I was reading a piece that suggested that the world changed when music ceased to be live and was experienced mostly through recordings. I had not really thought about it like that. The author questioned why with so many more people in the world there seemed to be fewer child prodigies. He suggests that the fact that most music is no longer experienced live but through recordings has changed more than we can know. Not being an expert in the field, I would not venture to suggest why. I only know that it has changed and there is no way to turn the clock back.
But at least within the domain of the Church, I am prepared to comment. For too long we have paid lip service to Luther's grand statement that music is the servant of the Word and then treated the music of the Divine Service as if it were something even less than a soundtrack to the words. We have boxed up CDs of music to be used within the Divine Service, arranged according to taste and preference. We have organ for those who like it and contemporary Christian songs and sounds for those who like it. Not to mention spoken masses for those who don't care to sing or are not moved by music (at least they claim not to be). We spend our money on audio equipment to play what we want and how we want it rather than spending our money on instruments and people who can play them. We no longer believe in live music -- in real organs and organists. Maybe the pop songs that masquerade as worship music like live music and praise bands but they also like synthesizers and mixers to change what it sounds like so that it sounds like what they want -- even if playing or singing it did not achieve that goal.
Why not, people ask. Why can't we have recorded music at worship? Interesting that the same question comes from folks who either cannot or will not pay for real musicians playing real organs as well as folks who just want Sunday morning to sound like their playlist. The point that both sides have in common is that music is merely a tool and why would purists presume to tell us what tool to use. I am not really sure either side wants to sing. Some want to be entertained by song and some want the illusion of a cathedral but not the bill for it. So both come together around the audio system that delivers both.
It is the same idea that gave birth to online worship which is the perfect substitute for in person services or virtual communions that replace the need for the assembly. Technology is not our answer. It will not rescue us. The Church must awaken to this and be prepared to provide the instruments worthy of worship and those to play them. The Divine Service is a living thing. The living Word and the Bread of Life are its center, the font and source of life that death cannot overcome. The focus is not on us or what we do but upon Christ who bestows His Spirit, delivers His gifts, forgives our sins, and transforms us from the dead into the living who can never die. Ours is but the response of faith and praise but that it is but a response does not diminish it in any way. Rather, it does just the opposite. It ennobles our words and song. But pressing play on a piece of technology is not the same as the offering of voices in song, hands and feet moved by the skills and talents of a musician, and the sacrifice of time, energy, and money to make it happen.
We will have learned a terrible lesson from this pandemic if we have learned that virtual worship is the same as being there, if we have learned that there is no difference between canned music and live, and if we have turned the Divine Service into something cheap and easy. God knows the difference between live and Memorex even if we do not.