10/24/2004

Hymns Ancient and Ancienter

Our contemporary band provided the music for the main service this morning. We do it about once every six weeks or so, on no particular schedule. It's a huge amount of fun, although fun isn't exactly the word. It's partly the privilege of leading the worship service for a couple of hundred people, part creativity of picking out songs, part teamwork pulling together ten people or so to create music and part tension of wanting to get it "right".

In the weeks in between I find myself increasingly frustrated by the music most of the time when it's mostly organ and choir. That's OK some of the time, but the musical choices are very limited. Flipping through the 1980 Hymnal (Episcopal) there are very few dates of authorship beyond 1900. The vast majority of the words and music come from the 19th century with a fair amount before that and precious little after. For every great hymn (Immortal, Invisible; Love Divine) there are twenty nobody has ever heard of and can't sing. Also, take out Ralph Vaughan Williams and you've taken out more than half the great melodies. Then take out all the German melodies and there's nothing left.

How did we get into this position? Did God quit inspiring musicians when Queen Victoria died? It's a good thing he didn't stop inspiring engineers or we would never have had cars and airplanes. In fact that's a good way to think about it - church music is basically Amish.

For our contemporary music we mostly draw from the evangelical CCM industry which brings its own problems. The theology is quite different from that of the Episcopal church, so we eliminate some songs on those grounds. Then there's quite a lot that's just crap, too, so that's another whole chunk (probably the biggest one actually). Even the good stuff is mostly "I" material - there are very few good corporate "we" songs. Still, with a careful blend of the best of those, some excellent (but obscure) Episcopal songs and a few home grown songs we get by.

Oh well, today totally rocked. Our mandolin virtuoso was on fire, and that makes a whole lot of things better.

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