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Hallo again to all.

This morning our processional hymn was 'God of the prophets' (text by Wortman, usually sung to Toulon), which we don't find memorable but do enjoy singing. When the processional hymn matches the ambient feeling of the congregation and the melody is joyous, it's fun to get ready for Divine Worship by singing fervently.

William Bright, 19th-century hymnodistSomewhere around the third verse, a woman seated nearby and behind us said (presumably in what she thought was an adequately quiet whisper) 'Doesn't this hymn just make you want to get up and leave and never come back?' We were momentarily outraged, but then quickly remembered the time a few months back when we caught ourselves desperately searching for a rock or a bottle to throw at the organist because he was accompanying 'Alleluia! sing to Jesus' with Wesley's Alleluia, and not with Hyfrydol, as God surely intended.

Music binds. Each generation finds its own iconic popular music, specific to its times and culture (and usually detested by its parents) that in time moves to oldies radio and then earns its musicians an audience in Blackpool. In the middle of the previous century, people worldwide felt a bond with one another and a distance from their parents when they listened to Elvis Presley sing 'Hound Dog' or 'Love Me Tender'. Teenagers and young adults wear clothing emblazoned with symbols of their favourite musical groups to help establish their identity. Until the merciful invention of the Sony Walkman in 1979, street toughs in larger cities carried big radios defiantly blasting the music of their peer group; it was a badge of identity. Now they just glare at you with iPod cords dangling from their ears as they move to the beat of music that only they can hear.

Centuries ago, when sound could neither be recorded nor broadcast, church music formed a huge part of what people grew up with and lived with. So of course it bound them; it was part of their lives and the lives of everyone they had ever met. We find it instructive to think about the difference between a church service of that bygone era, in which everyone knew the music, probably could sing Bono, 21st-century hymnodistit, and maybe even enjoyed it, and a church service today in which most of the congregation probably doesn't know the music and doesn't much want to. The concept of a nineteen-year-old putting hymn tunes on an MP3 player is alien to the community in which our church sits. We're sure there are places in the Anglican world where the indigenous culture supports Friday night parties with dancing to 'Ancient of Days, who sittest throned in glory', but we don't live in one.

Some churches have tried to deal with this issue by setting services to popular music with popular instruments. Folk Mass, Rave Mass, Jesus Jam, or whatever one calls it, we've not seen any long-term success at adapting traditional liturgy to popular music. Some denominations write their own popular music and are big enough to make it profitable to musicians. Other denominations seem not to worry about uniform or traditional liturgy, trusting that filling one church with loud music and churchlike words is enough. For better or for worse, part of what it means to be Anglican is the musical settings of our liturgy, using non-popular music.

We don't have any answers to this problem; we're just thinking about it. Technology has increased the reach of music for global peer-bonding whilst simultaneously decreasing its ability to bind us Anglicans together. Two generations from now, church organs will probably be too dear for all but the wealthiest parishes. Imagine a future Anglicans Online letter for 25 September 2065 lamenting the loss of electric guitars in worship? The person who will write it hasn't been born yet.

See you next week.

Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid

Last updated: 25 September 2005


A thin blue line
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