Wednesday, December 07, 2005

No Chant, No Church?

Here's an interesting article from www.chiesa: The revival of Gregorian Chant in the Roman Church


Ray said...

You've inspired me to dig out my Gregorian Chant records. Yep, the old disks.

My friend, Doug Yeo, bass trombonist with Boston Symphony Orchestra, has produced a CD highlighting the serpent. The serpent was used from the 1500s thru the mid 1800s primarily in the church to accompany choirs. He has some beautiful music on this CD. Check it out here:

Ray said...

Is the discussion over?

Anonymous said...

No, I got snowed/iced in with the latest weather system. I don't have the Net at home.

What's the serpent?

Also, what's your church's view on the use of music? How is it used during your church services since you don't have a liturgy?


Anonymous said...


Another question: since you're Baptist, how are you all dealing with or fighting off some of the general contemporary trends of church worship and theology?

It would seem that to fend off some of the modernism/post-modernism would be very difficult in a Protestant setting.

Anonymous said...

The serpent is an Instrument! (Sorry I asked what it was before checking out your link.) I had never heard of this instrument before. Interesting shape! What does it sound like? An oboe, Clarinet or an odd kind of sax?

Ray said...

Scribe, I'll take the easy question first. Those of us in the brass community have known of the serpent for a few years, but it is not an instrument that is widely known. It was last used about 1850, mostly in Europe. Then about 1970 it was rediscovered, there are only a handful of players today. It was used primarily in the church to accompany choirs and it sounds like all the above. Actually, it's made of wood and typically uses a rosin based mouthpiece, so it has some woodwind characteristics and some brass characteristics, but mostly a woody sound. I think Doug Yeo has a sound link on his website, I'll try to find it. Of course you could always order one of Doug's CDs - just mention my name if you do. Doug is one of the top ranked orchestral trombonists in the world, an excellent musician. And if he were participating in the recent discussion on church music, he would have right in our camp.

Ray said...

Now, your more important question dealing with music in my church. First of all, we Baptists do not consider ourselves Protestants. We were not part of the Reformation that spawned the Lutherans, Presbyterians, and the rest. We trace our lineage through several different like-minded groups that go back to the early church.

But, there are many different flavors of Baptists both theologically and musically. My church is one of the more conservative churches in the area when it comes to music. We view music as a method of corporate worship as most of it involves congregational singing - and in our case, old hymns of the faith, not the praise choruses more common today. A typical Sunday AM service would include a prelude (I recently convinced one of our organists to play more classical type pieces which he does), 4 congregational hymns, and 1 choir anthem. Actually, we have an accompanist problem now, so the choir sings only a couple times a month. Oh, and an offertory and a postlude. The music and announcements and offering typically take about 30 minutes and the pastor's sermon about 40 minutes. The focal point is the sermon. I've often contemplated what real purpose the choir performs. Is it worship? Is it entertainment? Who is our audience, God or the congregation? But, that is a whole 'nother topic.

Boiled down, we see music as a way to touch people emotionally since music primarily appeals to our emotions (but proper music should also have an intellectual appeal). Music gets the congregation involved directly in the worship process, as opposed to being mere spectators. One problem I have with the praise band scene is that it becomes too performance oriented and the congregation becomes a passive audience - more concertlike.

More to follow.

Anonymous said...

Why don't you ask him to join us on this forum? Maybe he has some thoughts about his music and choice of instrument that he would like to share.

I have to wonder why there are certain folks who like the old style of music and even seek out the old instruments. I can't read a note, but since early childhood I have always preferred classical music or older forms of folk. I don't know why exactly, except to say that this music has always struck me as being so much more beautiful. Rock music to me sounded like poverty and things out of place, although there have been some very good compositions in rock by the better rock musicians.


Anonymous said...

You said: "The music and announcements and offering typically take about 30 minutes and the pastor's sermon about 40 minutes. The focal point is the sermon. I've often contemplated what real purpose the choir performs. Is it worship? Is it entertainment? Who is our audience, God or the congregation?"

In the ancient church and in Orthodoxy (which carries on the ancient practices), the choir is emphatically NOT entertainment. In fact, the choir carries 90% of the service dialogue, not the priest. The audience is God, because the choir sings the liturgy, which is a dialogue.

The church architecture is also constructed on the idea of a dialogue between God and the congregation. In the nave portion (where the congregation stands) that is the Earth, while the altar portion that symbolizes Heaven (which is mostly walled off by either a rood screen--formerly a western church practice--or an iconostasis--the eastern practice.) There are three doors in the iconostasis and the center door--the Royal Door--is sometimes opened for God to speak (through the priest) to Earth.

So throughout the liturgy, the purpose of the singing is to provide this dialogue, which is typically carried on between "Heaven" and "Earth" by a call and response form of singing. This was the ancient practice of the Church.


Michael Dodaro said...

This writer has been contending against the trends for some time:
Marva Dawn

Anonymous said...

I'm trying to look for some of her articles. I see that she's Luthern (what kind? Missouri Synod? ECLA?)

Wikipedia says she writes in "paleo-orthodox style". Yikes, what a term.

Michael Dodaro said...

Books by Marva Dawn

Michael Dodaro said...

Here's a query that turns up some interesting articles by Marva Dawn.

Anonymous said...

The first article "Worship to Form a Missional Community" on your query list is right on target.

Here are just two paragraphs of her's that just out at me:

"Rather than being 'a vendor of religious goods and services' that cater to people’s tastes, the Church is called to be 'a body of people sent on a mission.'

We need both words, alternative and parallel, for describing the church. To be parallel will deter us from being so alternative that we do not relate to our neighbors; to be alternative prevents our parallelism from moving closer and closer to modes of life alien to the kingdom of God. Rather than becoming enculturated and entrapped by the world’s values of materialistic and experiential consumerism, of narcissistic self-importance and personal taste, of solitary superficiality, and of ephemeral satisfaction, members of Christ’s body choose his simple life of sharing, his willingness to suffer for the sake of others, his communal vulnerability, and his eternal purposes. When our worship gives us continual hearing of, and deep reflection on, God’s Word, songs and prayers that nurture discipleship, and new visions of God’s appointment for us to bear fruit, then we will gain God’s heart for our mission and ministry of communicating the Christian story, of enfolding our neighbors in God’s love, of choosing deliberately to live out the alternative Church being of the people of God’s kingdom.
Sociologists recognize that any alternative way of life that is substantively different from the larger society around it and that wants to maintain itself needs a language, customs, habits, rituals, institutions, procedures, practices that uphold and nurture a clear vision of how it is different and why that matters. Are we as Christians committed to the alternative way of life described in the Scriptures and incarnated in Christ, so that we are willing to invest ourselves diligently in order to transmit this valued way of life to our children and neighbors? If so, our worship cannot be too much like the surrounding culture or it will be impossible to teach altar-nativity."

I believe I saw that she lives in your state, Mike.

Ray said...

I have two of Marva Dawn's books and she is an excellent writer and theologian. She lives in Vancouver, Wash. The books I have are, "A Royal Waste of Time" and "Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down". She delves deeply into the concept of worship and the philosophy behind it. One chapter is entitled, Worship Is Not a Matter of Taste.

She used the term, We Are Church, as opposed to we are going to church. Church is not the building, it is the body of believers. She says, Church has been turned into a building, a duty, an hour set aside on Sunday mornings , rather than what we are. Being Church is living as the Scriptures form us and being part of a community... In other words it is living life in accordance with a worldview. In the 2nd book I listed, she delves into the culture of worship.

Excellent reading.

Ray said...

Scribe, back to your other question above. As an aside, I went to the doctor today, blood pressure was 110/70 - not bad for a middle aged, overweight boomer. Then I sat in the drug store for 1/2 an hour getting a prescription filled as they played primarily hard rock Christmas songs. Bet the ole blood pressure was a bit higher after that. I wasn't really concentrating on it, just all of a sudden I noticed it was having a deleterious physical effect on me.

Back to Baptists, though. You asked how we fought off the contemporary worship trends. Many Baptist churches don't, they have succumbed. Understand, we Baptists are independent, no hierarchy of leadership. Each church can set their own standards without any interference from the central office. There is no central office.

Many of the new evangelical and community type churches have adopted contemporary worship practices and have been growing dramatically. Some Baptist churches have adopted the same concepts in order to achieve church growth. The question, churches such as that regardless of denomination, are they focused on evangelism or worship? What is the primary purpose of the church?

My church (I say mine, I don't own it, I'm just a member and the choir director) is comprised of members who do not want to go the contemporary scene. We have gained new members from the community who have wanted to get away from the P&W style. But, we have lost members who crave music with a beat and thrive on the emotionalism that goes with it. Interestingly, my church has been noted for years for a good music program with an excellent choir for our size.

I have had choir members push to sing more contemporary stuff, so to appease them I did introduce some music that maybe didn't appeal to me, but at least wasn't to extreme. They couldn't do it. The rhythmic patterns and syncopation was beyond them - it wasn't part of their learned musical vocabulary. I do have them sing music written recently (including some of my own) but always choose music of high quality. But, primarily I have tried to teach the choir musicianship. I emphasize that they are to understand the words, the meaning, the emotion behind them and sing accordingly. If the song is about Christ's death, don't sing happily with a smile. I will read the words to choir as if a poem with inflection and nuance and tell them to sing likewise. Should a poem be read monotone? Of course not, and neither should music be performed monotone without inflection. But, isn't much of contemporary music mostly loud? Isn't that like shouting a poem? One of my biggest hobby horses is to put movement in long tones. Don't just sit on a whole note counting out the beats - do something with it. Tension and resolution. Speaking of which, contemporary music is famous for unresolved suspensions. No resolution. Just move on to a different tension.

OK, I have just given a primer on musical interpretation. That is what we need to show that Gregorian Chants, Bach, Mozart, hymns, etc. has life, has interest. Very simply, equate music performance with dramatic reading.

Anonymous said...

What's difficult about singing Orthodox liturgies is all the Tones (modes) that must be sung for the troparia and kontakian. There are 8 major tones, but for each tone there is 3 variations on it, depending on the liturgy of the day. I always get them mixed up.

But aside from the troparia and kontakian, there are the other hymns that are sung for the various liturgies. Some are quite modern, that is, they were written by modern composers like Rachminanoff, Tchaikovsky or Kedrov and these may have a somewhat dramatic Romantic feel to them. Others are very ancient Greek and Bulgarian melodies that go back to the 6th century. These can be very ethereal or sometimes joyously folkish like the Greek Vespers chant during Great Lent (Bless the Lord O My Soul). This chant could fit in any church. Rachminanov composed a variation based on this melody, but slowed down the tempo far too much, nearly eliminating its folk tempo, making it almost dirge-like. Sometimes the famous composers can mess up a good thing. But to sing it properly, especially on Holy Saturday night, it should be sung as a very rousting, happy anthem. It's a song that sticks to your insides, once you hear it. And it's not hard to sing and no one will object if you tap your toes to it.

But rock music in an Orthodox church? The day that happens you'll know the end of the world has come.

Ray said...

Ah, the church modes. I studied them briefly when a music theory student in college. I love modal music and have written some myself. I may have made a good Orthodox. I am familiar with Bless the Lord O My Soul and have had my choir sing it several times.

But Scribe, if you back to medieval times the lute was a popular instrument which was a precursor of the modern guitar. I would think a lute may have been used in Orthodox churches centuries ago. So, what is wrong with a guitar, amplifid or not? Also, chant music does use syncopation, at least that I'm familiar with. Syncopation is a major part of Rock music. Therefore, chant music is nothing more than a precursor to Rock. Since chant and rock are so closely related, rock can't be all that bad, can it?

OK, a little quiz, and if Mike gets his head out of his computer at work he can answer too. What is the Diabolis en Musica or Devil in Music? What made it devilish? It is a medieval term related to church music.

Michael Dodaro said...

Diabolis in musica: The Devil in Music.
Nasty diminished fifth, not to be confused with Jack Daniels, the other kind of fifth.

Back to work. But I'm listening. Hope you're feeling better soon, Ray. Not a good time of year for church musicians to have bronchitis.

Ray said...

OK Mike, you get an A for the day. Yep, the ole diminished fifth, to be avoided in church music because of its dissonance was considered ungodly. Now a commonly used interval, at least outside the Orthodox church and maybe even there.

Doc says I have a sinus infection. You should have heard me yesterday morning - basso profundo! Or is that basso baffoon?

Anonymous said...

The fifths are used in Greek Orthodox music (the perfect fifths). Read my essay "One Voice" that is in the archives on this blogsite that describe our use of a Greek fifth. But I don't know whether it's the diminished fifth that you're talking about.

Musical instruments, including the lute, were never used in Orthodox churches at any time. The reason: the human voice only should sing the praises of God, not a mechanical intermediary. There is a scene in Sergei Eisenstein's movie "Alexander Nevsky" that shows a Roman cleric playing an organ at a service for the Teutonic Knights before they invaded Russia. The cleric is portrayed as a devilish gnome playing this instrument, which to any good Orthodox Russkie, is an immediate indication that such mechanization of worship can only be the an infernal instrument of the Devil. One more reason to put up a good fight against the Teutonic Knights.

Ray-- if your sinus infection has turned you into basso profundo, you can apply for the job of deacon in the Russian church. It used to be that deacons were chosen for their base voices, the more profoundo-er the better. If you ever heard a deacon chant the Epistles, you'll know why. They start in the basement of their range and work up to a high crescendo. This performance certainly makes the Epistle reading memorable. The movie "Ivan the Terrible" by Sergei Eisenstein has an example of this in the early scenes.

As for syncopation, I don't have problem with music having a beat. all music has a beat of some kind, some more than others. But Rock overdoes it by a lot, making the beat arouse the physical passions when church music should help to quiet them.

Ray said...

OK Scribe, you got me. With Jason gone it was getting boring with us three in agreement so I was trying to stir up some trouble. BTW, I met Mike several months ago on Worldmagblog. He had been posting much about opera and condemning CCM. I saw right away we had similar principles even though I'm not an opera fan. So, I posted negatively about opera and he fell for it big time. Gave us a good laugh.

Relative to musical intervals used Gregorian chant, the octave and the perfect 5th were the most common and the foundation of their harmony. The diminished 5th was to be avoided since it was considered a devilish interval and not suitable for the church. Even major 3rds and 6ths were considered dissonant and must be resolved to a perfect 5th or octave. As a good Baptist, I also avoid Jack Daniels, Mike's apparent favorite 5th.

And I was just tweaking you about the lutes and syncopation. I agree, syncopation is good. Salt is good. My older son once baked some cookies and he doubled the salt. Not good. None of the basic musical elements employed by rock is bad, it is overdose, as you put it, and the intent behind it.

Right now my voice is weak and raspy. I'll be a 2nd tenor again soon. Actually, I don't really identify myself as a singer at all, I'm an instrumentalist. My main musical outlets are church choir directing, local community orchestra where I play tenor or bass trombone or tuba depending on need, and a local symphonic band where I play strictly bass trombone - it is a professional level band, one of the top rated in the NY - PA region. Most members are music educators or performance professionals and then a handful of strictly amateurs such as myself. I play the tenor and bass trombones, euphonium, Eb tuba, flute and alto recorder. I love early music using recorders, shawms, sackbuts, etc.

Anonymous said...

I wish I could play an instrument -I think hammer dulcimer would be my instrument of choice. I like to sing, too.

Too bad Jason left, but I'm not surprised. I would guess it would be very hard for a CCM fan to want to argue with us because they are convinced that there can be nothing wrong with CCM. I don't know how we can make the CCM folks see why CCM can't be church music, and I suppose they think we are simply splitting theological hairs. I would guess, too, there are some generation gap issues involved in this, especially since "contemporary" music has been relentlessly drilled into one's brain almost from birth, being piped in from nearly everywhere.

That the Church has allowed CCM music into worship services was merely a political move to try and attract numbers. All it did was bring worldiness into the Church and the Church is vastly weaker for it. Now a generation or two has grown up with it, not knowing anything else and are surprised when anyone objects to it.

Ray said...

Scribe, I love the dulcimer also. Several years ago I had been purchasing dulcimer CDs and mentioned how nice it would be to own one. Well, my parents bought one at a craft fair near their former home. It was handmade by a craftsman from Pittsburgh, PA. It is a beautiful instrument - a strummed dulcimer. Only problem, I'm all thumbs when it comes to stringed instruments, so it sits in the corner of my music room at home.

The problem with discussing church music with people like Jason is we have vastly different philosophical foundations. Reading he webpage I found where I believe he is admitting to being a postmodern. So, he will argue that there is nothing wrong with your church or mine that uses centuries old chants or conservative hymns. That is our truth. And his truth, contemporary musical language is his truth and it is also perfectly valid.

Uh... hey Mike, feel free to joing the conversation anytime.