An Oldie, But a Goodie

Thomas Tallis, ‘If ye love me’, interpreted by the Sixteen.

Seriously, so much of this Renaissance stuff is perfectly suited for Christian a cappella ensembles to sing, if they’re up to it. I understand not having a Tallis-Byrd-Gibbons-dominated repertoire, of course, but it really does seems a shame to completely ignore this musical tradition: you can definitely find beauty in both the 16th century and the 21st, in both the classical and the folk traditions. The creative tension among the centuries is, moreover, a great way to evaluate musical creativity for tomorrow (and once again, I’m more forward-thinking, not less, than the average person).

People do recognize beauty, I think, even if it takes some cultivation to catch the subtleties of unfamiliar genres. Especially at a top-tier university, where students reflect on greatness in the hope of achieving new greatness, people should be open-minded enough to give a shot at understanding all kinds of artistic expression. As C. S. Lewis says, moreover, a two-way accommodation is probably the godly way to go:

There are two musical situations on which I think we can be confident that a blessing rests. One is where a priest or an organist, himself a man of trained and delicate taste, humbly and charitably sacrifices his own (aesthetically right) desires and gives the people humbler and coarser fare than he would wish, in a belief (even, as it may be, the erroneous belief) that he can thus bring them to God. The other is where the stupid and unmusical layman humbly and patiently, and above all silently, listens to music which he cannot, or cannot fully, appreciate, in the belief that it somehow glorifies God, and that if it does not edify him this must be his own defect. Neither such a High Brow nor such a Low Brow can be far out of the way.

The question’s whether a congregation’s repertoire, or a choir’s, must really be monopolized by an ever-redefined ‘contemporary’ scene, retaining (solely for the sake of sentimentality) the ex-hip, last-decade church songs that in the final analysis were neither cutting-edge nor classic. Can we stop thinking about hip and think about good, choosing the best of our own time and keeping alive the best works of times past?

I hope what T. David Gordon describes in Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns (2010), a pop consumption culture, doesn’t exhaust human potential. There’s really so much more than the next mainstream pop thing, as even any hipster can tell you – though maybe he can’t, because he’s so caught up in chasing the next pre-hip hip thing. The Church’s music, which is the music of society as God envisions it, is always to be built up, always to grow without being diminished: therefore Christians are called as much to build and correct the musical tradition as to build and correct the scientific tradition, wisely tending and pruning the tree of civilization. So let’s take the best of all times, remembering the meaning of civilization.


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