our modern music
Charterhouse Chronicle Brian Brindley
0 FLEA ON A Sunday afternoon about tea-time I watch Songs of Praise; usually 1 do so in a jaundiced, professional way; occasionally 1 discover an unknown hymn or an unknown tune; very occasionally I enjoy it.
Last Sunday Songs of Praise came from what is called the Emmanuel Centre, tucked away behind Westminster Abbey. The setting itself is interesting enough: it was built, regardless of
`I was moved almost to tears by an a capella performance of When I survey the wondrous Cross'
expense, in 1926, in the "Early Christian" style as the "Ninth Church of Christ Scientist" when that dreary heresy was at the height of its prestige. In the past 50 years it has, I imagine, been slowly dying a genteel death; the "Christian Scientists" are disposing of others of their big buildings — the elegant one off Sloane Square is being offered for sale for residential conversion. The Marsham Street building was bought by a group of charismatic evangelicals, and it was they who were hosts on Sunday.
This was not a service, but a concert of "Gospel" music sung by massed choirs of ladies in white robes and gentlemen in tuxedos, accompanied by an enormous professional orchestra and some excellent soloists. How good it was' to see the old building, which "looks like a church", crammed with hundreds of happy people, at least 80 per cent of them black, joining in the singing, and applauding and cheering wildly at the end of each item.
Regular readers of this column will know that I am not the "happy-clappy" type, preferring plainchant, Latin, and incense; but (at the safe distance of television) I enjoyed it immensely.
The programme got off (for me) to a good start with a performance of an old Methodist favourite, "Blessed assurance! Jesus is mine", which is a sort of Protestant equivalent of "Sweet Sacrament Divine"; this was led by the choirs in a very enriched arrangement, the old 4-part harmonies being converted into 8part (or even, 1 shouldn't be surprised, into 16); between each verse, as often throughout the evening, there was a thrilling orchestral modulation to a higher key. This was followed by a heart-rending solo performance of "What a friend we have in Jesus"; these hymns are outside the Catholic repertoire, but they are quite orthodox in their words; they are, it is true, vulgar, but with the best kind of holy vulgarity.
Later on, I was moved almost to tears by an a capelia performance (alas! by a Seventh-day Adventists choir) of "When I survey the wondrous Cross". This was followed by a faultless rendering on the piano of "Jesu, joy of man's desiring". Much of the music, then, was "golden oldies", so much better than most of the junk that passes in our churches for 20th century hymnody.
0 I COURSE, I didn't like it all: there was a new song in "pop" idiom sung by two
lightly-dressed young women; I don't, personally, find that sort of music easy to enjoy. Later still there was a spirited performance of the Sanctus (in English, of course) which could easily be adapted to the requirements of the Mass. These are not credal Christians, but how I should love to give the musicians responsible the words and music of Credo III (de Angelk) with instructions not to meddle with the text or the melodic line, but to do what they like with the rhythm.
Two months earlier, I had been privileged to attend the Midnight Mass in Westminster Cathedral, a few hundred yards away. The wonderful choir there sang a Haydn Mass (or most of one) very beautifully; apart from that, I intend no disrespect in saying that the service was long-winded and flat, with far too much of the dour vernacular, and very little of the "magick" of Latin.
How I wish we could synthesize the full glories of the Roman liturgy with the enthusiasm of the Emmanuel Centre. It is no use for us just to attempt to steal their clothes; although we are Catholics, we remain rigid and frigid in our English ways in church; hence the embarrassment of too many "Family" and "Youth" services.
I presume that most of those lovely people are baptised, even if they belong to denominations which insist on adult baptism; what they lack is the consolation of the Mass and the Blessed Sacrament, the apostolic ministry of bishops and priests, and, above all, the loving care and superintendence of the Holy Father.
IT IS ALWAYS sad when recognised denominations cannot manage to keep hold of the enthusiasts that arise within them: 250 years ago the Church of England lost the Methodists; 100 years later they lost the Salvation Army. If we look back to the 16th century we might feel that the stirrings of the Reformation could have been more cleverly handled and so contained within the Catholic Church.
With all due deference to our new archbishop, we may feel that Catholic discussions with the mainstream churches have got nowhere and are getting nowhere, even with our dearest sister the Church of England.
Perhaps it is time to open wide the arms of the Catholic Church to receive those who so obviously love Our Lord, but who have been cut off from us for centuries. There would certainly be great difficulties on the way, and we should have to take some risks.
Perhaps we could begin by inviting the local "Gospel" choir to sing for one of our Masses (making clear in advance that Communion is for Catholics only) so that we can see what we are missing, and they can see what they are missing.