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Vivace! 158 March 2017 Grand Finale!
We’re sorry you didn’t get your issue of Vivace! last month. We had some technical issues and this gave us time for reflection. This is issue no.158 of our monthly newsletter. The first issue appeared in January 2004 - so that’s thirteen years of service to the church choir community worldwide. All good things come to an end! And sadly that end has come.
music-for-church-choirs.com will continue, so head over there and add your comments. There is a glimmer of hope for you: there’s a possibility that we will publish an anthology of Colin’s writings. This will be available on Amazon at a very reasonable price. So keep an eye on the website … but it will be several months before such a book emerges.
So here is a farewell message from Colin Mawby, followed by a bumper final edition.
It is with great regret that I have to inform you that this will be the last issue of Vivace! My age and health have led to this sad decision.
Vivace! has been published monthly for thirteen years. Beverley Courtney and Clement Mawby have made a great support team and readers and myself owe them a great debt of gratitude.
Vivace! has helped many people from around the world and its articles have been lively and informative. There has been great feedback and a constant readership. Your support and encouragement have been invaluable and without this we could not have kept going.
The Vivace! team send you their very best wishes and know that you will continue to glorify the Lord with the excellence of your music. We form a pathway to the gates of heaven and lead people to a deeper appreciation of the beauty of God. This is a unique vocation.
Please pray for us.
Colin Mawby KSG Beverley Courtney Clement Mawby
The Importance of Tradition
After two thousand years of existence the Christian churches have built up many fine traditions covering all areas of belief and worship. Their importance is that they connect with our roots. When we ignore them we disown our ancestry.
Do we really want to turn our backs on these years of experience?
Do we really want to reject the work of our fathers?
Tradition is the great teacher; we learn from it because it reveals the growth of the church and gives a deep insight into the development of Christianity. Obviously some traditions should be forgotten but the remainder need to be developed and made relevant to contemporary culture. They can never be static - movement and growth are essential parts of God's creation.
Unfortunately we live in an age of iconoclasm and nowhere is this more apparent than in the field of liturgical music. Gregorian Chant, the life blood of Catholic worship, has been sidelined. It is considered boring and irrelevant and its beauty has been drowned by the sound of badly strummed guitars and similar instruments.
How can this sad situation be remedied?
The answer lies in education and its key figures must be pastors and teachers. The teaching of chant should be compulsory in all seminaries. Seminarians should be taught to sing it - and sing it well. The occasional outing of Missa de Angelis is insufficient. Gregorian Chant should also be studied in teacher's training colleges. We need pastors and teachers who leave their seminaries and colleges with a practical knowledge of the chant and an appreciation of its importance in the Christian tradition.
I never cease to point out that the tone used for the Lamentations is based upon that sung in the Jewish liturgy, and pre-dates the birth of Christ. He certainly would have heard it in the Temple and may even have sung it. Do we really want to sever this sacred link with the life of our Saviour?
Iconoclasm is also to be seen in the treatment of polyphony and the liturgical music of the 18th and 19th centuries. Over the last hundred years there has been an ever greater appreciation of this fine music, but why is its performance restricted to the secular field? Why do we hear it on CDs, in the concert hall and on the radio?
Why is it not sung in the correct setting of liturgical worship? It is a matter of great sadness that music written for the greater glory of God is rarely heard in the liturgy.
These are matters that cry out for solutions. Traditions are always being developed and re-invented. Chant and polyphony must be re-integrated into Divine Worship. We need people of vision and courage who are prepared to undertake this work - musicians who will ensure that this great music takes its rightful place in liturgical worship.
Colin Mawby KSG
The Theology of Music
We tend to take music for granted. It's there in the background but rarely penetrates our thought processes.
Technology has been a great help to music but has also cheapened it. What was once a marvel to hear is now often ignored. How sad it is that some of the world's greatest music is treated as background noise: this is the equivalent of defacing a great work of art! The concert hall is like the art gallery, both are temples to the spiritual achievement of human kind. So much of our music when performed outside church or concert hall is treated with neither appreciation nor respect.
We have recently seen a map of the Milky Way made by the European Space Agency's spacecraft Gaia. It recorded precise positions and movements of over a billion stars and this apparently only represents 5% of those in our Galaxy. How many galaxies in our Universe? The latest estimate is between a hundred and two hundred billion. These are mind-blowing statistics beyond our capability to imagine. One can only stand in awe.
However, even more awesome is the mind behind it all. Who or what is this Creator, a being who should fill us with terror and overwhelming fear? However, it's not like that.
How wonderful it is that the Creator loves each one of us individually: music is a great and colourful expression of His love. It is not only a revelation of divine beauty but is also an affirmation of God's love for humanity. It can unite us in worship, create unity among performers and listeners and express mankind's deepest feelings. But primarily it is an art sent by God to show us his love and lead us to his presence in heaven.
Music is not background noise - it is an overwhelming property of creation and an ineffable gift from the Creator. Yet another facet of the Big Bang.
As church musicians we must never lose sight of this. We are privileged to demonstrate God's love to our congregations, to raise their minds to the Almighty and transport them to the very gates of heaven. Our work carries great responsibility but also huge joy.
We must never lose sight of the theology of music and its power to inform people of God's love.
Colin Mawby KSG
The Importance of Practice
Attendance at choir practice can be very hit and miss. I’ve even come across choirs that question if it’s necessary!
Well regulated and regular practice is essential for good choral singing. Without it, choirs cannot achieve performances of quality. Good choirs need meticulous practice and regular performance. They need to develop musical and spiritual unity and these qualities only result from dedicated work.
A parish choir should aim for a weekly rehearsal of two hours and another of thirty minutes before the Sunday service. With the stress and rush of modern life this can be difficult. However, these things must never be allowed to downgrade the importance of regular practice.
One so often comes across liturgical choirs that sing once a month and have a short rehearsal before they perform. This will not lead to music worthy of the worship of God. A Choirmaster needs to find ways of involving the choir in regular weekly performance and regular weekly evening rehearsal. I am well aware that choirs must fit into the liturgical cycle of the church in which they sing but Choir Directors must try and work with their Pastors to develop the use of the choir in the liturgy.
Rehearsals need careful planning and a Choirmaster must give considerable thought to making them productive and enjoyable. He/she must know the music, spot difficult areas, and prepare strategies to deal with them. Choir Directors must always make rehearsals interesting and happy. Nothing depresses a choir more than a poor rehearsal!
It might be possible for a choir to supply the music for two churches that happen to be near each other. There might be other options. The choirmaster should seek to increase a choir's work and aim for a regular weekly performance. In this way it will fulfil its potential and aid the prayer life of the parishioners.
Choir Directors must insist upon punctuality and regular attendance at practice. If a practice is scheduled to start at eight it must start at eight. Never wait for latecomers!
It is not easy to prepare and take weekly rehearsals - they make hard demands on a Choirmaster's patience and inspirational skills. However, regular rehearsal is essential; without it a choir will never improve.
The Quality of our Liturgical Music
Liturgical music should be an aid to prayer - but there is no doubt that some music considered banal and poor by professional musicians is often a great spiritual aid to many people.
We musicians need to be aware of this before we rush to condemnation. There has always been an element of popular music in worship and the Catholic Church has often tried to stamp it out.
The real answer to the problem lies in education.
Children should be taught from an early age about the beauties of sacred music - they should be educated to love, sing and enjoy it. Unfortunately the Church has never really addressed the question of musical education. There are notable exceptions - Germany is one of them - and this neglect is reflected in the poor standard of much liturgical music.
There is certainly a place for poor liturgical music - it should make congregations aware of good music when they are fortunate to hear it.
We must remember that if we appreciate good music we don’t have to attend services where bad music is prevalent. Whenever I see a guitar in church I leave rapidly! Comparison is important and if all our music were top-rate there would be no point of comparison.
The liturgy should reflect contemporary culture but at the same time be detached from it. If poor music helps prayer that’s fine, but it should never be allowed to devalue worship.
Live and let live is a good dictum - but there are limits!
Q & A
Q Is the beauty of music a sign of God's love for human kind? YT, Australia
A It most definitely is. It is because God loves human kind that he has created the ineffable beauty of music. We must never lose sight of this and always be aware that the soul of music is the Spirit of God. How tragic it is that this great gift is so often abused.
Q I recently came across a Latin sung Vespers. Why is this beautiful liturgy so rarely prayed? JH Canada
A A very good question. I only wish that the service of Vespers were regularly sung. It is deeply spiritual and forms a great act of adoration to the Trinity. Unfortunately making it happen needs the backing of the clergy and this is unlikely to be forthcoming.
Q We regularly read of bitter rows between musicians, lay workers and clergy. Can anything be done about this? LJ, England
A The way forward is for all sides to follow the teaching of Christ. Love your neighbour as yourself. If this was done there would be no problem.
Q Do hymns work with piano accompaniment? GW Ghana
A They can work very well provided provided the accompanist is skilled and the church or hall isn't huge. The piano should be in first class condition.
Q I recently read a definition of beauty as the “aesthetically compelling”. How often does this apply to music in church? IS USA
A Rarely I fear, and liturgical worship is much the poorer for this! So much of our liturgical music is “anger compelling”.
Q What do you feel about recordings of pop songs being played during funerals? LT, South Africa
A This is a very difficult question. My instinct is that it is totally unacceptable but it's not as easy as that. It's a grey area and it is up to each Pastor to define a policy. However, lyrics must always be worthy of the worship of God.
Q How does one write a good tune? CH Ireland
A Some people are very skilled at writing memorable tunes, but most of us aren't and have to keep on trying. It's like searching for gold. One can keep on panning but one rarely finds any. Just keep trying!
Q I’m never sure what key Gregorian Chant should be sung in. Can you help? TH USA
A You should choose keys that suit your singers. Don't put it high if the choir can only sing low. There are no hard and fast rules, vocal comfort is the prime consideration.
Q What makes a charismatic conductor? BE Ireland
A An outgoing personality is essential but this must be combined with enthusiasm, superb command of the music and compelling authority. A conductor needs to be comfortable in his/her skin and must always treat singers with consideration. A combinations of these gifts will give a conductor charisma.
Q Choirs tend to be hotspots of jealousy and envy. How can this be avoided? JB USA
A This comes down to positive leadership on the part of the Director. If the choir has a sense of purpose and takes joy in its work these problems will not arise. A choirmaster should never allow these bad vibes to happen.
Q Should a Choirmaster sing with the choir? AB Wales
A As a general answer, NO! In performance the Choirmaster is there to listen and direct. In exceptional cases a Choirmaster may need to sing with the choir but this must be rare. Avoid it.
(and that’s Colin’s final word here, applauded by all those who have sung for him! Ed.)
Farewell from us all here at Vivace!