Monday, 8 July 2013

Christian music - does it make a difference whether it is performed by believers?


I suspect it does.

I find myself more confused than moved by many performances of great, sacred Christian music - such as recordings and prestigious concerts - and perhaps this is a consequence of the music being performed by people who were not Christian, and the performance prepared and conducted in a setting and with a purpose that is not Christian...


Indeed, the manner in which a performance is done - the nature of making and selling a recording, the nature of rehearsing and performing in public - is often so powerfully anti-Christian that it seems to be able to overcome the fact of even sincere Christian beliefs on the part of the performers.


Given all this, and the fact that (a problem in the opposite direction to that described above) incompetent performance is also distracting, it is unsurprising how seldom sacred music seems to be effective in its primary purpose.

The fact is only disguised by our cultural tendency to mistake aesthetic feelings for religious 'uplift' - certainly, that was a mistake I made for several decades when (as an outsider to Christianity) I thought that sublime church music was also highly religious music.


This is, of course, the situation in the English choral tradition nowadays - where the secularization and corruption of the Church of England means that the norm at cathedrals and famous colleges at Oxford and Cambridge is aesthetically superb performances in glorious architectural settings - by unbelievers and Leftists who are actively subverting and destroying Christianity.

In such a context, the normal context; it is a case of the 'better' the performance, the worse it is religiously.


When a singer does not believe what they sing or a conductor the performance they prepare, it is a situation analogous to a preaching pastor being replaced by an actor.

The actor would probably be a better speaker than the pastor - more audible, more dramatic, more enjoyable... but the actor is just speaking his lines, and we know it.

At the end of that line of development we have a 'church' in which the most prestigious religious institutional manifestations are neither pastors nor priests nor saints nor anything primarily Christian; but singers and actors and academics and propagandists and diligent bureaucrats and so on.

And this is what we find.


Note: These thoughts came to me while watching a performance of Saint Nicolas by Benjamin Britten and reflecting that (even if I liked the music, which I didn't) it would be strange if I had been moved religiously when listening to the work of a subversive anti-Christian Leftist sexual revolutionary - especially in the original performance led by Britten's close friend and personal companion, Peter Pears - but that the Christian institutions which commissioned so many pseudo-Christian works and performances from Britten in the post-war era (when he and Pears had returned from sheltering in the USA) apparently did not think it odd. Even if I agreed that Britten was a major composer, I would find this odd - and revealing of the priorities of those involved


ajb said...

"incompetent performance is also distracting"

Since I find the music in church very important, I am in a sense continually amazed by how bad the music is in many (most) Catholic churches.

It is like a kind of body language - what they're really 'saying' is reflected in things like the effort and quality of the music. They're effectively saying "This church thing isn't that important."

Or so it seems to me - I would rather complete silence in some cases.

Josiah said...

Dr. Charlton or your readers,

Do you ever go to Mystery Plays, such as the York or Chester cycles? Do you have any opinion on these?

Bruce Charlton said...

@J - No, I've never seen one.

Did you know that 'mystery' in this context means craft or guild? i.e. These plays were performed by the various medieval city guilds.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ajb - I find it very difficult for churches to get the music right - in fact I don't think they do, as a rule.

I too would prefer to do without music, as a rule - so long as the BCP/ AV was being used.

The Continental Op said...

Many American churches are afflicted with simplistic, repetitive, mawkish music, and people just gobble it down hungrily. I believe it is a lost cause.

You almost have to look to the unbelievers for a memory of the good old music.

The Continental Op said...

In other words, a poorly made steak--a fine cut, though--is still better than the best Big Mac.

Unknown said...

Here is something that is not very artful and only has one dynamic, loud.

Yet I find it very moving and it is clear the Holy Spirit is with these singers.