Sunday, March 18, 2012

Liturgical Choral Repertoire

Everyone knows that, by and large, fewer people attend church in 2012 than did 30 or 35 years ago. When I taught a class of 25 children, typically only 1/4 of the kids went at all. Some parents might identify themselves as Christians, even name a specific denomination, but most of them didn't go to church or send their kids to Sunday school.

I've just come from a Choral Evensong at Central Presbyterian Church in Hamilton. Presbyterians don't, as a rule, celebrate Evensong, which is a C of E service. At this church they do so once a year as part of a Lenten Concert Series.
The music included the Harwood Magnificat & Nunc Dimittis in A♭and C. H. H. Parry's Blessed Pair of Sirens.

This is the sort of music which I never knew as a teen chorister in the modest United Church in which I grew up. It would have been too difficult, anyway, and it doesn't fit with the U.C. liturgy, such as it is.  I encountered Service Music much later as a choral mercenary in Anglican churches along with C.V. Stanford and Herbert Howells and all the other professional composers who worked in this tradition.
My question is: If this music isn't going to be performed in churches as a part of the liturgy (the purpose for which it was composed), when will it be performed?

It's too difficult for a great many Anglican church choirs and completely out of step with the Praise and Worship songs which are the repertoire of so many others. It doesn't fit comfortably into choral concert programs. Yet television audiences are bowled over when they hear it in the course of a Royal Wedding. They even check it out on YouTube or buy it from iTunes. Too bad most of us (including myself) can't be bothered to get out of our recliners because this music, along with choral singing in general, is dying the death of a thousand cuts.

Children don't sing in choirs at church (because they don't go) or at school (because it's not an educational priority.) If they sing as teens it's likely because of Glee. If they sing as adults, it's only because they learned to do so as children and teens and, as I noted above, people aren't doing that very much any more.

It's enough to drive a musician to despair.

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