DURING the last month or so I have attended two very different meetings in Glasgow, both about church music and its appeal to young people ("Lay Catholic says 'lousy music' puts the young off church", The Herald, November 23, and Letters, November 27, 29, 30 and December 1 & 3).
Last weekend the Academy of Sacred Music was launched in St Andrew's Cathedral. The choir was as good as any I have heard for a long time and the words spoken by composer James MacMillan were very apt. As a lover of classical music I naturally approved of the singing of traditional anthems and canticles.
The other meeting was in the new Gorbals Parish Church: the speaker was a Methodist priest from Leeds and he outlined the principles behind the Messy Church and how young people can be attracted to the church if they are in an environment, both socially and musically, that they are accustomed to.
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We have to face the fact that in many schools young people are not exposed to classical music to any great degree and the style of the pejorative "happy clappy" hymns is therefore familiar to them, no matter how much the older generation like myself regret this. Having spent my life teaching and counselling young people I think I have a rough idea how they tick. In the church where I sometimes play the organ the minister and I have meetings to discuss Sunday morning praise – we call them equilibrium meetings as our main motivation is to strike a balance between the two extremes so that church attendance is maximised.
While we can't please all the people all the time we at least try to ensure that everyone feels involved and, hopefully, satisfied.
72 Newton Street,
I READ with interest the reactions to the philosophy behind the institution of the Academy of Sacred Music in Glasgow. There are many opinions out there, but there is also much suffering.
There are clearly many people who find there is something inauthentic in nature about much that is sung in churches in the English-speaking Catholic world. Yet your correspondents must not misread the will of the church. This is not simply a matter of personal tastes and artistic preferences – on the contrary some principles of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council have been simply misconstrued, for close on half a century now.
For example, it is clearly prescribed that the Sacred Liturgy is still to be celebrated in Latin but that the vernacular may also be used. This principle has clearly been turned on its head.
This is the currently reiterated message from the highest authority of the church. This is according to the official operations manual of the church (throughout the world) and not an invention of musicians or linguists. To suggest that since people have become accustomed to a certain genre of curiously incongruous musical styles and home-grown offerings, often brimming with infantile and theologically-suspect texts, we should just leave well alone is perhaps the root of the problem. No other area of ecclesiastical practice would be allowed to descend into such a free-for-all and just why music in the liturgy is allowed to be the exception is baffling. The Catholic Liturgy is regarded sacramentally as a gift of God and not a selection of our favourites, no matter how much they mean to us as individuals. Lastly, to refer to the "limitations of Latin" is not without its own irony as the international sacred language of the church is perhaps its greatest tool for universality. That's the meaning of the word catholic.
Chorus Master, Huddersfield Choral Society,
THE Academy of Sacred Music (AOSM) has a clear cultural thrust, in that it is seeking to reform the worst excesses of our culture by introducing a cult of beauty, with sacred music at its heart. This is a most effective channel for such a revolution. With a deeper understanding of sacred music and its eternal values, a new generation of young people will be transformed, and in turn empowered to transform our culture for the better. AOSM's charity programme is a further expression of the virtue of self-giving inherent in any genuinely creative enterprise – students have already raised funds for numerous charities and performed for orphaned children in Romania.
On a separate point, whilst AOSM teaches sacred music, including liturgical music, it does not teach exclusively Catholic liturgical music – this would be inconsistent with its ecumenical identity. Amongst its many aims is to revitalise liturgical music across the denominations, all of which have experienced a decline in the understanding of its true purpose. A great deal of music passed off as authentic liturgical music is banal in essence, and can leave the worshipper lukewarm and disengaged, rather than deepening their appreciation of the great truths of the Christian faiths. Therefore, if we really want to inspire a new generation of young people with a message of truth and beauty that will engage them in our churches for life (and transform our wider culture), we need reform in this area.
AOSM is advancing a counter-cultural programme that will be rejected by some, but which has already received a great deal of support from across the denominations, including the presence of Archbishop Emeritus Mario Conti at our official launch in St Andrew's Cathedral last month.
Academy of Sacred Music,
260 Bath Street,
BOB Holman raises an interesting question (Letters, December 3) when he asks what answers the worship needs of people like himself who are non-musical? My question would be: What are your needs? We must not lose sight of the purpose of church music, which is to express human hearts and minds, leading into revelation. Music, after all, is a set of vibrations and can find resonances in many forms and not necessarily in a church context. Poetry and all forms of art do likewise, as do nature's extravagant displays. William Blake knew the answer when he said: "To see a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wild flower; hold infinity in the palm of your hand, and eternity in an hour." Music is in the heart and comes in response to feelings.
1 Cedar Avenue,
HEAR, hear. Well said Willie Slavin (Letters, December 1).
18 Kingsbrae Avenue, Glasgow.