Posted by: ritagone | December 30, 2015

My Church’s Music Has Re-Connected Me with Classical Music

 

 

Normawww.dallasnews.comlifestylesartscolumnistsscott-cantrell20151210-messiah_002.ecebinaryw940messiah_002-005e30f93c4abf062bf3f63c3a7a24720a14d7b6lly when a person starts off a blog with a title like this, the suspicion is that she/he is old and suffering from intolerance of the current style of worship music which is found in most of our evangelical churches.

Well, I won’t disappoint…in some ways.

I am “over 70,” so I assume that puts me in the “old” category.

But I don’t think I’m intolerant of the current style of worship music at my church and many others. Instead, I think I’m terribly saddened by it. And I’ll tell you why:

Young people sitting in our churches – if they are doing so at all based on current statistics – supposedly are the listeners who prefer loud music, with electric guitars and drums that could send you to the hospital emergency room or at the very least force you to put cotton balls in your ears.  Why are they considered the listeners? Because this is what they have been raised up on, the musical food they have been fed, both in a secular world and, even more sadly, in the church.

The church, ever claiming to be “relevant,” has copied secular music to the point that the great classical composers and a style of music long glorifying God and honoring to Him have been abandoned so that people will not think Christians are outdated. God forbid. (We never, ever want to think of ourselves as outdated. We always want to be thought of as cutting edge, when, in reality, copying always makes us second-rate, especially when it comes to an art form like music.)

As a result, young people – and by “young,” I mean those under 50 now – have no memory or knowledge of the great hymns or, what’s worse to my mind, the classical pieces that stirred the hearts and souls of 17th, 18th, and 19th century believers. (On a recent evening at a performance of Handel’s Messiah – in Sing-along form – looking around the Disney Hall in downtown Los Angeles, I took note of the fact that probably 80% of the audience was over 50 years of age.) To me, this is like saying, “We’re going to do away completely with the King James translation of the Bible and use only the Message version because we must, above everything else, be relevant and contemporary in our language so that no one has to be challenged to understand or have to worry about the soaring use of words and phrases beyond their abilities.

It’s called dumbing down.

And we Christians are quite adept at it.

I believe with all my heart that we have especially dumbed down our music. At any worship service in any contemporary church across America (and elsewhere in other parts of the world, for that matter), you can walk in and know that each song is going to be sung for 5-7 minutes, chorus and verse, and chorus and verse again…and again. You can pretty much be assured that the guy or gal up front is going to perform as if he or she were on stage at the best venue in the country, and someone in the musical ensemble will do some kind of riff with their instrument. If I were a betting woman, I would lay you odds. And most often I would be right. The “worship” part of the church service has come to mean strictly music, with nothing else of a creative nature – congregational readings, even silence – falling under the purview of worship anymore. And when worship = music, it isn’t long before music becomes performance, as I believe it has evolved into. There’s a great quote from the former Pope, Joseph Ratzinger, in his book “Spirit of the Liturgy,” in which he says: “Wherever applause breaks out in the liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of liturgy has totally disappeared and been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment.” Think about that statement for a while!

Now please don’t misinterpret what I’m saying here: I believe there is a place for contemporary music in our churches. But what I find objectionable is that most churches in 2015 have lost or turned their backs on those musicians among us who have the ability, the talent or the desire to offer music of another kind: classical, quiet, contemplative, historically solid.

When I thought all of this through, and I have given it much thought and a lot of prayer over the last year, I realized that I didn’t have the power or the capacity to change the way music or worship is done at my church, and yet I didn’t have a church alternative to go to. Nor did I particularly want to leave my church home of almost 30 years to search for a new community and a new church home.   I just wasn’t up for it, nor did I feel (along with my husband) a definite leading of the Holy Spirit to do so.

So what to do?

I made a decision: rather than complain about the fact that I’m not a big fan of the music in my church, I would find other outlets for my love of classical and more liturgical music. I would attend classical concerts whenever and wherever I found them – and there are quite a few in my community if they are deliberately sought after — sit back and close my eyes and worship the God who gave Bach and Haydn and Handel and so many others the talent they required to write such extraordinary pieces that have stood the test of centuries. At home, I play classical music when I have time to just sit and listen, even occasionally including some opera! (If you haven’t heard Diana Damrau sing the aria “Queen of the Night” from Mozart’s “Magic Flute,” find it somehow (youtube.com has a great recording studio version of it – the one where she’s not in costume — that will blow your mind) and listen to it. It is a religious experience in and of itself, and you will begin to realize what you have been missing by not opening your musical universe to a broader perspective.

Doing this has changed my world. It has enabled me to worship God in a manner that suits my musical tastes so that I can stop complaining about the music at church (most of the time). It has allowed me to find many pieces of a religious nature (i.e., British composer/arranger John Rutter) that I would never have known about otherwise.

So…if you can’t fight ‘em, you still don’t necessarily have to join ‘em. Just find your own way, especially where music is concerned. But DO something rather than just complaining that the music at your church doesn’t suit you. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll discover a whole new world of sound and wonder and worship of God that will stir your heart in ways you were not expecting.

The new year is right around the corner, time for changes, resolutions, new ways of doing old things, and tackling some new things. Might I suggest perhaps that, if you’ve not been exposed to classical music in the past, you might make 2016 the year you do so, not just in the realm of spiritual music but secular also? There are always great lists of “classical music’s greatest hits” and such to get you started. You might surprise yourself and discover a whole new realm of creative art and a new way of glorifying God that you never experienced before.

And, by the way, happy new year! May 2016 be a year that brings peace and joy to a world that desperately needs it and to people seeking such treasures.

 

 

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Responses

  1. Loved it, loved it and totally agree. Wish everyone at church could read this. Does Shawn read your blog? I can’t imagine anyone disagreeing with it. I will forward to Jon and others in my family who will also love what you said. It’s a keeper!!!

    Sue Paulson (Brantingham)

    >

  2. Thank you, Rita, for your thoughts on contemporary church music – well said! My greatest disappointment with much of the church music today: while the classic hymns are centered on God and His Being, much of contemporary church music is focused on “me.” As I sing these sometimes trite diddies, I feel I’m wallowing in the “me-ness” of the song rather than glorifying our Father. Also, I appreciate your alternative to complaining about church music – find another venue for your love of the classics. A wonderful solution to an often contentious topic! You know the old saying….when Satan fell, he landed in the choir loft. Please keep writing, and Happy New Year!

  3. Rita, I totally agree. I appreciate & long to hear the Christian theology in the old hymns. Our solution is to generally show up to church 15-20 minutes late instead of complaining to one another. My negative attitude was hindering the message that God wanted me to hear.

  4. Great post Rita, thanks! I too grow weary of the church’s attitude that if it can just do things really cool and hip and with enough flash, people will knock down it’s doors to come and see. I ran across the following Thomas Aquinas quote a while back. He wrote:

    “We confuse two similar yet different human actions. We see people searching desperately for peace of mind, relief from guilt, meaning and purpose in their lives and loving acceptance. We know ultimately these things can only be found in God. Therefore we conclude that since people are seeking these things they must be seeking God.

    “People do not seek god. They seek after the benefits that only God can give them. The sin of fallen man is this: Man seeks the benefits of God while at the same time fleeing from God Himself. We are, by nature, fugitives.

    It seems Brother Aquinas grappled with the seeker movement some 700+ years ago.

  5. Rita, we’ve been on a similar journey this year. Can so relate to this. For us, it’s not so much the music…although it’s not our first choice. It’s the volume. It is more than loud. We can feel the bass notes pounding on our chests so we know that the sound level is way into the “hearing damage zone.” At some point we became uncomfortable about the fact that we were knowingly damaging already declining hearing. Rich wears ear buds but they don’t help much. We have resorted to Lucy’s choice….we sit in the coffee area on weeks where it’s way too loud for us and go in for the teaching. We feel called to be there. We do marriage mentoring. Jesus calls us out of the culture to be like Him, but then He sends us back into it. Sometimes you have to make adjustments. Not easy. I love classical and hymns too. I have my worship during the week. It’s a good compromise.


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