Paul Westermeyer and "Te Deum"

Title: Te Deum - The Church and Music

Author: Paul Westermeyer

This book ought to be a useful study of the Church's changing use of music. It is not.

Paul Westermeyer nods affectionately towards humanistic qualms while showing tremendous disrespect towards those Christians with whom he disagrees. This combination of the concilliatory mediator and totalitarian makes the book difficult to read, let alone recommend. When you are being kicked very hard, it really does not matter very much if the person kicking you is smiling benignly at someone else.

Humanism at its heart

1. Westermeyer believes in man's ability to be objective. Pure Kantianism.

"The value of objectivity suggests yet another reason for the study of church music, namely, backing off for a dispassionate view. Music, worship, and theological points of view involve us all at points beyond the rational. They arouse emotions and both conscious and subconscious likes and dislikes, which is true whether we are believers, nonbelievers, pietists, fundamentalists, orthodox, agnostics, or atheists. Nonrational factors are always at work when one deals with issues of this kind....  A study of this type gives you a chance to back off, suspend emotions and coercive tactics for a period of dispassionate investigation, and give everything a hearing." (page 5)

2. Westermeyer plays the rationalist with regard to Creation.

"In the myth of “the origin of skills” found in Genesis 4:20-22, Jubal, the first musician, engages in the “practical” occupation of music alongside the first smith and cattlebreeder." (page 10)

3. Westermeyer cares more deeply about political correctness than he does for the Holy Scriptures.

"Racist words and thought patterns were excluded, like washing us “whiter than snow.” Generic male words for humanity were avoided or imagery that was patriarchal such as “king”. As the discussion worked its way into male language for God, there was less clarity and agreement. Other questions also increased the complexity. Could language about the deaf and dumb or walking be used? Does such usage discriminate against the disabled?" (page 306-7)

4. Westermeyer tolerates the fringe. He has no criticism for Robert Shaw:

So they did “Hindu chants, Buddhist or Jewish religious music[,]... went through the complete Bach Resurrection cantatas[,...had] Beethoven string quartets [and] a series of sermons on the ethical and moral situation in Shakespearean drama, or a series on great American poets.” (page 254)

He finds Isaac Watts' terming of the Psalms as inadequate "self-evident" (page 203-4).

He passes no condemnation on Charles Ives (page 301).

5. Westermeyer terms the Reformation thus:

"But under all the nasty fuss was a fundamental disagreement about justification and whether good works could get human beings into God’s presence." (page 162)

A nasty fuss? Polite words fail me.

What matters to Westermeyer is this quote from Karl Barth:

“What we can and must say quite confidently is that the community which does not sing is not the community.” [Church Dogmatics, IV, part three, second half]

He mentions, in passing, the incredible musicality of Calvinists. But he does not take his lead from this and say that Calvinists seem to like singing therefore they are a solid community. Neither does he affirm that since the likes of Robert Shaw introduce many things in the place of singing, they are outside the community.

He seems to hold a vague idea of the Community replacing the Church, as a multi-cultural, neutral collection of agreeable people who are united in song. With the Calvinists on the outside for holding scruples about how we should sing and what we should sing.

This book casts more mud than light on a subject which needs no help to appear confusing.