Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers

Title: Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers

Author: Patrick Kavanaugh

Published: Zondervan, 1996

This volume bothers me. It appears to be the most ecumenical and non-divisive book on music ever written. That makes it far more dangerous than books that take a more blatantly controversial stand.

It is not as "neutral" as it appears to be. There is something subversive in the assumption that composers are de facto "spiritual". It is an idea just plucked from no where, or rather from the tenuous evidence provided from the lives of the "great" composers. When we look at them in further detail, they are all cut from different cloth. Some were bold believers who worked for the Church. Some were secret believers who never told anyone about their "private" beliefs. Some like Haydn believed a composer can earn musical ideas by being right before God. Dvorak believed God told him what to write. Handel too is regarded as divinely inspired. Others like Schubert are seen as re-crucifying Christ through their music. The conclusions we could draw from these points in our own lives and our own compositions are pretty devastating. As long as we have our own sincere kind of spirituality, God will "pay up" and make our music great.

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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)

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The New Worship

Title: The New Worship: Straight Talk on Music and the Church

Author: Barry Liesch

Publisher: Baker Books, 2007

For a book which promises "straight talk on music and the Church", Barry Liesch still leaves us with a few questions. In Chapter 10 (p.199) he says:

"... most of us (even musicians) do not have the expertise to talk about music style precisely. We are better equipped to talk about the words."

This kind of honest assessment makes Liesch (for all of our theological differences) hard to dislike as an author. If only he did not contradict his own logic:

"we should begin with the thought that no melody, scale, chord, rhythm, instrument, or timbre should be theoretically off-limits to the Christian composer." (Chapter 12, p.182)

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Meller's "Celestial Music"

Title: Celestial Music? Some Masterpieces of European Religious Music

Author: Wilfrid Mellers

It is difficult to read a man groping in the dark, as Wilfrid Mellers does in Celestial Music. He rests far too heavily on music for his comfort and support:

Music is often said to be the closest of the arts to religion since what we call its ‘language’ cannot be intellectually articulate; indeed, its very lack of articulacy may put us in touch with the numinous, and therefore presumably with the divine, or at least with the forces we call ‘spiritual’. Although I am not myself a ‘believer’, I seem to be partial to religious music, I suspect because it asks, though it cannot answer, those eternally Unanswered Questions.

Prologue: What is religious music? p.xi

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John Frame and Music in Worship

Title 1: Contemporary Worship Music: A Biblical Defence

Title 2: Worship in Spirit and Truth

Author: John Frame

Publisher: P&R

John Frame introduces himself to his readers as no specialist in music but someone who loves music. Of course his actual field is theology - and it shows. He writes about music as the man enamoured with a subject, not having yet learnt the complications which defy such simple love.

His specific target in these two books is the use of music in worship. The basic thrust of both books is well-summarised in this quotation from Contemporary Worship Music p.25:

"unless it can be shown to be inappropriate for worship, everyone’s music should be heard: old people’s and young people’s music; European, African American, and other ethnic music; complex music and simple music. This is how we defer to one another - serve one another - in the body of Jesus Christ."

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The Instrumental Girardeau

Title: Instrumental Music in the Public Worship of the Church (1980 edition)

Author: John L. Girardeau

This is a work that has been criticised for its existence as much as for its content. Those who believe that there is licence to worship God according to our own lights are offended at the idea of a book such as this by Girardeau, for they perceive a restriction upon their freedom to do what they want as "unfair". Girardeau is a breath of fresh air because it does not enter into his argument that worship should be regarded on such a trite, horizontal level. Worship, to Girardeau, is the vertical aspect - we worship God, and we worship him as he wants to be worshipped.

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Pop Goes the Gospel

Title: Pop Goes the Gospel

Author: John Blanchard with Peter Andreson and Derek Cleave

Published by Evangelical Press

The subtitle to this book is "Rock in the church". It is an attempt to highlight some of the origins and associations of popular music in order to repel Christian youth from demanding its place in the public worship of God. So there are quotes from heavy metal groups, anti-Christian musical writers and everyone else in between. Blanchard seeks to establish that most popular music is either anti-Christian or demonic.

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