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Hallo again to all.

Back in the dawn of the digital typography era, we were employed in the graphic arts industry. Our firm was engaged by a well-known global cosmetics corporation to produce its annual report using these new digital techniques that were referred to as 'cold type'. The cosmetics corporation's strategists had decided that its brand image would be bolstered by being known for embracing this cutting-edge technology. We spent several weeks in residence in that company's executive offices learning about the project and their desires for it, devising and implementing a visual design they liked well enough that they used it three years in a row. In the cosmetics business, three years is nearly forever, so we felt quite successful.

The 'Pont Neuf', or 'New Bridge', in Paris. It was completed in 1610.
During our time in their executive offices and lunching in the executive cafeteria, we got to know upper management. We learned much trivia about the cosmetics industry, none of which was suitable for use in their annual report but was interesting nonetheless. One of the most startling revelations was that this company had not made a new colour of lipstick since 1955. Each year, they came up with new names for some of their colours, but the formulas never changed. Its management realised that to have a reputation for being current and stylish, the public needed to believe that they were innovating, but actual innovation was not important. They produced the illusion of modernity without needing to effect substantive change.*

Some time ago we attended church in a parish whose rector, music director, and wardens are all under 30, and at coffee hour a choir member mentioned in passing that they were delighted to discover that they were in agreement about many aspects of the worship and liturgy and thus could 'try new things'. Last week we returned there, and were amused and delighted at what they had done as 'new things'. Every moment of the worship service was in line with the choices in that country's prayer books. The settings for chant were different without being radical. At the places in the prayer book that offered alternatives, a different alternative was used than had been the custom. The hymns chosen were unfamiliar to us, and presumably therefore unfamiliar to the parishioners. And most delightful of all, the worship booklet specified a different tune for the doxology than the bedrock Old Hundredth. The words of the doxology can be sung to any tune with the correct meter, and the use of Tallis' Canon was to us delightful. It was new without being new, secretly old while superficially new. Never mind that it was composed in about 1560; in this context it is new.

The search for the new is a vital part of staying current. In fashion it is more important to keep up with new trends than it is in liturgy, but in both cases one can be new without being new. In French there are two words meaning 'new'. Something is nouveau if it is different from what it had been. Something is neuf if it has not previously existed. In liturgy, as in fashion, it is progressive to be nouveau but jarring to be neuf.

See you again next week!

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12 March 2017

*The cosmetics brand Urban Decay created a sensation in the late 20th century with shocking names for shocking colours no one had dared use before. Today they offer colours with names like 'snakebite' and 'booty call' and 'smog', which are just right for the people who look good wearing them.

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