choir.  Liturgical music has been hit hard even before the corona virus but it is now far worse.

How many churches have been closed since mid-March and how many of them have continued to support their parish musicians?  If you can only have 10 people in a worship service, why would you give up one precious slot for a parish musician?  The pot has been stirred about whether or not singing is a real means of transmission and you have raised questions about the very purpose of having a parish musician.  Add to that the uncertainty about the future of churches post-COVID 19 and you see the challenges that face liturgical music and liturgical musicians.

Not long ago I took to task an Anglican turned Roman Catholic who seemed to be positively giddy about the prospect of robust congregational singing disappearing.  In part it is because the Latin Mass has no place for congregational song and hymn and the Novus Ordo tolerates it but it is in part because he mistakenly believes that hymns (and bad ones at that) are the glue holding liberal Protestantism together.  He is wrong.  The good and faithful hymns of the past and some of those in the present are the only orthodoxy left in some of these churches.  The hymnody of the church has been a very faithful means of keeping even a remnant of the real Gospel alive in churches that have sold out to culture, sentiment, and individual truth.

Now is the time we need our liturgical musicians and the music they provide more than ever.  We need the hymns of hope and comfort to a people still living in fear and uncertainty about this pandemic.  We need the hymns of orthodox confession to sing into us the faith of our fathers born of Scripture.  We need the hymns of praise to rally our voices when around us the world seems to be falling apart.  We need the certain sound of trumpet and cantor to capture our attention and focus it back upon the Word and promises of God.

I appeal to you not to consider your parish musician and liturgical music a non-essential.  It is not – at least for Lutherans!  When we have to forego music and singing it is a great sacrifice and it should not be left from our Sunday mornings for long. I for one am most grateful that our parish musicians have been with us through our long journey to keep the doors open.  We carefully chose hymns that would echo the comfort of God’s Word into the hearts and words of God’s people (Abide with Me, The King of Love, I Know that My Redeemer Lives, etc...).  Small ensembles sang to us Mendelssohn and Tallis.  Solo voices sang Mozart, Dvorak, and Handel.  I am grateful for their willingness to work through the fear, panic, and uncertainty to help the Church be the Church – at a time when many were saying shut down is the only option.  They deserve not only our respect but a decent wage for their work to God’s glory is of profound benefit to both sides of the altar rail!  God bless you – liturgical musicians – and your cause – liturgical music in service to the Word! 

No comments: