… sacred song in Australia …

Following the example of media adulation of “winning” secular star singers, Australian churches have jumped holus-bolus on to the Church Music Idol Bandwagon. Australian Church singers are no longer music ministers, but merely music repertoire and performance specialists, who are not expected to do pastoral care or ministry training. In some parishes, refusing to idolise the current church music star risks clerical condemnation. Refusing to admire and sing endorsed church music is often condemned as sinful by churches who commodify their in-house church music, composers and performers. Clerics regularly condemn rival church music as sinful, in lengthy articles detailing musical offences. Evangelical Christians produce films about devil-worship using Catholic Gregorian chant soundtracks, and tell their members that Catholics are not Christians. Roman Catholic priests, totally ignoring the vast repertoire of Protestant church music for the dead (e.g. from composer Johann Sebastian Bach), spread the persistent slander that no Protestant Christian ever prays for the dead. Each commercially successful Australian male church musician has his fan club, and is signed up to a corporation that exercises absolute power over 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.  This is not a new thing in church music: secular themes have always been used by church musicians to attract, but today the scale and speed of the demise of church music traditions, with the assent of church authorities, has been startling. In Australia, this forced demise of traditional church music forms and exponents has included severe censorship of the education, performances and compositions of women church composers and musicians. The very few women church musicians who 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, free 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, has become a poor shadow of itself in many Australian churches who 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 establishing an inter-denominational National Centre for Australian Church Music, and conforming to Australian anti-discrimination employment laws. 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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