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Hallo again to all.

Once again it is the first Sunday of Advent. The first day of the liturgical year, the day we begin anticipating the birth of Jesus, the day we begin again reflecting on the Four Last Things*. Much about Advent 2017 feels new; much feels the same as ever, and much feels the same as it did last year. We anticipate the birth of Christ while reflecting on the reasons why we need Christ as Saviour. Let the secular world be festive, cheerful, full of Christmas carols played on loudspeakers, and on sale. We shall reflect and brood.

The Anglican recognition of Advent is an unusual mixture of new and old, of birth and death and rebirth. We simultaneously await the birth of the infant Jesus, the coming again in glory that we talk about in reciting the Nicene creed, and the death and dying that separates them.

Psalm XCVI
From the 1610 BCP with Geneva Bible
Today we attended church in a parish that has an aggressive focus on new music. A bog-standard Anglican church service usually has old music. The music we remember. The music that we grew up with. A typical worship service in today's diocese has 3 or 4 or 5 hymns, all chosen from a hymnal. Typically there are anthems and other service music performed by the choir or soloists while something else is happening. Usually there is a prelude played before the ringing of the bell, and a postlude played after the dismissal. And typically these are all written by long-dead composers whose names we recognise.

But every beloved old hymn was once new; every instrumental prelude and postlude had a first public performance. Every plainsong chant was once written by a composer and tried for the first time on some congregation somewhere. How does a newly-written hymn become old music except by starting as new music in edgy parishes? Today's service had one hymn from the hymnal; all of the other music had been composed in the last decade or so by people whose names we couldn't find in Wikipedia.

Some time ago we accepted an invitation from dear friends to accompany them to a popular music concert, in a nearby city, that was part of a 'comeback tour' of a pop group that was no longer fashionable. At the concert we learned that although the group's popularity had declined, their musical skills and performing ability had not. It was spectacular. Their voices had improved, their instrumental skills had improved, and they had added some very talented backup musicians to enrich the sound. But every song they played was one we had heard before. You could almost say that they were performing covers of their own repertoire. This pop group had released some new music in previous years, but we confess that (like most people) we didn't buy it and hadn't heard it. In our minds, as in the minds of most of the audience at that comeback concert, the identity of the pop group was defined by their smash hits from previous decades. They concluded that people don't want new music, but we note that without new music there can never be old music.

After the concert we attended, a newspaper published an interview with the performers. Despite the superior and well-received performance, the musicians were discouraged and said they were losing interest in touring, because all that audiences wanted was them revisiting the past. 'Of course, we can always use the money' said one, but they paid a price in dignity and satisfaction to get that ticket money.

Most music in most Anglican churches is written by people who are long dead, so they can't (like that aging pop group) get discouraged by relentless focus on the past, and they don't need the money. When a parish makes new music be part of its worship, sometimes that music is delightful and sometimes it is terrible. After today's I Advent service, an old liturgy punctuated by new music, we left feeling that the new music had enriched us even though we hated some of it.

See you next week.

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All of us at Anglicans Online

3 December 2017

*Death, judgment, hell, and heaven.

A thin blue line
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