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The state of english church music?

 
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Is the standard of parish church music as a whole in terminal decline?
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No
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Leicester Trev



Joined: 11 Mar 2006
Posts: 8
Location: Leicester UK

PostPosted: Fri Apr 21, 2006 6:06 pm    Post subject: The state of english church music? Reply with quote

What is the general feeling on this site about the current state of Anglican Church Music? The cathedrals (or most of them) seem to be going from strength to strength, but as I travel around many different parishes (as my job requires) I find myself increasingly depressed. My overall impression (speaking as both an organist and a priest - not always a comfortable combination) is that the situation is fairly grim. Parishes seem either to embrace the happy-clappy"Let's go for the lowest common denominator and flash up the choruses on the OHP" approach or they become so old fashioned and reactionary that their music (and often their liturgy) is just incredibly dull and lifeless, having become an end in itself rather than a means to an end. I know parishes often struggle to find both singers and organists, but please, please someone tell me that there are some ORDINARY parish churches out there that manage to get a good, sensible balance of traditional and (good) modern music which is performed with pride (of the non-deadly sin variety).
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Trevor Thurston-Smith
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diapason8



Joined: 31 Mar 2006
Posts: 365
Location: West Somerset, UK

PostPosted: Fri Apr 21, 2006 6:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm an organist in an Anglican parish church wth a moderate Catholic tradition. My choir consists of 3 sopranos, 2 contraltos and 1 (occasionally attending) bass. All (except myself) are retired. I have tried for 2 years at attract more singers, but nobody seems willing to make more than an occasional commitment. Having been organist at other churches in the Somerset/Bristol for some 30 years (and a choirboy since the age of 7), I feel that this is not an unusual situation.

Too many parishes seem determined to go along the happy-clappy route and this has led to an acceptance of the lowest-common-denominator as the norm. All too often, any attempt to improve standards is seen as elitist. I have left more than one church because an incumbent or the PCC were demanding happy-clappy at all costs. Interestingly, the congregations usually decamped as well - often to non-conformist churches where the standards were higher.

The situation isn't helped with so many churches ripping out their pipe organs and replacing them with, at best, electronics, but, more commonly, dance bands.

As one who is far closer in churchmanship to Rome than to Canterbury, I have considered the move myself, but am still at the moment in the C of E.

There seems to be some slight improvement, with a few young people taking up the organ, but the situation is pretty dire. Here, in Somerset, we are approaching another session of 'musical chairs' - I'm probably moving myself to another parish shortly, because there are more families and some interest in starting a new choir. There will be sevaral vacancies later this year, with no obvious candidates to fill them. At 50, I'm probably the youngest regular parish organist in the deanery, if not the diocese, and a meeting of the local organist's association shows many members in their 70's and 80's.

I only hope that the decline can be reversed in time.

Nigel
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Jason Evans



Joined: 27 Feb 2006
Posts: 535

PostPosted: Sat Apr 22, 2006 6:57 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I will abstain from voting because of a lack of experience with parish churches. I have had training as an organist and church musician, but as I currently work in The City (financial of course), I'm not seeking an appointment. Yet when I do attend Anglican services (more often CE than a Sunday morning), I opt for a cathedral or similiar church. I prefer the sound of a boy choir, and whilst I consider myself a devout Anglican, my musical preferences (and trained ear) take priority.

The few parish churches I have attended in my travels have yielded rather dismal results. It is extremely depressing, but I suppose this may be more indicative of declining membership. From what I have read, this is also a problem in the States. I've been asked why I have "given up" a possible career of a church musician. I can only say that the politics in a church seem more byzantine than anything at the bank. A prominent church organist once congratulated me for moving away from it all.

Nigel's post made much (unhappy) sense to me, though we differ on the Roman question. Without any disrespect, I can only say that I enjoy the "bells and smells" of the Anglo-Catholic tradition, yet at heart I remain very much a Protestant.

Call me young, stupid and idealistic -please don't question my faith- but I would politely ask Nigel that if he did go over to Rome, would the musical standards be any better? Not in UK. Furthermore, I have terrible problems with Rome's attitude towards gays, abortion and women as priests. There is no compromising- at least there is a flicker of that with Canterbury, though books such as A Church at War (Stephen Bates) make me realize that the States are -in general- much further along on the gay issue.

Finally, may I just say that I'm fiercely proud of all that this glorious country went through to remain independent of Rome. For someone to convert is tantamount to letting the Pope say I told you so.

My two pence. That is all. Cheers.
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diapason8



Joined: 31 Mar 2006
Posts: 365
Location: West Somerset, UK

PostPosted: Sat Apr 22, 2006 7:42 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you for your post, Jason.

Regarding Rome, the dogmas you refer to are precisely why I have not converted - but, there are, perhaps some indications at grass roots level that things might move in future. It is fair to say, though, that whilst I profoundly disagree with some Roman teachings, I must respect them for holding fast to their beliefs and not - as the Anglicans seem to do - changing them daily to fit the fickle climate of public opinion. The appeal of Rome, for me (and I speak as an Anglican who was educated for some years at an RC junior school), lies in that very constancy, together with the Liturgy - something which is totally confused within the Anglican church at present.

Musically, things would, very probably, not be better - although I would dearly love someone within the RC Church to contradict me. It seems that, since Vatican 2, they have, like the Anglicans, thrown the baby out with the bath water, and, outside of the Cathedrals, music is dire. It wasn't too long ago that I was asked to play at an RC chapel on a military base. The priest told me that they knew 6 hymns which they sang every week. Not surprizingly, I declined the post!

Lest I sound too reactionary, I would stress that I am not anti-all-modern music. There is good and bad in the music of all eras, and I try to pick the best of everything. We currently sing the hymns of Fred Pratt-Green, Kendrick, Iona, Taize etc along with the best (and not the dross) of the past.

Nigel
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Leicester Trev



Joined: 11 Mar 2006
Posts: 8
Location: Leicester UK

PostPosted: Sat Apr 22, 2006 8:57 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm in sympathy with alot of what is written above. I too am firmly rooted in the catholic tradition of the CofE, and although I'm a liturgical conservative I have a more open view on many pastoral issues, so I guess I'm what's normally called an "Affirming Catholic". I too have often felt drawn to Rome, but I'd struggle with its hard and uncompromising line on many issues - and there's also the little matter of probably having to "re-train" as a priest. However, the reality of RC worship here in the UK is that it's generally pretty laid back and low key, often with quite an evangelical feel. (An RC friend of mine recently said, "I've got to travel for miles to have any hope of a whiff of incense"!). I wasn't at-all thrilled with the appointment of the new Pope, but one of the things in Benedict's "manifesto" of which I did approve was a desire to return to more traditional, dignified and ordered worship. I'm not sure if this is happening or not - and interestingly Benedict seems to be turning out to be something of a pussycat compared to his previous reputation - unless he's biding his time! However, whatever may happen in Rome, I think the decline in standards of music and worship in many CofE chuches is set to continue and my fear is that it may go too far to be salvageable when people wake up to what is happening.
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Trevor Thurston-Smith
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diapason8



Joined: 31 Mar 2006
Posts: 365
Location: West Somerset, UK

PostPosted: Sat Apr 22, 2006 10:02 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I agree with everything you've said, Trevor. I was brought into church music in the traditional way - pulled out of the congregation as an 8 year old to sing in the choir. Despite being only a 'tin church' we had a 3-manual organ (built by 'The Bristol Practical Organ Company') and an all-male choir. We sang Matins & Evensong every Sunday with a monthly Sung Eucharist (Merbecke). Sadly, in many ways, those days have long gone.

The decline seems to be due to many things: the oft quoted 'so many things to do on a Sunday' is one of them, but, in my experience, much of the decline seems to have been down to 'trendy' clergy hoping to draw people in by using guitars and pop choruses. Not surprizingly, the reverse has happened and congregations have plummeted as standards have declined.

I would consider myself to be firmly traditional, but this does not mean that I will oppose new music and liturgy. Far from it - but the music and the form of service used needs to be worthy of the worship of Almighty God. By it's very nature, worship needs to be formalized and to be conducted with dignity. This does not (as so many misguidedly believe) mean that we exclude the young. But, children must be taught that some activities require certain 'standards' of behaviour.

In the parish where I may go as organist later this year, the woman priest conducts services with reverence and dignity. At the same time, she uses informality in worship where it is appropriate to do so. For example, during Holy Week, the services took the form of Common Worship Evensong with the congregation sitting in the Sanctuary. In place of a sermon, there was a meditation on the words of a hymn. A these midweek services, there was a congregation of 12 or so and a prayerful, contemplative atmosphere.

I hope and pray that we can re-establish Pope Benedict's vision of 'traditional, dignified and ordered worship' within the Anglican church. The lead must come from the top, but it will need a sea-change in the attitudes of the training colleges, to prevent the 'trendy' clergy attitude destroying in a generation our heritage of music and worship.

Nigel
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