Friday, November 24, 2006

Low Church = Low Quality?

This coming Sunday I have the opportunity to attend either a "low church" service that has contemporary praise and worship music, or a traditional "high church" Latin Mass that will have the music of William Byrd's Mass for four voices.

The low church service will be led by a well intentioned and earnest worship leader who only knows one way of playing his guitar: loud and fast. He also yells alot. Because of his loud and earnest manner, I avoid sitting near the front-of-house speakers when he's leading. His music group frequently struggle with the introductions and endings of their songs. I find these idiosyncrasies distracting and annoying. As a musician myself, I know that these errors of musical unpleasantness can be easily avoided with a bit of forethought and practice.

The choir at the Latin Mass on the other hand is singing a masterpiece of Tudor polyphony. The four-part harmonies require a great deal of rehearsal to get right and each member of the choir is capable of keeping their part. They wouldn't be in the choir otherwise.

I sometimes amuse myself with thought of what would a building of Christian worship look like if it was designed by the low church music group compared to the polyphany choir.

I suspect that, like their music, they would look something like this:

Low church building

High church building

The difference in the beauty of the buildings illustrates the difference in the quality of music composition and execution.

I appreciate that the low church people wish to emphasise fellowship and community, so the extra expense and attention to detail (in architecture at least) to them seems really superfluous to the purpose of Christian community.

My complaint however is why setup such a false dichotomy in the first place? Will you really lose fellowship and community because you have a beautiful building?

On the issue at hand regarding music, will you really lose the sense of the presence of God because you have practiced to the point of reducing all known errors so that your listeners are not distracted by your mistakes? Are loud and earnest calls to feel God's presence really going to make up for the poorly executed music?

I would prefer to see excellence exercised in all areas of human activity, anything less is really quite lazy and shows a lack of respect for one's neighbour and a lack of loving God with all of one's heart, soul, mind and strength.

It should be obvious which church I shall attend this weekend.

P.S. To hear samples of Byrd's Mass for four voices, you can listen to the clips available at Amazon.


At 9:44 AM, Blogger Dave said...

Well, Marcus, some very interesting comments there. I'm not sure whether the loud enthusiastic worship leader in the low church is any better than the vague, somewhat confused Celtic band leader who confuses politics with faith and who sometimes inhabits the same place? In any case, the quality of the building should reflect the quality of the community. Hillsong, for all its faults, is a low brow church that does appear to understand the point you are making about presentation and seeking excellence. You may disagree on the quality side - yes, how many spiritual power ballads can one band play? - but in the end, one may quibble about subjective excellence - however, I do accept your valid points on the technical excellence of music. I did miss you though.


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