Sunday, October 08, 2006

Composer Darns Happy-Clappy Din

From Scotland on Sunday (which didn't use "darn" in the headline) :
Trendy guitar-strumming folk groups are ruining church services by playing "embarrassing, maudlin and sentimental dirges", Scotland's leading classical composer has declared.

James MacMillan, who wrote the fanfare for the opening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, has described modern hymns as "excrescences" and called for a return to traditional chants and organ music.

A devout Catholic, MacMillan uses an article in a religious magazine this weekend to confess his despair of the "screaming microphones" and "incompetently strummed guitars and cringe-making, smiley, cheesy foil groups" which fill churches every Sunday.

He reserves particular venom for two well-known modern hymns, 'Bind Us Together, Lord' and 'Make Me a Channel Of Your Peace', the latter having even been recorded to popular acclaim by Irish singer Daniel O'Donnell.

MacMillan says the hymns amount to "cultural vandalism" and that a backlash against such groups is growing, with more church-goers demanding a return to the traditional music which filled churches before reforms of the 1960s.

He declared: "The church has simply aped the secular West's obsession with 'accessibility', 'inclusiveness', 'democracy' and 'anti-elitism'. The effect of this on liturgy has been a triumph of bad taste and banality and an apparent vacating of the sacred spaces of any palpable sense of the presence of God."

The Glasgow-based composer is one of the country's most celebrated musicians, whose work has long drawn heavily on his own strong religious faith.

[...] MacMillan said he was not advocating a ban on all modern hymns, but argued that all church music should be "skilful" and "rooted" in tradition. "What you get more and more is a kind of egotistical band who strum guitars and don't try and engage the rest of the congregation," he said.

The 1960s and 70s, he said, brought a "destructive iconoclasm" into the church "which wilfully brought to an end any remnant of its massive choral tradition and its skilful application to liturgical use. Like most ideas shaped by 1960s Marxist sociology, it has proved an utter failure."

[...] MacMillan said he agreed with the Pope. In his article, which appears in the Catholic magazine Open House this weekend, he declared: "The Pope is presented as a stern-faced, party pooping disciplinarian, stamping out electric guitars, pop-crooning and the sentimental bubble-gum 'folk' used in many of today's Catholic churches. The people attacking him are the very ones who were responsible for the banal excrescences enforced on us in the name of 'democratisation of the liturgy' and 'active participation' over the last few decades."

[...] The Reverend Charles Robertson, the former convener of the committee for the Church Hymnery, said he too personally had little time for many modern hymns. But he said this was not a reason to scrub them from the Kirk's Hymnal.

[...] Robertson highlighted one hymn for particular criticism. "The chorus is 'Jesus is wonderful isn't he, isn't he? Jesus is wonderful isn't he, isn't he?' And yet there was another minister who said that this his favourite hymn."

Well, so what? Some ministers put crystals in the holy water.

I wish Mr. Macmillan would quit beating around the bush and tell us what he really thinks! You normally associate "popular" worship music with Evangelical churches, but the fact of the matter is that the music there, even if modern, is usually pretty good. I have heard more really bad liturgical music in Catholic and Episcopal churches than I have ever heard in Evangelical ones. Usually because the music winds up having (a) nothing to do with the service; and (b) nothing to do with the rest of the music. You'll have something from the 5th century for the processional, an old black spiritual for the sermon hymn, some modern garbage about peace, love, and understanding for an offertory solo, a bunch of new-age drivel about ourselves for the communion hymns, and something from the heyday of the British Empire for the recessional.

Praise the merciful God, the churches I attend regularly these days don't suffer from that!