Read here the op-ed piece from Jack Marx about The Terrible Music of God. Terrible as in bloomin’ awful, and maybe also evoking the ability of music to elicit thoughts of the awe-someness of God.
I freely admit to LOVING traditional church music. I attend an Anglican church – have done so for many years. At some point I was going to a Presbyterian church which had solid music, a much-loved and used church organ (two manuals, 2.5 octaves for the pedals, a decent selection of stops and pretty good acoustics). Now I happily attend a church that calls the communion service a mass, that celebrates the beauty of music and gives it up as an offering of worship to God, and my daughter and I really enjoy it. We sing (well, I sing more than she does – she can’t read so there’s a problem with hymn words), DD doesn’t cry during the music and she has a feeling of ritual as well.
Why would I mention this? After all, didn’t I spend time in Baptist churches, and didn’t I teach at a pentecostal school? Well, Baptist music has changed a huge amount over the past 25 years. What’s sung in what was my grandmother’s local church bears absolutely no resemblance to what I knew when I attended it, and when my nanna would go there. The organ is in mothballs. The choir stalls are never used. I’m surprised they’ve kept the baptistry. After all, wouldn’t that be a way cool place to put the drum kit? As for the pentecostal school, the less said about their music the better. I will keep to one comment: if the chorus wasn’t good the first time you sang it, it definitely won’t improve after you sing it for 6 or 7 times.
DD and I attended a church that had a lovely congregation. Welcoming, interested in the Word of God probably more so than the sacrament of communion, keen on outreach through their much-appreciated and -supported charity shop and lunches. But the music made DD cry. I’m not being facetious here like “Your music makes baby Jesus cry”. I really mean that DD would start to sob, tears would run down her cheeks, she’d bury her face in my jacket and say “I wanna go!”
I tried so hard to work out what was going on there. She didn’t seem to do that with old hymns which was a relief. Graham Kendricks’ music made her bawl. Anything with the ‘twisting of the heart-strings’ chord progressions a la much Hillsong made her sob. Things that were out of tune made her cry. The list was getting longer.
That’s when we moved church. The sobbing child has been replaced by one that is happy, cheeky, and sometimes wriggly. i.e. a normal four year old child. She cheerfully goes to Sunday School. And maybe, just maybe, her angst about singing will reduce enough to allow her mum to be in the church choir next year.
And to show that I’m not a total curmudgeon about modern music, here is a link to The Gaelic Blessing by John Rutter. If you go here you’ll find more MP3s of Australian choirs conducted by Michael Griffin, including modern compositions.