From Anglican South Africa...
  • Deon Irish has released this for reprint. It will appear in his parish newsletter.

    When Gabriel Faure was four years old, his father was appointed
    director of the Normal School at Montgauzy, near Foix in the Ari=E8ge.
    There was a chapel attached to the school, where the little boy spent
    hours playing the harmonium. In 1854, the boy's talent had developed
    to such an extent that his father enrolled the then nine year old in
    the Ecole de Musique Classique et Religieuse in Paris, which Louis
    Niedermeyer had established the previous year and which came to be
    known as the Ecole Niedermeyer in consequence.

    This school was primarily intended for the study and practice of
    church music and Faure's eleven year stay there as a boarder was
    partially funded by a scholarship from the Bishop of Pamiers, the
    diocese in which his home village fell. Students were required to
    study plainsong, organ and the great treasury of Renaissance
    polyphonic works; and because they were intended to be organists and
    choirmasters, their training also included serious literary studies .

    Faure graduated with distinction and went on to a long and
    exceptionally fruitful life as an organist and composer. He held a
    country post at Rennes for five years before returning to Paris,
    where he was almost immediately caught up in the Franco-Prussian War
    of 1870. Thereafter he was Widor's Assistant Organist of the
    important Parisian church of St Sulpice, before joining Saint-Saens
    as deputy organist of the Church of the Madeleine. On Saint-Saens'
    resignation in 1877, Dubois succeeded him and Faure was appointed
    choirmaster. Eventually, in 1896 he in turn succeeded Dubois as the
    church's titular organist, a post he held until his appointment as
    Director of the Paris Conservatoire in 1905.

    His compositions include at least three works for the church which
    have remained firmly in the repertoire: the early Cantique de Jean
    Racine (of 1865), the work which won him the coveted first prize in
    composition at the Ecole Niedermeyer; the Messe basse ("low mass") of
    1881; and the celebrated Requiem, written erratically between 1877
    and 1890, and finally orchestrated in 1900.

    This little bit of biography is, I think, striking for demonstrating
    two aspects of the times: firstly, the active involvement of the
    church in the training of liturgical musicians and the promotion of
    liturgical music as a career; and secondly, the number of composers
    and musicians of the first rank who were actively involved in church
    music, week by week and year by year.

    Something of this spirit informed the founding of the School of
    English Church Music on St Nicholas' Day 1927 by Sir Sydney
    Nicholson, who resigned his post as organist of Westminster Abbey in
    order to undertake this task. The impetus for the school came from
    the report of a commission appointed by the Archbishops of Canterbury
    and of York to enquire into the purpose and state of church music.
    The school, which was at its inception intended to be residential,
    was to be for England what the Ecole Niedermeyer had been for France.
    The full course was a three years residential diploma; but, in
    addition, there were more limited courses on offer for specific
    groups such as clergy, ordinands, country choirmasters and
    examination candidates.

    In 1945, the School was reconstituted as the Royal School of Church
    Music, with its headquarters at Addington Palace, a former residence
    of the Archbishops of Canterbury, originally used for overnight
    lodging on journeys between Lambeth Palace in London and Old Palace
    in Canterbury.

    By 1971, Kenneth Long could enthuse: "It is not necessary to
    discuss the work of the RSCM in detail: all readers must surely be
    aware of its publications, summer schools, choirboys' courses,
    festivals, advisory services and the splendid work done by its
    Director and Commissioners in visiting choirs". As a result of its
    work the function of music in worship is now more widely understood,
    standards of performance and conduct have greatly improved (even
    though many choirs are much smaller) and the choice and selection of
    music show vastly better taste and critical judgement that was
    general in 1937."

    And, indeed, in the intervening years, the RSCM (which was very
    active throughout the Anglican communion and which ran enormously
    successful non-racial residential summer schools in South Africa, in
    defiance of Apartheid) had ensured that good quality choral music was
    being increasingly well performed by thousands of singers in choirs
    the length and breadth of the Communion.

    And then it all fell apart. Rather, it didn't fall apart: the
    Western Christian liturgical music tradition was deliberately
    suppressed and almost entirely destroyed in consequence of the
    culturally narrow-sighted ideology of most of those in the vanguard
    of liturgical reform, both in the Roman Catholic and Anglican

    The most harm was undoubtedly caused by Vatican II, the general
    council of the Roman Catholic Church summoned by John XXIII. The
    Roman liturgy was seen to have stultified and to require urgent
    renewal to respond to the post-WWII milieu. Services entirely in
    Latin were inherently non-participatory for most worshippers and, in
    the larger churches which did provide choral music, the standard on
    offer had generally declined to the banal offerings of some obscure
    composers of the late 19th century. (The RC church had no equivalent
    of the RSCM and musical choices were in general dictated by an
    increasingly musical illiterate clergy.) Hymnody was virtually non-
    existent, other than the plainsong office hymns and a collection of
    mushy Marian and devotional hymns.

    The situation within the Anglican Communion differed from province
    to province and even from parish to parish, there being a greater
    variety of liturgical expression to be encountered, even within the
    confines of the Prayer Book. But even in such places as did provide
    fully choral services (and they were many), the strong tradition of
    hymn singing and the use of vernacular for the service meant a great
    deal less estrangement from participation by the congregations. In
    addition, the offices of Matins and Evensong were both particularly
    suitable for a rich mix of biblical readings and psalmody, preaching
    and choral music in canticles and - the peculiarly Anglican invention
    - anthems.

    These choirs brought thousands upon thousands of choristers - and
    their families and friends and supporters - into churches the length
    and breadth of the Anglican Communion Sunday by Sunday.
    However, Vatican II trumpeted one principle against all others, in
    defiance of biblical precept , unbroken and universal liturgical
    practice and musical logic: all those portions of the mass and
    offices that had hitherto been sung in any reasonably large
    ecclesiastical establishment to plainsong, a capella polyphony or
    accompanied choral writing were now to be delivered by the members of
    the congregation, at all services. Thus, the previous provision of a
    range of styles of service which catered for differing requirements
    was lost; and a "one size fits all" mentality triumphed, rather like
    the ugly sisters insisting that the beautiful little slipper would
    fit the big foot.

    In France, the results of the liturgical reforms endorsed by Vatican
    II were immediate and devastating. In less than fifty years, from
    being a city in which the major churches had a history of notable
    musicians writing important music for their services high masses, the
    Parisian Sunday morning choral mass effectively disappeared, largely
    in favour of the ubiquitous quick and quiet Saturday night vigil
    masses. The principle masses on Sunday no longer featured choral
    music, and were musically notable only for the extemporized introits
    and postludes of the titular organists. If there was singing at all,
    it would be of the simplest kind, most commonly led by a cantor
    dominating proceedings, generally with an unnecessary and
    participation-inhibiting microphone. And, inevitably, the Ecole
    Niedermeyer transformed into just another secular music

    The Anglican Church, with far less justification, chose to ape their
    fellow church. The cathedral tradition of daily choral services was
    strong enough to withstand the tide; but parish church after parish
    church abandoned choral services, turned their choirs into
    participatory assistants to the congregation and enthusiastically
    embraced the generally mediocre musical offerings churned out for use
    with the "new liturgy". Choral matins, and even evensong, virtually
    vanished outside of the cathedrals and the significant body of
    Anglican "Communion Service" settings rapidly became "out of print".

    No singer of any ability will find much satisfaction in a weekly
    musical diet of what amounts to watery porridge and the results were
    inevitable. Choirs shrank and eventually all but disappeared, along
    with their supporters . In their place gradually crept in inaptly
    named "worship groups" - generally a band of electric guitars, drums
    and over-amplified singers. In many churches, the original
    participatory impetus which had killed off the choir was now lost to
    a handful of amateur musicians crooning "Christian songs" (not
    participatory hymns, of course) to a once-again silent congregation.

    The RSCM felt constrained to follow the tide and, from being an
    organization that primarily promoted choral music, with excellence in
    choice and performance, it became increasingly focussed on hymn
    singing and congregational participation, with an ever-decreasing
    number of affiliated choirs. Its loss of status and teaching ability
    is to be seen in its financially-enforced abandonment of Addington
    Palace for its present premises in a modest house in Salisbury
    Cathedral Close.

    Here in the geographical area of our own diocese, it is distressing
    to note that the only church which actively teaches and promotes
    traditional church music is the New Apostolic Church. There are no
    Anglican or Roman Catholic choirs - not even from church schools -
    capable of performing Handel's Messiah, or Haydn's Creation, or the
    Beethoven Missa Solemnis with the Cape Philharmonia Orchestra in the
    way that the large NAC Choirs (yes, plural) do.

    Worse, neither of these liturgical churches make any effort at
    teaching musicians and churchgoers the centuries' of music legacy
    that is their rightful inheritance. Most congregations are expected
    to tolerate whoever can manage to butcher a hymn on a generally
    poorly-maintained organ; alternatively, to be subjected to the
    frequently questionable musical ability of performance-driven worship
    groups, performing material the lyrics of which are of little
    liturgical and generally debatable theological value.

    In the end, you get what you pay for. The Church has no-one but
    itself to blame for the abysmal level of musical expression which
    characterises so much contemporary worship. In the sphere of
    liturgical music, it trains no-one, it pays as little as it can get
    away with and it has actively discouraged musical art in worship.

    Who'd be a church musician?

    Deon Irish