Working in Mysterious Ways
Well, on a personal note, after sending in my initial “chatter” post to NewMusicBox, my computer imploded (shortly after I sent it, curiously) and I have been forced to buy a new one during a budget crunch. As a result, there has been a large lapse since my first post, but what this has allowed is some very deep and frank comments which are great jumping off points for future sacred music discussion. Many thanks for your warm welcome and insightful comments—I’ll address some of them this time, but in trying to keep my posts short I will address others as we continue this discussion. Just to be clear, this is not a peripheral inquiry.
I agree with many of you that sacred music does not necessarily need to fit into a certain type of musical aesthetic. I think that much of the music I write is essentially sacred, but I feel that way because of my approach to writing it and what I write, rather than its final “resting place” in the sacred or secular category. Having said that, I also agree with many of you that content and honesty in one’s musical statements is essential—otherwise the music, as many of you said so eloquently, is simply derivative. Quality is truly different than style.
So sacred music doesn’t necessarily mean that it needs to happen in a church, although we also must discuss music that does take place in a worship setting. It is very true that the organist or music director plies the churchgoer with music that can be from a variety of phases of musical formation. At a church in Minnesota I even heard a tribute to Charles Schulz improvised very reverently during an offertory the morning the artist died. I admit that although he touched and continues to touch many lives, this particular incident may have been a “Minnesota” thing since he was born, raised, and worked in Minnesota for so many years. The ridiculous and sublime of sacred music seem to work together at times. I am not implying that the tribute was ridiculous, but rather sublime, while responding to a more secular part of our lives—the newspaper comic strip—which can touch our lives as much as sacred music and was tastefully slipped into the service. Of course, in other churches, that same act might have been viewed as sacrilegious, as much as whistling, evidently irreverently, and therefore, inappropriate in a church.
I would even go as far as to say that perhaps in some circumstances, a piece of music might be too sacred for it to conform to a worship service and might be listened to in more depth in a different setting. Some ensembles perform concerts that are spiritual where applause is held in order to fully engage with the music. The concert might be held at a place where deep listening can take place without a venue’s agenda center stage. On the other hand, that venue may not hold any meaning to someone who isn’t aware of the background.
To wrap up, we’ve talked about listeners, worshippers, worship settings, music in concert, music in worship, and being touched by an experience (feet included). When I was writing about whether or not some music conformed to a worship service I was struck by the difference between concertgoers and worshipgoers as listeners. I even thought about whether to use the word “appreciate” in a concert setting, although I’d be hesitant to use it in a worship sense. Certainly touching a gifted artist after performance was an act of appreciation. (I used to live in Boulder. I know.) Do those who worship really listen to the music that is being offered? We certainly hear from those who disliked the music, but do we hear from those when they are truly touched by it?