The title drew a larger number than usual to our autumn conference and included a hymn-writer as well as some non-historians. They were rewarded with four interesting and provocative papers. To launch the day, we untypically sang together an appropriate hymn: When I survey the wond’rous cross
Pete Ward had to go early but had time to suggest that music is today mediated to us through intermediaries such as record companies, is transmitted (or not) by the artist, and relies on developing a relationship with the audience. Christian music leaders were analysed and an implicit warning about the danger of allowing business to come before spirituality (‘resourcing’ the church). He suggested that Singing has become the way to God for the Charismatic. Mission is being thought of increasingly in cultural terms rather than theological ones. There is much more to be found in his book ‘Selling Music’.
John Coffey asked whether both the 16th and the 18th century Reformations were based on song. It was one explanation of how a Reformation based on difficult theological ideas could grip illiterate people. John reminded us of the vast number of hymn books published by the Wesley brothers, and showed us a list of the most printed hymns between 1730 and 1860. Strangely, ‘When I survey’ was not among them.
John Wolffe used material in his forthcoming book to demonstrate the variety of spiritual experiences around 1800. He discussed American Revivals and the importance of dying well. Hymns linked public and private lives. Some of the differing practices of churches on either side of the Atlantic go back to this time, for example the quick exit from US churches at the end of the service. The preaching was important, communion less so. His contribution reminded us that worship goes wider than singing.
Ian Jones and Peter Webster contributed from their joint research into the development of music (mainly Anglican) in worship during the 20th century. In a time of rapid change, they suggested four categories: the rediscovery of the Old Old (Vaughan Williams, Plainsong), expressed in the English Hymnal and the Oxford Book of Carols.
Then came the New Old: Stanford (‘the modern stinks’), Britten and others sponsored by patrons like Walter Hussey (Chichester Cathedral).
Avant-garde had however become too avant for most. So by the 1980s and 1990s more approachable music was being written.
The New New came with rock, pop and dance overtones, and coincided with the charismatic movement in the 1960s. It rejected the old romantic view. There was no canon of good music. Do your own thing.
The Old New was rooted in neither classical or pop. It sought a common culture in the mid-1950s, especially the C20 Church Light Music Society. Some of Graham Kendrick’s work is in this vein: ‘My Lord, what love is this?’, for example. On the other hand, Alternative Worship might be recorded sound without words.
Thanks were expressed to John Coffey for organising a very interesting day with practical implications for us all.