Musical Taste: The Ultimate Sacrifice? -- By: Terry Yount
RAR 4:4 (Fall 1995) p. 79
Musical Taste: The Ultimate Sacrifice?
The choir, in traditional robes and poised for another musical number, sings a country and western setting of C. Austin Miles’ “In The Garden.” You wonder how your music director could have picked this number. The ensemble proceeds through the last verse, with visions of someone in Gethsemane hearing the voice of the “Son of God” while the night “around me be falling.” You wonder who checked out the theology of the refrain, with its heretical “And the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.” You question not only the musical arrangement, but also the text. It confuses Christian worship with country rock, and sentimentalizes Christianity beyond recognition. If you are like most people, your jarred sense of propriety may lead you to talk with friends. You are not likely to go to your music director or pastor and complain, because there seem to be so few who agree with you. There is a reason for this kind of carelessness in musical choices—it revolves around the matter of musical taste. Dare we question someone else’s taste, when others seem unconcerned? If so, how do we phrase our concern, not to seem hopelessly out of touch with contemporary worship? To answer this question, you will have to study in earnest the real reason evangelical (and mainstream) church music is in trouble.
Church Music Through History
Over nineteen centuries, Western church music has been used to declare God’s glory, celebrate seasons of the church year, evangelize, missionize, commission and ordain clergy, awaken impenitent sinners, and assist in marrying and burying. Until the latter half of the twentieth century, church music generally existed for higher purposes than merely gratifying emotions. With varying success, it focused attention away from the self and to the living God. Church music in the time of Luther was considered “handmaiden to theology.” During the Great Awakening, hymns celebrated the glories of the atonement, the bliss of newfound faith, and the hope of
RAR 4:4 (Fall 1995) p. 80
heaven. Church music of various types found its way into the Sunday school movement in the nineteenth century, and later became an effective vehicle for weekly services of Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Episcopalians, Lutherans and many others. Usually a mix of old and new, tradition and innovation, much of this music reflects the individual charm of its era—anthems by T. Tertius Noble, solos like Mallotte’s “Lord’s Prayer” and festive pieces like Randall Thompson’s “The Last Words of David.” You will find that in this generation music has graduated from “handmaiden” status into “power” status. If you question you...
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