Hallo again to all.
This week marks the close of major church governance meetings for England, the USA, and New Zealand. We probably ought to report on what happened, since save for the bits about sex and gender and the consequences thereof, nobody else is reporting on them. Oh, there was an article in some North American newspaper asserting that the US Episcopal Church had authorized funeral services for dogs (it hadn't). But by and large these conventions and synods this year have run their course with hardly any notice in the secular world. That world has grown weary of breathless news about church and sex and about church gender roles, and is paying more attention to the London Olympics, civil war in Syria, the presidential race in the USA, and the Higgs Boson.
There are parliamentary manœuvres worthy of William Wilberforce flying about in the Church of England after its synod; if high-stakes legislative procedural skirmishes float your thurible, you can find links to the ongoing drama in our News Centre. And, come to think of it, the Higgs Boson was last week's big news; the Physics news this week is talking about non-Newtonian fluids and Batman's cape.
We're still thinking about hymns and worship music, and for that matter about music in general.
A friend of ours is a professional musician, recording and performing what he calls 'unpopular music', which really means folk music and ballads and ethnic music. He's been eking out a living performing music for decades, and has talked to many thousands of audience members in numerous English-speaking countries. He tells us that the overwhelming majority of paying audiences for unpopular music ask him to perform the music that they grew up with, the music of their childhood, to be transported back to their idyllic and romanticized past. The same is almost certainly true of hymns and other church music: people are drawn to the songs they sang as children and to the anthems they heard as children.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow famously wrote that 'Music is the universal language of mankind'. Perhaps his universe was smaller than he knew. Our friend the unpopular musician tells us that he was invited to play in Sicily once, and found that the audiences had absolutely no interest in anything but Sicilian traditional instrumental tunes; even ten seconds into an English or French or American melody they would lose interest completely.
Another person we know is an Iraqi who did postgraduate studies in Britain and never quite got around to returning home. He tells us that Sunni and Shi'ite music is so different that each group has its own musical traditions, its own melodies, and when they haven't been bombed, their own radio stations. He tells us that the popular and devotional songs of a Sunni childhood in urban Iraq were completely different from the songs of a Shi'ite childhood and that anyone who grew up in a mixed Sunni/Shi'ite culture can tell instantly upon hearing local music the tradition to which it belongs.
So perhaps our 2012 Survey of Favourite hymns was as much a survey of our readers' cultural backgrounds and childhood church experiences as it was a survey of music per se. Whatever it was surveying, we so enjoyed getting your votes and reading your various comments. We were at first disappointed in the lack of consensus after the top ten, until we came to understand what we've just written, that the greater breadth of the voting mirrors the greater breadth of our readership since we did our first hymn survey 9 years ago.
We think that we ourselves might prefer the one hymn on a desert island to be Be Thou my Vision performed in Old Irish, Bí Thusa 'mo Shúile, sung for us by former Clannad singer Máire Brennan. But as soon as she was done singing, we would of course want to hear something else. Probably sung by a full choir. Hmm. Did we vote in our own survey? And aren't we crossing the boundary between hymns and popular music? To both questions, we answer 'Of course. Why not?'
See you next week. Still singing, of course.
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