Blogging “Blue”: Music

This is a eleventh in a series of posts on the “Blue” Book for General Convention 2012. Previously, I blogged about Lifelong Christian Formation and Education. Next up is Same-sex Blessings (SCLM). Please see my index of General Convention 2012 resolutions, with a summary of the 7WD position on them.

Because the reports and resolutions from the Standing Committee for Liturgy and Music are so lengthy and complex, I’m breaking this one into a set of posts on particular topics. Today we’ll deal with music. Next up is same-sex blessings, but it might be a day or two, because of family activities.

Before we look at the one resolution on music, we should take note of the report on the hymnal revision study. Last General Convention charged a group to figure out if it’s time for a new hymnal. The short answer is “no.” While clergy and church musicians narrowly favor it, lay members oppose it 2-1.

It is worth reading the whole report (60+ pages!). Lots of good info, but I was especially struck by the fact that young adults do not want a new hymnal. This flies counter to what we sometimes hear (from older people) about what young people want. Robert Hendrickson has covered this thoroughly. You should go read his blog post right now. And also subscribe to his awesome blog while you are there.

He helped me spot this quote, from a 22 year-old, in the report.

I think there is a huge assumption made that the younger generation wants guitar- and piano-based praise and worship music. …What we want to hear in a Sunday Eucharist are the classic hymns played on organ. And occasionally we want to chant. Church is the one place where our musical taste is not based upon fad, but instead links us with a much more important, more elegant tradition. If I wanted to listen to acoustic guitar and piano, I’d pick up Dave Matthews or Ben Folds. If I wanted rap, I’d listen to Lil Wayne. …For worship, I want music that connects to me a world outside of the in and out of my daily life.

Put that in your praise band pipe and smoke it.

This could be a longer post/rant, but I’ll move on because there’s still A LOT of “Blue” Book to cover. Here’s the one resolution on music.

A048: Form Congregational Song Task Force. Likely vote: YES.
If adopted, establishes a task force to make resources available to congregations to help them sing better, and does some leadership development (I think). As with some of the other resolutions, I have questions about whether a church commission is the best place for this work to take place. Association of Anglican Musicians, perhaps? I think projects should be done at the churchwide level only if that is the best/only choice. As for the “World Music Project,” my experience as a church musician suggests that people who want to use world music can find plenty of resources right now; we don’t need an Episcopal version of global music. That said, I’m inclined to give folks the benefit of the doubt. There’s no expense listed here, which means they’ll be doing this work mostly by Skype, etc. So I’m all for supporting passionate people in doing their thing. Hope something good comes out of it! Certainly, congregational singing in the Episcopal Church can only get better, and we’ll make that change through some experimentation and trial, both in terms of content and process. While there is plenty to suggest our musical diet should be based mostly on traditional Anglican music, there is plenty of room for other things, by varying degree depending on your congregation and context. So, world music? Bring it on — in the right place, at the right time.

My hope is that folks will have paid attention to the survey. Most people who sit in most pews are content with hymns from the hymnal. Let’s listen to that chorus.

Photo from Wikipedia. It’s the Rosales organ at Trinity Cathedral, Portland, OR.

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15 Responses

  1. David Harvin says:

    The fact is there are some obscure and unsingable hymns in the hymnal. There are also some renewal songs that are incredibly inspiratIonal and uplifting. Whether that calls for a revision of the hymnal, I don’t know. But I would not praise uncritically the hymn book and dismiss the genre of renewal music.

  2. Scott Gunn says:

    Hi David,

    Thanks for commenting! I don’t think I dismissed any genre of music. Sorry if I gave you that impression.

    The fact is that brilliant music and lousy music are written in genre imaginable genre. In looking at older music, we have the advantage that most of the garbage has been discarded. Choosing contemporary music takes more work, because more sifting is required. When I was responsible for choosing music (as a parish musician), we did a bit of everything we had the resources to do. But our center was traditional hymnody. I think for most congregations that makes sense.

    Oh, and I won’t praise uncritically the hymnal either. There are some clinkers. Though I suppose clinkers are in the ear of the beholder.


  3. Ed Scully says:

    I have to agree with David. There are some obscure and unsingable hymns in the hymnal. Some hymns are set to poor music. One example, and I’m not trying to be uncharitable, but why the Hymnal has the setting “Point Loma” for “Morning Has Broken” is beyond me. It is much more singable to the tune Bunnessan, popularized by Cat Stevens.

    We also need some newer Eucharistic Service Music.

  4. Elizabeth Anderson says:

    As one of those young adults who filled out the survey with many passionate opinions about how we should NOT revise the hymnnal right now, I want to clarify that for me this was not the result of any deep devotion to the 1982 hymnal. There is some really great stuff there. There are also some things that are not great. There are often times when I frankly prefer the 1940 hymnal! (And also times when I like Lift Every Voice.) But my fear (echoed by many of my friends) is that a hymnal revision done by the current generation of leaders in the church would take us in precisely the opposite direction of where we want to go! Those of us who love more traditional liturgy often feel that the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music doesn’t really speak for us. Maybe that’s natural, since they tend to be charged with creating new liturgies rather than with conserving old ones, and that is a gift in its own right. But most of what I see coming out of that committee is more attractive to my parents’ generation than it is to me. (That’s not all bad. I think the church should have things to offer to every generation, not just my own, and to those of whatever generation who just have different musical tastes!) Anyway, the 1982 hymnal is not perfect or timeless, and there will *definitly* come a time to revise it. But I don’t think that time has yet arrived…It also seems to me that there are enough options already out there for congregations to find hymns that suit their needs, even if that means drawing from a bunch of sources and printing the hymns in the bulletin rather than having half a dozen books in the pews…

  5. Steve Pankey says:

    I can’t help but wonder if those apt to respond to the survey would be predisposed to “Church” music. As to your final point, those in the pews are content, which is fine, but what about those who aren’t making their way through our big red doors on Sunday? Are they served by difficult to sing hymnody and awkward chant?

  6. Melody says:

    To all that Elizabeth Anderson said, (especially “Those of us who love more traditional liturgy often feel that the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music doesn’t really speak for us.”) I would just like to say “Amen.”

    The 1982 Hymnal has its flaws, as every hymnal or collection of music does (who hasn’t listened to an album and thought it was amazing– except one song or two). And it will need to be revised. By that time has not yet come, for many of the reasons that Elizabeth said.

    Also, the Episcopal Church is very broad in the allowances made for the kind of music that can be used in worship. The Hymnal 1982 is by no means our only choice. It would be nice to have some educational resources for those who don’t have I’d like to see better collections of music that are non-hymnal (with Taize, some modern hymnody and even some decent Praise and Worship music, for those so inclined).Perhaps the Congregational Song Task Force could be of help with this (although I share the question, Scott, of whether it needs to be formed by GC).

  7. Diana R. says:

    I don’t understand the need for this resolution when LPM (Leadership Program for Musicians– has existed for years as a ministry of the Episcopal and Lutheran Churches. Why do we spend institutional energy getting groups together when the resources already exist if we would just use them?

  8. Beth says:

    Diana is absolutely right. We need to take advantage of the richness at our fingertips. Music connects us across generations and cultures. It has been termed a universal language. And if I remember correctly our Canons specifically speak to the need to use music in worship. What is unsingable to one, may be a breeze to another. We are diverse; our present music resources reflect that. But we need to pay attention as we plan worship so that our music is woven intelligently into our liturgy and enhances the message of any particular Sunday.

  9. Thomas Williams says:

    I don’t understand the comment above about “Morning Has Broken.” We *do* have it to Bunessan. It’s Hymn 8. Point Loma, which is used for Hymn 294, “Baptized in water,” isn’t even the same meter.

    I also wonder about a lot of comments I’ve seen, here and in various other places, about “unsingable” hymns, or hymns that are “really choral anthems.” Congregations differ in musical ability. Why shouldn’t there be hymns that some congregations can sing, even if not all of them can? I’ve sung St Helena (469) — one of those allegedly unsingable hymns — in congregations that did it beautifully; and I’ve been in other congregations where they’d never dream of trying it. Isn’t that OK?

    None of this, of course, should be construed as any kind of defense of “Look there! the Christ, our Brother, comes,” to either tune. Even I have my limits.

  10. I agree with the 22 year old but don’t like how that quotation is being route there or at The Curate’s Desk because it speaks for “we”. Perhaps the people with whom that person is associate are totally on board with him/her, but I’m not totally where s/he is. I don’t want to hear anything played on the organ; I want to hear people sing and not played over by an instrument.

    I don’t want guitars, but I certainly enjoy a piano in worship because in my experience it’s less likely to drown the people out. While there is much about the hymnal that I appreciate there are also some newer texts and tunes that I love, too. I wish there were wider use of the plainsong tones if they were taught and learned, but I don’t want poorly performed congregational Anglican chant.

    This twenty-two year old is delightfully opinionated and has much to say to which the Church should listen. However, I don’t want him/her speaking on my behalf. I want hymns, but I also don’t object to music in today’s contemporary forms (the way that so many of the “old hymns” were constructed in music comparable to their day). Instead of objecting to actual contemporary things I object to music that is thirty years old and still trying to pass itself off as “contemporary.” It’s stuff that my mom likes, and that’s fine…but it’s stuff that feels familiar musically to her. I feel as though this quote risks calcifying our musical tradition and not picking up on styles that are ever evolving the way the Church must be ever-evolving in its engagement with culture.

  11. Anne Rudig says:

    Yep. Over and over again in our newcomer research we heard young people (19-27) say “I want to touch an ancient tradition, and ask a lot of questions.”

  12. Chris Arnold says:

    Steven Pankey wrote “As to your final point, those in the pews are content, which is fine, but what about those who aren’t making their way through our big red doors on Sunday? Are they served by difficult to sing hymnody and awkward chant?”

    Well, they may or they may not be. If the community sings well, then the newcomer may well be attracted to the beauty of the music, much the same way that newcomers are often attracted to the richness of all of our liturgy. I often write a note of encouragement to newcomers mentioning that our liturgy (and our music) may seem different and unfamiliar, so please feel free to sit back and relax! The journey into our Christian life doesn’t have to be completed in an hour (and actually I think it would be unsatisfying if is were).

  13. I am torn about this topic. First, I would note that we are not speaking of 100% of any one demographic. We tend to want to reinforce our own biases and predilections. So it is not surprising that The Curate’s Desk seized on the words of a 22 year-old opposing hymnal revision. I would imagine that some Millennials recognize themselves in that statement, but I suspect that is a self-selecting group. (I’m a Gen Xer myself, so don’t mind me.) On the other hand, at the moment it is true that the survey shows that we don’t *the hymnal* revised. But as someone who participated in a focus group regarding this topic and also filled out the survey, I don’t think the story ends there. It is good to have traditional hymnody. I don’t think anyone wants to see that go away.

    I also think we have gotten a lot right in WLP and LEVAS (and to a lesser extent in Voices Found). Indeed, I was raised a Methodist so find much of LEVAS that speaks to my Wesleyan roots. It’s not a hymnal just for African-Americans, though often treated as such. And I love that my home parish of All Souls (Berkeley, CA) has a bluegrass praise band. It works for our context (the West Coast HQ for the traditional Americana revival) and is one of the reasons I worship there. And yes, Millennials go there and sing in said band.

    So this is a long way of saying that while there is not a hue and cry to replace the 1982 Hymnal, let’s keep finding ways to expand our repertoire and hold a broad space for music to serve our mission of worshiping God and proclaiming the Gospel.

  14. John Repulski says:

    As the secretary to the SCLM and directly involved in all the resolutions presented in this Blue Book, I think all of us on the Commission are proud of the work we have been able to accomplish this triennium. With the enormous amount of resolutions we were assigned by the last GC, we did our absolute best to achieve as much as possible, without trying to spread ourselves too thin. I challenge anyone to do better.

    Having said that, I enjoy reading this blog (and others) and seeing everyone’s posts. If anyone has any questions about our process or rationale, I would be glad to try to answer them personally. Since the content is enormous, it’s too daunting to try to respond to everything here, as tempting as it is. But in any case, I do want to re-assure everyone that the work of the SCLM is truly an effort to serve the interests of the church (in it’s every growing diversity) and to follow through with those resolutions that have been passed down to us from General Convention. Contrary to what some people may think, we don’t much authority (or time) to take on any endeavor or project without specific direction to do so by GC.

    On behalf of my colleagues and fellow SCLM members, thank you for your interest in our work, your prayers, support and patience as we continue to strive to do our best work for the benefit of our faith, congregations and, hopefully, the better glory of God.

    John Repulski

  15. Scott Gunn says:

    John, I am grateful to you and the other members of the SCLM for your hard work. I do want to point out one obvious concern with the proliferation of work done by the SCLM. Again and again, when someone raises concerns about any number of things, the talking point is “we are just doing that GC has told us to do” or something similar. Of course, the problem with that response is that the resolutions for SCLM to do work usually come from…the SCLM. Sure, GC signs off on them, but I’m not sure the passage of a resolution of evidence that there is demand in the wider church.

    I see a need for liturgical excellence, but I don’t hear many people in the rank and file asking for proliferation of liturgical resources. I will freely admit that I may not have hung out with the right people to hear this chorus. I’d feel better about some of these projects if the SCLM could point outside General Convention for the demand for resources. I’d also like to know why we have to invent everything ourselves, instead of making use of some excellent work done by others in the US and around the Anglican Communion.

    Given what might seem like crankiness, your comment is charitable. Thank you for your generosity. Please know that if we were sitting in the same room, I’d say all of what I have written in a friendly tone, and I’d be eager to hear your response.

    I have no qualms with the commitment, the faithfulness, or the expertise of the members of the SCLM. Rather, I am concerned that our system does not seem to allow us to reach excellence, because we spread our efforts so thinly.

    Blessings to you. Hope to meet you in Indy.

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