Following the example of media adulation of secular “star” singers, Australian churches have jumped holus-bolus on to the Church Music Idol Bandwagon. According to some Australian church hierarchies, Australian Church singers and musicians are no longer permitted to practise music ministry. Relegated to selecting music repertoire and delivering technically competent performances, their robotic provision of church music in praise of God is supposedly divorced from, and irrelevant to, pastoral care and ministry.
To promote this heresy, clerics are instructing youth to idolise the current church music star and the latest church music “hit song”. Churches who aggressively commodify and market their in-house church music, composers and performers, often attack rival church music as sinful, in lengthy articles detailing musical offences. These Purity Brigades attack their competitors not only by taking the high moral ground, but by harnessing the depths of populist media hell. Evangelical Christians are marketing films about devil-worship using Catholic Gregorian chant soundtracks, and requiring their members to repeat the myth that Catholics are not Christians. Catholic priests, totally ignoring the vast repertoire of Protestant church music for the dead (e.g. from Protestant composer Johann Sebastian Bach), are preaching the slander that no Protestant Christian ever prays for the dead. Each male church musician has his fan club, and is signed to an international corporation that controls his church music career, income and output. Many Australian church musicians, following the example of their commercially successful music contemporaries in the rock, pop, country and rhythm and blues genres, and abandoning long held church music traditions, have imposed secular compositional styles on church texts, to cater for commercial market demand. These factional music divisions are tearing churches apart.
Use of secular tunes is not a new thing in church music: secular themes have always been used by church musicians to attract congregations, but this tendency was previously regulated by central Church control. No longer. Today the scale and speed of the demise of church music traditions in Australia, facilitated by musically illiterate clergy and church committees, has been startling.
In Australia, this forced demise of traditional church music forms and exponents has included severe censorship of the education, performances and new compositions of women church composers and musicians. The few women church musicians who briefly ascend to the heights of star church music performer status in Australia enjoy only momentary glory, before they are ungraciously booted out of the church music pantheon.
Sounds like sour grapes, I know, but I have experienced working in a fine church music system in the past, and today’s commodified church music is a travesty of what good, honest, heartfelt local church music can be. Even free-wheeling French Taize chants, which were composed as templates to be shaped and enhanced by local music styles through prayerful improvisation, have become poor shadows of themselves in many Australian churches, that have banned local creativity and congregational education in church music. So please excuse me for expressing my disgust at this anarchic church music mess, which could have easily been avoided by funding a strong inter-denominational National Centre for Australian Church Music. The Wesley Centre in Canberra was a good start, but it didn’t go far enough. And guess what, God values every sincere church singer, just as he values every tiny sparrow that sings God’s praise from its heart. I’m still singing for God!
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