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Aboriginal Church Music in Australia II

My first blog post about the scandalous absence of Australian Aboriginal church music in Australian churches, except for token performances, has sparked positive responses from concerned Australians and prominent musicians.

Anong these are Dr. Roland Peelman, Director of the Canberra International Music Festival, who championed Australian Aboriginal church music by including the Pitjantjatjara language hymns of the Ntaria Ladies Choir from Central Australia, in the 2019 Canberra Festival. Yorta Yorta opera composer and singer Deborah Cheetham took Australian Aboriginal church music to a new level, with her Eumeralla Requiem in Gunditjmara language, performed by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, the Melbourne Chorale, and the Dhungala Children’s Choir, at Hamer Hall on July 15 2019.

In 2018 I was fortunate to have one of my Noongar language church music compositions, Kaya Mary (Hello Mary) recorded by the ABC, and broadcast on Stephen Adams’ New Waves podcast. This piece was commissioned by Mooghalin Arts, the Australian Music Centre, Eora Aboriginal College and the Australian National University, and composed with mentorship provided by Darug Elder Dr. Chris Sainsbury’s Ngarra-Burria First Peoples Composers program. The podcast also includes powerful Australian Aboriginal music by Ngarra-Burria composers Brenda Gifford, Troy Russell, Rhyan Clapham and Tim Gray.

To listen, click on the link below :

https://abclisten.page.link/iN7g13oxouw7Y5N1A

But despite these efforts to promote Australian Aboriginal church music, grass roots inclusion of Australian Aboriginal church music in immigrant churches is not fully under way. There are many historical and ideological reasons for this, but there is no doubt that Australian churches are missing out on a great faith resource that has unrivalled power to connect Australians realistically, to country.

Australian Aboriginal church musicians and their communities are not welcomed into Australian immigrant origin churches as full liturgical participants, with the unrestricted rights to speak and sing their own languages, that immigrant participants enjoy. In our churches, Australian Aboriginal church musicians and Elders are treated very differently from non-English immigrants, whose cultures are warmly celebrated, and collaboratively included in all forms of church worship and social activities.

Two hundred years of genocidal bans on speaking and singing in Australian Aboriginal languages have retarded the development and acceptance of uniquely Australian church musics and cultures. This gross injustice is now being reversed, with Australian Aboriginal church music slowly emerging from the deep shadows cast by racist colonialism. It is important to understand that acceptance of Australian Aboriginal music into any church repertoire, does not mean that any immigrant church music is being rejected, considered inferior, or downplayed. It just means that a just balance is being restored, and that Christ’s law of love and equal sharing is being carried to its proper, peaceful conclusion. Australian churches have journeyed together, through the cross, together with Australian Aboriginal church communities, and the story of our long journey can and should be told truthfully, in our church music. All Australian church musicians and their communities have an obligation to engage intensively in this healing, restorative process, as respectful friends and colleagues of their local Australian Aboriginal church communities.

Reversing the almost total exclusion of Australian Aboriginal church music from all denominational church music publications, is one easily achievable goal, that can be accomplished quickly, with proactive goodwill. Local Australian Aboriginal church music could be commissioned, selected and approved by an Aboriginal church music consultor of the correct clan group, appointed to each local church music management Committee. All churches have these Committees. Churches that manage their music regionally or nationally, or from overseas, should seek advice from Australian Aboriginal church music consultants who are familiar with both the repertoire, and local cultural requirements. This process will take time, but there is no reason why it should be delayed.

Current Australian church music managers, charged with reviewing and approving a range of church music for inclusion in official worship books, and promoting selected compositions and composers, have rejected Aboriginal church music as ineligible for inclusion. Pressured by unsustainable theological and moral objections, they have summarily excluded the vast repertoire of Aboriginal church music from church approval. Australian church music publishers, as an inflexible rule, still give pride of place to any and all immigrant church music. The censorious behaviour of church music afficionadoes, that began with the 1788 British invasion of Aboriginal Australia, mandated the unhealthily racist attitudes that have sustained apartheid church music policies in this country. So our immigrant Australian church parishes remain ignorant and deprived of our magnificent Aboriginal Australian church music, and (apart from token annual “native performances”) uncharitably neglect the Aboriginal church communities that produce it.

In Stephen Adams’ first Ngarra-Burria music podcast, broadcast by the ABC in November 2017, my church music composition Walken Rainbow, performed by Ensemble Offspring, was played. This instrumental piece is a setting of the words of the Noongar Prayer, which is a translation of the Our Father into the Noongar language of South West Western Australia. In Noongar culture, the Rainbow, Maadjit Walken, is the female Creator Spirit who gives birth to the male Rainbow Serpent, who then shapes the ancestors, the land and all its creatures, harmoniously.

To listen, click on the link below :

https://abclisten.page.link/iN7g13oxouw7Y5N1A

Aboriginal Church Music in Australia

When it comes to racist apartheid in churches, Australia’s clearly a winner. Have a look at Australian Church hymnbooks. The official hymnbooks of all Australian Churches may have a token Aboriginal hymn (or two, or unusually, three). This token inclusion is often cited as proof that no racism exists in Australian churches. Indignant pastors, when accused of musical racism, may divert attention to the African or black American hymn repertoire, because they think of all coloured people as one homogenous group, and so they’re incapable of valuing our many Australian Aboriginal Church musics as unique repertoires. No Aboriginal psalm settings or liturgical chants are ever included in Australian Church hymnbooks, and to the casual overseas visitor, and to Australia’s large immigrant population, it’s obvious that those churches who have intentionally edited out the rich repertoires of Australian Aboriginal Church music, are deeply and selectively racist.

This ingrained racism has historical roots in the British Empire colonial mission era, when conversion to Christianity was linked with an all-pervasive campaign to civilize, enslave and assimilate the Australian First Nations populations that remained from the killing times. In the colonial era, Government bans on speaking and singing all Australian Aboriginal languages worked effectively to silence traditional Aboriginal music everywhere. That era has now passed, but malignant echoes of these inhumane bans on Aboriginal languages still infect many Australian State school language policies and curricula. Official over-promotion of English as the Australian lingua franca has, to a large extent, legitimized musical, conversational, and literary racism in Australian Churches. And paradoxically, immigrant languages are accorded privileged status in Australian Churches and schools, over Australian Aboriginal languages.

In 2017 the passing of the NSW Aboriginal Languages Bill opened a door to including Aboriginal languages in NSW school curricula. Revival of local Aboriginal languages such as Dharug, Wiradjuri, Gundungurra, Gambayngirr, Gamilaroi, Dharawal and Dhurga, on a large scale, suddenly became possible. Many NSW Aboriginal communities, inspired and encouraged by the example of the Aranda / Pitjantjatjara language Songkeepers Choir, are now reviving their languages and promoting their unique musical genres. New South Wales has led the way in changing the repressive legislation that banned Australian Aboriginal languages in our schools. If all Australian Churches follow this example, and begin promoting Aboriginal languages in parishes, and including Aboriginal hymns, psalms and liturgical music in their worship repertoires, the overt racism shamefully displayed in most Australian Churches every Sunday, may begin to recede.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Active Music Making vs. Passive Music Consumption

Copyright © Elizabeth Sheppard, 17 March 2020

A note for Media Presenters, Reviewers and Scholars : Quoting from, citing, or referring to my original concepts, words or ideas, as presented here or elsewhere, during media programs or in publications authored by others, requires permission from me, their author (see Contact page)

Original music making is an enjoyable, rewarding, creative, deeply human activity. It uses every human sense, it’s like a gym workout session for your brain, to play or sing original music that comes from the heart of your country and community. Original music making and live performance promotes health, it’s a human survival weapon that people have always turned to in difficult times. And it can also be done online, to ensure healthy social distancing, and boost morale in struggling communities, in this current pandemic crisis.

I love composing new music, so much of my time is devoted to that, but I also enjoy listening to and singing the music I grew up with, and to today’s music. Lots of parents, like me, enjoy music that we can share with friends and family. Concert going is an expensive luxury, limited by my low income. Since my parents immersed me in original music making as a child, I’ve always been aware that consuming someone else’s music by listening or mimicry, although it’s fun, is at best an amusing, ephemeral secondhand musical adventure.

Immersing ourselves in other people’s music can be therapeutic, educational, fascinating and enriching. But experiencing music from the outside in isn’t at all like composing your own original music, or performing it, or hearing others perform it. Releasing the music that lives inside me and my country, and sending it out into the world, is exhilarating and enlivening. I’m energised  by it. When I make my own music, I discover and celebrate the music that’s grown up with me, as I’ve matured. It’s been formed in me by my country and my people, and so I must release it. By closely attending to and translating the music of my country into music that communicates with audiences, I process my emotions and understandings, and contribute to community understandings. When my music is performed, it affirms the undervalued experiences of Australian communities that are deeply embedded in our agonising, enduring, surviving, reviving, rejoicing country. So through music, I empathise with others, celebrate them, and acknowledge contrasting viewpoints.

Expressing myself in communion with my country and my people comes naturally to me, but I’m not a genius or a virtuoso, and everyone can learn to do what I do, to some degree. Instead of drowning in information input overload, we can process our own knowledge, gathered from events that we’ve experienced and absorbed, and reflect it to audiences, who can then respond with their own music. This open musical dialogue, that can sustain social harmony, is the best, most constructive use for music. When my own music connects to an audience, it starts a social and spiritual chain reaction that goes on forever. And that’s wonderful.

There’s a huge difference between creating original music from scratch, and compiling playlists for listening, or learning to imitate pre-recorded music. Musical fandom seems to have descended into data collection of themes and loops. Regurgitating loops is rated as more musical, no memory for loops = unmusical. By that measure, I’m not musical at all, because all my brain has room for is my own music. On the TV show Spicks & Specks, competitors guess the title of a song after hearing a fragment of it. The winner, who identifies and imitates other peoples’ songs best, is judged “good at music”. That’s fine, if you just want to memorise other people’s songs, but is this really “being good at music”? Isn’t it just fandom, attentive listening, a good memory, a good ear, and consumer mimicry? 

Reminiscing about the past is unpopular these days, but I grew up in an Australian community where people constantly created their own music, as well as playing and singing classics, radio “hits”, and inherited music. Making live music was an everyday, undigitised, praiseworthy, often informal, highly valued event. Criticism of average or wobbly music performances was rare. No one expected everyone to perform music perfectly, as they do today, so everyone could have a go at it, and get a clap. Everyone in my world sang, whistled, and memorised songs around the house, often imperfectly, and unencumbered by technology. We all knew a vast repertoire of church hymns and psalm tunes by heart; these were sung at church in parts, and hummed when we were gardening, helping Dad in his workshop, or doing housework with Mum. We handwrote music scores, played and sang solo and in groups, practised “party pieces” to perform at clubs, parties, community fundraising concerts, and performed music every week at home, at school and in church. Performing music was a social necessity, an absorbing team game that required learning cooperative music skills. Engaging in church music in those days was certainly not a Marxian dumbed down “opium of the people”: it required discipline, regular work, a commitment to social justice, and sustained creative effort.

We listened to music on the radio, and later to LP records on the stereogram my parents purchased in 1963, when I turned 15. But when we wanted to “do music”, we made our own music, building on the musuc traditions we knew well, to do so. Tape recorders, computers, CD players, iPods and streamed music targeted at consumers, were absent, they came along much later. I heard my tape recorded singing voice for the first time in 1963, at a church youth club, and bought my first computer, a Mac SE, in 1989. By 1992 I had a CD player and a Walkman, but the iPod, smart phones, music software and music streaming didn’t arrive in my household until 2000, when I was 52 years old. Like most Australians, we simply didn’t have sufficient disposable income to access up to date music technology.

My hardworking parents scrimped and saved to buy me the beautiful Bosendorfer upright grand piano they gave me on Christmas Day 1955, when I was 7 years old. I still it have today. My sister learnt to play the violin, so we learned music together, at great cost to Mum and Dad, who paid for our weekly music lessons until we turned 18. Recently I counted the cost of these music lessons. In all, Mum and Dad paid for about 500 piano lessons for me (about £5000, or $10000 in decimal currency), and the piano cost £150. This was a huge slice out of their meagre income from their 9 to 5 work as an electrician and teacher, that shows how much my family valued music.

When the folk music craze arrived from America in 1963, my Great Aunt Anne Foulsum gave me my Great Uncle Bill’s old steel string guitar, that he used to play in a Dixieland band at the old Melbourne Palais. I strummed it, and sang Scottish folk songs, and songs from the Seekers, Peter Paul and Mary, Joan Baez, Nina and Frederick, and Bob Dylan. I owned only one Nina and Frederick record, a 45′, called Little Boxes, and I listened to my sister’s classical and folk World Record Club collection. My musical cousins in Wonthaggi, Victoria played the piano or organ, or marching band instruments like fifes or euphoniums, and everyone in my extended family sang. Some could read music, others sang from sol-fa notation, and all the older folk sang or played from memory. My Grandad Ebenezer Simpson was the most accomplished musician in our family, he played the button accordion for dances, sang many folksongs from memory, and produced the annual Wonthaggi pantomime at the Union Theatre. One of his daughters, my Auntie Jean Fullard, was the Church organist at St Andrews Peace Church, Wonthaggi, for many years. On my mother’s side, my Grandfather Gus Ridge was a singer, theatre producer and playwright in Perth, Kalgoorlie and Carnarvon in the early 1900s. My musical ancestors passed on their love of country based music making, and their skills, to me, so through making new music that’s in tune with the past and present, and looks forward with hope, I keep faith with them and with my country.

Ensemble Offspring at Eora Aboriginal College, May 10 2018

My adventures in integrating my Church and Conservatorium music background with my Aboriginal Noongar Yamatji and Gundangurra ancestral music heritage are continuing in 2018. This year I’ve been working with the Darug Aboriginal community, who are reviving their threatened Dharug language by teaching indigenous and non-indigenous people to sing contemporary songs with Dharug language words researched and revived by Dr. Jeremy Steele, Dr. Jaklyn Troy, and Darug Elders Richard Green and Julie Webb Jones (among others). This revived Darug indigenous music comes from the bountiful land we live on, that gives us life and breath and food from our Creator.

In 2018 I continued my internship with Dr. Christopher Sainsbury’s Australian Indigenous Composers Initiative, sponsored by Mooghalin Arts. We began in March 2018, and progressed through performances of works for Ensemble Offspring by Brenda Gifford, Troy Russell, Rhyan Clapham, Timothy John Edward Gray and myself (Elizabeth Sheppard) at the Biaime’s Nghunnu Festival at Brewarrina, on Murawari country. Nghunnu is the word for the Murawari fish traps on the Barwon River, and Biaime is the Creator. Undeterred by surgery on my left knee, I became a Bionic Woman, and soldiered on with composing a series of new works while completing demanding rehabilitation exercise routines. After attending face to face and Skype Composition tutorials with Dr. Kim Cunio, Music Lecturer at the Australian National University, I and the other four ICI Composers were ready to Workshop our brand new music with the Ensemble. One of my new pieces, inspired by a the legend that Darug Aboriginal Women used to sing to baby eels as they swam upriver, was undertaken with the permission of Darug Aboriginal Elders from Parramatta.

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On May 10 2018 Dr Christopher Sainsbury, the ICI Director, Australian National University Music Lecturer, and an eminent Darug Aboriginal composer, welcomed us, gave the Aboriginal Country Acknowledgement, and welcomed Yorta Yorta Aboriginal composer and opera singer Deborah Cheetham. I’d met Deborah previously at a Madjitil Moorna Choir rehearsal on my mother’s Whadjuk Noongar country (Perth). Deborah talked with us about using Aboriginal languages in our compositions, shared how she composed and performed an a capella song in Gadigal Aboriginal language with Eora College students, and encouraged us to share our music and collaborate in community and with each other, as this is an important principle of Aboriginal music.

After we welcomed the Ensemble performers – Jason Noble (Clarinet), Sonya Holowell (Dharawal Mezzo Soprano), Anna McMichael (Violin) and Roland Peelman (Composer, Canberra International Music Festival Producer and Director, and Pianist). They tuned up, and we began the Workshop. First off the rank was my piece, Burradowi. The Ensemble played it right through several times with all instruments, with Roland Peelman delighting us with his comments and improvisations. The piece was treated to a real workout, with every possible variation being applied to it, including some skilful eel-like sounds from Jason’s Clarinet, beautiful ethereal singing from Sonya, and smooth, soaring violin melodies from Anna. No new ideas were introduced, and no changes to my music score were suggested, but my mentors, indigenous colleagues and the performers provided me, through their performance itself, with valuable musical knowledge that would help me to refine my composition score, and my direction of performances, more effectively.

Four pieces by the other composers were Workshopped, including a beautiful atmospheric piece by Brenda Gifford, called Mirawar (Sky), a meditative lament by Troy, a mysterious cinematic piece from Tim Gray, and Rhyan Clapham’s complex, rhythmically challenging piece in 5/4, that included many tongue twisters for Sonya. Although our pieces are in the early stages of development, each has a particular indigenous character, and each is closely related to the composer’s country.

It was great to be at Eora Aboriginal College again, and wonderful to meet up with Deborah Cheetham, Roland Peelman, Claire Edwardes, Chris Sainsbury, Kim Cunio, Kiriaki Koubaroulis and the other ICI Composers, and also with Dr. John Davis of the Australian Music Centre. On August 8-10 we’ll be hosted at Llewellyn Hall, ANU Canberra, to attend composition lectures, and to present the inaugural Indigenous Composer Initiative group lecture on Indigenous Contemporary Composition, at ANU School of Music. On September 3 2018 we’ll gather at Eora Aboriginal College, 333 Abercrombie St. Chippendale NSW, to Workshop our pieces again, in preparation for two ICI Composer concerts in Canberra and Sydney, and another ICI Composer recording at the Australian National University Studio in November. Thanks to the Ensemble Offspring performers, and to everyone involved in this exciting, ongoing indigenous Australian music Project.

Ensemble Offspring at Eora Aboriginal College, August 3 2017

So what’s this topic got to do with church music, or cantor ministry? Quite a lot, actually.

As readers who follow my blogs and my music will know, I have Noongar Yamatji  (Western Australian) and Gundangurra (NSW) indigenous heritage. In October 2016, I was recommended for and awarded a mentored Composition internship under the Australian National University / Australian Music Centre / APRA AMCOS Indigenous Composers Initiative (ICI) Program. Since then, I’ve been composing a series of pieces on Australian indigenous themes. All of my ICI indigenous compositions have church-related content, whether liturgical, or social justice related. In that that sense, they are a continuation of my church music ministry, but unconfined by an institution that has been inexcusably reluctant to recognise, appropriately value and promote the unique, indisputable, all-pervading presence of the many cultures of Australian indigenous music and musicians that have resounded since time immemorial, throughout our vast continent.

Church music is not Ensemble Offspring’s usual bill of fare, but virtuoso vibraphonist Claire Edwardes and her talented colleagues welcome all genres of new music, by any composer who’s willing and able to explore contemporary music making in any genre. This group Workshopped some of my compositions on February 25 at Eora Aboriginal College. On June 22 the five intern ICI Composers – Brenda Gifford, Troy Russell, Timothy John Edward Gray, Rhyan Clapham and myself – gathered at ANU Canberra to hear our compositions recorded at the ANU School of Music Studio. It’s fair to say that all of our indigenous compositions have strong spiritual elements. Christopher Sainsbury of ANU School of Music, Kevin Hunt of Sydney Conservatorium, and John Davis, CEO of the Australian Music Centre, have encouraged and supported the ICI Composers throughout the Program.

At 6.00 pm this Thursday at Eora Aboriginal College, 333 Abercrombie Street, Chippendale, Ensemble Offspring will premiere my three movement instrumental Kooranginy Suite, as part of the 2017 ICI Premiere Concert. Kooranginy includes my musical setting of the Aboriginal Noongar Prayer text. The Noongar Prayer is a translation of the Our Father prayer into Noongar, the Aboriginal language of South West Western Australia. My Kooranginy setting of this prayer text (entitled Walken Rainbow) will be performed without words to symbolise the years of enforced cultural silencing endured by Noongar people, and the suppression and exclusion of Aboriginal languages in Australian missions and churches. Over many years the Noongar Language of Western Australia has slowly been reconstructed and revived, and is now taught in Western Australian schools. Recently, due to the dedicated work of many Noongar Elders and researchers, including (among others too numerous to mention) Father Bernard Rooney of New Norcia Abbey, Kylie Farmer, Gina Williams and Clint Bracknell, Noongar speech, stories, poetry and songs are re-emerging.

Sacred Indigenous Music and the Church

Last night I attended a seminar organised by Reconciliation for Western Sydney, on “Aboriginal Justice, Language Restoration, and Spirituality”, at Parramatta, Western Sydney, Australia. We heard sacred songs sung in Dharug Aboriginal language by Jacinta Tobin, a Darug Elder who is a descendant of Yarramundi, a chieftain of the Boorooberongal clan of the Richmond NSW area., and a Christian. Her presentation was followed up by Pastor Ray Minniecon from Redfern, who spoke about Australian indigenous spirituality and its connection to singing.

The enthusiastic audience, who braved freezing weather to attend, were delighted by Jacinta’s songs, and appreciative of Pastor Ray’s careful, patient explanations of complex indigenous spiritual concepts such as skin, songlines, and clan relationship laws. Jacinta has recorded three CDs of her Darug songs, and they will soon be available for online purchase.

Jacinta and Ray, and many Australian Aboriginal people, express their Christian faith in complete consonance with their indigenous identity and song. So why don’t Australian churches include more Australian Aboriginal music and ceremony in their parish worship? There’s plenty of brilliant indigenous church repertoire, and many great indigenous church musicians, out there, but most Australian parish church communities do not include and welcome Australian indigenous church musicians sufficiently, or include sufficient Australian indigenous church music in their worship repertoire.

Maybe someone at the upcoming NSW Sacred Music Festival can enlighten me as to the reasons for this shameful situation. Including indigenous church music in church worship is a proven method of reversing racism and educating non-indigenous people, but none of my church music friends / colleagues seem to care a hoot about this issue. I’m not at all happy to settle for the unspoken / unwritten, racist policy of imposing church music apartheid, repertoire censorship and worship segregation on Australian Aboriginal Christians. An optional annual token Sorry Day or NAIDOC service is simply not enough. All cultures and genres of immigrant music have found prominence and supporters in Australian church worship, so why is Australian indigenous church music so firmly excluded?

Recorded Music in Church

In 1963 my church community (St Theodore’s Anglican Church, Elizabeth South, South Australia) purchased a large, cumbersome Phillips tape recorder for our parish. Despite listening to the radio every day, no member of our urban church had ever seen or heard how taped sounds were recorded, before this event. The reason for this was prevalent conservative prejudice against “devilish” secular music, that cocooned church youth of my generation from moral contamination. My church youth group tried the miraculous tape recorder out, supervised by our parish priest, Fr. Norman Kempson. We were amazed to hear our recorded voices singing back at us. The Phillips tape recorder served our parish well, but we never thought to use it to replace our valued church organist, or our singing voices. Our worship was off limits to technology. Worship was not worship, unless it was enacted by live, physically present, musically competent human people, in real time. We used the tape recorder to produce plays and concerts, entertain at social events, and raise money.

Over the last twenty years, with digital technology ever present, many Australian churches have relaxed previously strict rules banning recorded music and audiovisuals during Church worship services. The digital church has now come to stay, whether technology-phobic older parishioners like it, or not. There is a sensible way of using recorded music and audiovisuals, but sadly, in some churches, nonsensical practices that are killing off congregational performance skills, have taken over. Sensible, moderate inclusion of recorded and enhanced music can help churches to teach and promote sung and instrumental worship.

Some church communities have gone too far, and have totally replaced live congregational singing with recorded music and recorded singers. Some communities, who are unwilling or unable to provide music instruction, music staff, and equipment, teach that total silence is always superior to sung worship. Of course silence has always had an honoured place in liturgy, but authentic Christian worship requires that intervals of silent prayer and worship are preceded by well ordered, harmonious, sung worship, readings, preaching and rituals accompanied by music. I am one of many actively worshipping Christians who love to hear human voices raised in well ordered audible worship of God, well balanced within liturgical rites, prayer and silence. I deplore the suppression of audible musical Christian worship, by parsimonious clergy and committees who refuse to provide adequate musical resources and experience for their congregations. There is no contest between silent worship and sung worship: each has its place in different stages of worship. God is present with us in both silent prayer, and also when we sing with heart as well as voice. In all human faiths, worship has always included both silence and song: why should Christian worship be downgraded, corrupted or silenced? Church singing, that is still valued and taught in many Christian churches overseas, is an important and effective way to proclaim our Christian faith publicly, and to introduce new members and children to doctrine, prayer and worship.

Recorded church music, when used correctly, supports sung worship, and should never totally supplant it. Using recorded accompaniments for some services can quickly reduce parish music budgets stretched by weekly organist fees and organ maintenance. But churches who value their music heritage adequately will always make room for skilled organists and choristers, and firmly connect recorded music with sound church music teaching and practice.

Recorded accompaniments and electronic music for churches has pitfalls, some of these being the cost of a good sound amplification system, digital organ maintenance, and sound technicians’ fees. Reliable and skilled recorded audiovisual curation and synchronisation during worship is just as important as real time music rehearsal and performance supervision. A blaring and blurting sound system, uncoordinated hymn lyric slides, or selecting detested recorded songs sung by non-local performers in non-local accents, is a sure way to drive a congregation away to a more musical parish that welcomes and promotes local church musicians and composers..

Australian Church Music Idol Marketing

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!

To express your views you can vote in my poll.

Blog Title Change to neocantrix

You may have noticed that the title of my blog has changed from neocantor to neocantrix. This is because an online troll registered the word neocantor in his name on Twitter, and I am not the author of his @neocantor Twitter posts.

Church Cantor Service – commodity or ministry?

In Australia, Church cantors minister to thousands of congregations, enriching worship with the music of many Church traditions. They work within many different church structures, and their work may be supervised, or not. No inter church agreements on the work of Christian musicians exist, although corporate church music conferences often claim dominant governance roles. Church denominations treasure their particular Church music tradition, which always contains and communicates their doctrinal position within the wide spectrum of Christian belief.

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Yet despite being consigned to what is effectively a management limbo, where individual competition is not only promoted, but mandatory, Christian cantors are surviving. Their ministry survival strategies are varied. Some cantors have chosen to enlist with Church music corporations, and so are paid by parishes affiliated to these church music licensing corporations. Some work as part-time casual employees, and some choose to work as unpaid parish or emerging church volunteers. But more and more trained, experienced Church cantors are choosing to establish independent online cantor ministries, presenting church music workshops, singing for selected liturgies, composing church music, recording their compositions, and speaking at Church music conferences. Whatever survival strategy these Christian religious singers adopt, they are still serving the Church as cantors dedicated to Church music ministry.