1. Roberts. The importance of music in the life of a parish is hard to overestimate. The outcome of integrating a good music program into religious ceremony is obvious to those who have taken part in such ceremony or at least observed a congregation involved in music practice.
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Even for those who do not have immediate first-hand experience of participating in a music-involving service, it is instructive and inspiring to observe one. For this purpose, contacts could be established with the clergy and church musicians who work nearby.
The experience of observing the work of other church musicians is useful not only to novices but also to experienced professionals. Exchanging ideas, working out new solutions, learning new methods, and exploring the process of church music making is important at any stage of professional development (Roberts: 2009, 119). One should only find place and time for engaging into new experience, and this may substantively change one’s own attitude to and involvement in ministry.
Great music ministry in church does not appear at once: rather, it is gradually built up by efforts of many. One of the examples illustrating the process of gradual development and expansion of a music church society can be seen in a parish which at present can boast many choirs and ensembles.
But at the very beginning the situation was very different. An enthusiastic clergyperson was appointed part-time musical director of the parish which had a professional choir of only eight people. His suggestion to hire more singers was refused, and he was dismissed. A new person was hired for the positions of organist and choirmaster, and he also worked as a part-time music teacher at a local school.
Gradually, the church music repertoire expanded, and the position of music director became full-time. The eight professional singers performed together with sixty-five people of amateur choir, and child choirs appeared as well. The performance of those choirs had such a powerful impact on the whole parish that eventually more than two hundred people, young and old alike, participated in various musical activities (Roberts: 2009, 220).
In contrast to the large parish discussed, stories of musical success are also found in small parishes. An example of how music became a vital part in the parish life can be seen in a humble parish that once hired a part-time graduate student as organist and choirmaster. Working much more enthusiastically than it had been initially required, the young musician attracted more and more parishioners to involve in music activities. The congregation enjoyed their new music program so much that as the moment of the student’s graduation drew closer, they were desperate to leave him at their parish at any cost.
It was unbearable to put up with the sense of approaching loss, and the church priest and parishioners united to convince the student accept a full-time job offer at their church. The situation was complicated not only by overall lack of money in the parish but also by absence of a good organ for professional music making. However, once the young man agreed to take the job — although with his talents he could have opted for much more attractive offers — the parish members raised money enough to afford a new organ.
Their spiritual rewards were numerous, since music ministry is the central part of this congregation’s activities (Roberts: 2009, 221). In this story of struggle for having music in their parish, the role of the church leader cannot be overestimated. The clergyperson’s wise approach to choosing priorities and her strong vision helped the parish preserve the unique blessing of music they had in their beautiful and powerful worship of God (Roberts: 2009, 222).
2. Wilson-Dickson. In the era of Romanticism, the attention to historical past of church music was by large a merit of scholars. Dedicated to exploration of Lutheran music heritage, the works of the nineteenth-century musical theorist J.A. Philipp Spitta inspired such German composers as Johannes Brahms and Max Reger to turn to the 16th-17th century genre of unaccompanied motet (Wilson-Dickson: 1992, 228). In addition to motets, Brahms also created Requiem based on self-chosen Biblical texts and meant for a wide religious application beyond the Catholic liturgy only.
Reger’s works are characterized by a peculiar combination of old structures and unprecedented emotionality, which makes this music quite inapplicable for liturgical services. The beginning of 20th century witnessed a growing interest to restoring traditions of Lutheran music. Schools were established for training professional church musicians, and first-class organs were provided for their needs.
In such favorable circumstances many composers engaged in writing for the church: Ernst Pepping, Hugo Distler, Siegfried Reda are only some of them (Wilson-Dickson: 1992, 231). Working in traditional genres of 17th and 18th centuries, they employed the technique of setting words to music so that it would emphasize their significance.
In Britain, 20th century started with setting new standards in congregational hymnody by creating English Hymnal that included music of the highest standards (Wilson-Dickson: 1992, 234). At the same time, Charles Villiers Stanford wrote communion services and anthems of unprecedented beauty.
The peculiarity of the situation was that Stanford did not belong to the religious community and neither did his pupils, Vaughan Williams, John Ireland, and Herbert Howells. But this did not prevent them from composing liturgical music that found response among the congregations.
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In general, the musical practice of Anglican liturgy included a vast variety of genres, and with the increasing amount of compositions the pieces for liturgy were selected according to their compliance with the norms accepted within a certain community. One of the centers promoting Anglican music since 1927 is the Royal School of Church Music that not only publishes music but also conducts specialized courses and festivals (Wilson-Dickson: 1992, 236).
Experimental music for worship is presented in the festival of Contemporary Church Music and by Winchester Cathedral. Exploring a wide specter of Christianity and of performing arts requires certain open-mindedness from the performers of experimental music.
Modern Christianity as “defense against the unknown” favors music that is predictable and represents familiar grounds (Wilson-Dickson: 1992, 240). In 1950s, the Twentieth Century Light Music Group emphasized the significance of the transient popular contemporary music for church liturgy. Two decades later, music of the charismatic movement demonstrated a tendency to reflect the popular art rather than to copy it blindly.
In 1980s, instrumental bands and orchestras made their way back to worship, and hymns of Graham Kendrick adapted a light rock and ballad style. With the introduction of musicals into Christian music, the presentation of faith is carried out in a rather exciting way that engages vast fellowships.
The diversity of 20th century Christian music raises the issue of musical standards, and it becomes vital to define which music is suitable or unsuitable for worship. On the one hand, professional music may be too complicated for average parishioners and turn the service into a concert.
On the other hand, standards of church music should not be lowered to null. In such heterogeneity, the main criteria for defining the quality of music becomes the role of music in worship and the intention behind musical performance. The enthusiasm of the congregation involved in music performance and the positive spiritual commitment characterizing this performance are the key indicators of church music successfulness.
Roberts, William B. (2009). Music and Vital Congregations: A Practical Guide for Clergy. New York: Church Publishing.
Wilson-Dickson, Andrew. (1992). The Story of Christian Music. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.