… sacred song in Australia …

Archive for January, 2013

Australian Church Choirs – networking fortress churches

I’ve noticed that Australian Church Choirs are under rated and under exposed in the Australian and international media, possibly due to the tendency of Australian Church communities to be comfortably inward-looking rather than mission-oriented. As a result, the world is getting the impression that Australian society is more secularised and less Christian than it actually is. To help remedy this, here are some links to Australian Church choirs, databases of Australian Church Choirs, and organisations that maintain, promote, publish, and market the music of Australian Church Choirs.

Choir

Karina Gough’s list of Melbourne Choirs is a good starting point. You can find it by cutting and pasting this URL into your browser.

http://home.vicnet.net.au/~choirs/

As is usual in Australia, this internet choir list favours secular choirs and only includes a handful of Melbourne’s many Church choirs. It seems that Australian Church choirs simply don’t bother to register on non-denominational Choir lists, or join general choral associations. By confining Church choir publicity and networking to denominational websites, Australian Church musicians are doing themselves out of many opportunities.

As organist Mark Quarmby helpfully points out, the Royal School of Church Music in Australia maintains a larger (but far from comprehensive) membership list of Australian Church choirs, see link below:

http://www.rscmaustralia.org.au/Links.htm

The Australian National Choral Association (ANCA) lists only 4 parish Church choirs in its membership, and 10 Church school and ethnic Church community choirs. I counted a total of 47 members choirs of this organisation listed on their website.

http://www.anca.org.au/find-choir

Some Australian choir websites omit Church choirs altogether, e.g.

http://www.choirplace.com/choirs/choirs-in-australia

http://www.caoa.org.au/index.php/choirlinks (Choral Association Australia Inc., 54 choirs registered, but no Church choirs)

Highbrow, Lowbrow, or just plain Pastoral?

Accusations of “high-brow” elitism in Church music are often levelled at Anglican High Church (i.e. episcopalian or Anglo-Catholic) parishes in Australia.

At the other extreme, the so-called “low” Anglican Churches of the evangelical persuasion, who have simplified their Church music repertoire in an attempt to increase congregational participation in Church music, are often accused of “low-brow” banality, or outright iconoclasm.This debate generally disguises the real issues. i.e. music costs and ministry time commitment. Small parishes cannot afford the luxuries of paid orchestras, professional choristers, or a pipe organ, no matter how much they want these. The fix-it-quick option for a cash-strapped parish with no hymn books, organ, or organist, is a limited hymn copyright licence, projected slides, and recorded music accompaniments. The longer-term option (and in the long run the more productive one) is a firm commitment to weekly Church music education for all ages. Parishes with internet access (not always the case in Australia) can organise hymn practice sessions easily, otherwise CDs can be used. The Royal School of Church Music provides Church music training resources, and many Anglican schools and dioceses, ethnic Churches and ecumenical associations organise Church music schools, camps and conferences.

Since every Church is committed to providing a peaceful witness to Jesus Christ’s divine teachings and life, there is no mandate for Christians to bicker over selecting their worship music repertoire, or engaging in media beat-ups that gleefully escalate inter-church music squabbles. Obviously, different Church cultures and backgrounds will favour different, legitimate Church music repertoires, and there is no harm in this. Church music governing organisations, Church schools, and parish music directors are charged with ensuring that Church music in Australia is well composed and performed, that it proclaims Christian teachings, and that it is well integrated with worship. In Western Sydney, it is not uncommon for 40+ different languages to be spoken in one Church parish, but in the interests of preserving Church unity, congregations still manage to learn and sing a core repertoire of English hymns. Annual, monthly, or weekly monocultural liturgies, and special feast day celebrations, fill the need for each cultural group or faction to perform and hear their own Church music in various locations, but there is also an unspoken hospitality rule, by which an invitation is always extended to visitors from other cultures to attend and observe ethnic or denominational liturgies and music, where they are treated as honoured guests.

By visiting all parishes, and not indulging in excessive partiality re music genres within their diocese, clergy and Bishops can exert a considerable charitable, pacifying influence that promotes unity in Christ, even where differing music repertoires, doctrines and texts tend to divide. The strongest unifying force for any diocese is an authentic Christian witness, where Church people join in caring pastorally for those in need. When peaceful Christian work of this kind takes priority, Church music repertoire issues are often reduced to their proper perspective.

The Great Aussie Church Music Cringe . . .

Lamenting the great Aussie government-induced church music cringe. See link at

Michael Kieran Harvey: What Would Peggy Do? – Arts – Browse – Big Ideas – ABC TV

This online lecture, although it refers mainly to contemporary secular Australian art music composition, is also relevant to Church music in Australia. I love classical Church music, and I support maintaining a CORE repertoire of “traditional” Anglo-European Church music. But I object to the way non-Australian Church music repertoires have been imposed holus-bolus on Australian Church communities, often without their consent, just when a new crop of Australian church music composition was taking off. Imposing this overseas monopoly has stifled Australian Church music, and created a musical generation gap in many parishes that impedes religious education. The practice of culturally gagging Aussie congregations and ordering them to worship God with second-hand imported music is damaging. The fact is, imported Church music repertoires, however excellent or cheap, come from a different time and place and population. Although we may empathise with and appreciate non-Australian musical expressions of Christian faith, it is impossible to reach the deeper communal levels of faith as Australians living in Australia, unless we worship God directly with our own unique Australian music, that comes from the heart of Australia. Much of our Australian Church music (from such tiny colonial churches as the one pictured below, at Greenough, Western Australia) still awaits collection, or is stored in the Australian National Library in Canberra, awaiting re-discovery and re-publication.

IMG_0637

A survey of just how many Australian-made compositions are included in Australian Church music repertoires and licensing lists is badly needed. Editing out or minimising local Australian compositions from our repertoires degrades, and may destroy, our living, dynamic, developing, inherited tradition of Australian Church music. Australians who attend Churches are often musical, and many have brilliant musical concepts, ideas and creations, which are expressed and sometimes briefly admired, but their work is seldom promoted, simply because the composers are local, Australian, and therefore seen as unimportant. Promoting a token number of Australian Church music composers is seen as an acceptable and easy solution, but why should the majority of Australian Church music composers be relegated to oblivion, in preference to a privileged few?

Typical Church music repertoires in Australia include only 5% of Australian Church music compositions at best. Overseas visitors expecting to find a flourishing local Church music repertoire find this extremely odd. The percentage could easily be increased, as many new  Australian compositions are available, but those responsible for music selection are often in economic thrall to corporate or monocultural giants rather than obedient to Christ and eager to promote local faith development through local Church music. If there is an Australian Church music composer (age is irrelevant – the young have no monopoly on expressing faith in God’s Kingdom) in your congregation or nearby, you should seek them out, encourage them to continue composing, listen to / workshop their music, and arrange for it to be included in church services on a regular basis, with the usual royalty payments that all overseas composers receive. Ask your local composers to compose “lite” versions of their music, and publish them as audio tracks and .pdf lead sheets, for online purchase. Purchase these and play them as background tracks at parish parties, with distributed lead sheets, to spread the word and familiarise parishioners with the tunes. Research your local Australian Church music, and compile a local Church music list for family and church group services. You may be surprised at the quality of the compositions you find, and its morale-boosting effect on your congregation.