Tuesday, January 14, 2003

Shall I compare thee to a kindergarten choir?

The discussion of beauty that I referenced earlier was at least in part started by a wide-ranging commentary/argument about the crummy nature of much modern liturgical music. I think I've made clear how much of it I dislike, and in some cases why.

But I disagree with many people who also dislike it that, barring heresy or other concrete problems with the lyrics, it is somehow worse to use music that is smarmy than to use Handel. Some of those arguing in favor of abandoning the cruddy stuff do so on grounds that are a little hard to summarize briefly, but I'll try. Basically, we must worship the Perfect with the best that we are capable of, and beauty, because it is something that is part of our being, is the best.

But I kind of think this misses the point. We are told to approach God as a small child. If you've been recently to a kindergarten singalong, as I unfortunately have, you know that there is very little going on there, musically speaking, that could be considered beautiful. The songs are cheesy, the kids are wild, the key is somewhat hypothetical, and the melody a mere asymptote. And yet, the parents are quite pleased with it, even when the kid who was on Star Search gets a pretty good solo, the other parents are all quite happy. No one begrudges the soloist (except the dad who beat up the little league coach for not starting his 4-year-old on the traveling T-Ball team) but likewise no one says "I really wish they had cut out the all crappy singing, so we could hear more of that Star Search kid!" even though, objectively, that kid blew the socks off all the other kids.

We are, comparatively speaking, much lower than kindergartners to our Father. If we are singing our little hearts out, I don't think He really cares whether we are singing the Alleluia Chorus or Be not Afraid, if we are singing hard and reverently.

CS Lewis uses the example of the child borrowing money from his father, to buy Dad a birthday present. The father winds up quite pleased with the whole thing, but only a fool would think the father was 6-pence the better at the end of the transaction. Liturgical music is money borrowed from Dad, and if we sing poor music we may not be borrowing enough, but if we sing it as best we can, I don't think Dad's appreciation of the gift is really going to be very much worse.


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