Conversation and information about music and liturgy from a confessional Lutheran perspective.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Those Files in Your Library...

....tell you a lot about the history of your parish, and even of the trends in church music and American culture as a whole (how 'bout some of the 70's artwork on those covers?!).

Since I've been at Bethany, we've "archived" close to half of the choral music. Evidently it is some sort of transgression to throw the stuff away, supposedly because of all the needy congregations out there just aching to sing dated, heterodox drivel, so we box it up and store it in the attic above the gym in a back corner - where it can be disposed of by a future generation. Some of it actually does get thrown out, such as illegal photocopies or old evaluation copies of out-of-print octavos. But mostly we just store away those things we know we will never use so that we can make room for that which we can and will use. And now we are looking at instrumental music as well.

What sorts of things does one discover? Periods where the all the new music for choir was the "praise music" of an earlier generation, a type of "traditional" CCM, from many of the same publishers who now give us choral knock-offs of today's Bapticostal radio music. Other periods are much better, with sacred classics from the Lutheran repertoire. Periodically, one even finds a few years where the director purchased psalmody and hymn concertati. And then there are those romantic eras where a predecessor bought lots of big works (children and adults' choirs plus brass and bells!) which are still in pristine, unused condition. Guess (s)he went off to a workshop and got all excited about something.......only to discover that planning, rehearsing, and putting together all these forces in Bethany's old sanctuary was too much to do. I found a similarly interesting history when I went through the library during my cantorate at Trinity-Peoria (with choral music from the 1890s in German, along with English anthems dating back to the 1910s!).

I think digging through the library is one of the most important things a new director can do when coming to a parish. One can see where a choir and a congregation have been. One can discover some favorites that will help the new director win the confidence of his new choir. And one can find gems along with the jokes. (I'm sure those who followed me at Trinity have enjoyed the copies of "How?", the spoof of Carl Schalk's hymn anthems written by the late John Folkening.)

What have you found in your library?


Elephantschild said...

There is some terrifying stuff in our files. If you go farther back, there's lots of good old stuff, from back when the church and school had a healthy, thriving, Lutheran music program.

But much from the stretch of the late 70s til the early 90s is pretty scary.

Got about 30 copies of "Touched by A King" that someone can have. I can't look at the cover without feeling sick.

Phillip said...

That's the general pattern, with variation, of course.

The fun thing about it is that one can train an amateur musician rather quickly in how to spot the junk.

Makes one wonder why so many choir directors couldn't see - and hear - the poor quality of music they were having their choirs sing.

Did they just not know any better? Odd, given, as you say, the clear record of healthy, solid programs in earlier decades.

Elephantschild said...

The "old guard" music director started at this church in 1927 and was here until his death in '72. We think that he is primarily responsible for the fact that this congregation is a singing one.

It's a mystery to us as to why things went to pot so *very* quickly after he died. I don't get it.

Phillip said...

I suspect that only the singing remains because the pastors didn't catechize and uphold good liturgical practice.

I've heard stories from a couple of colleagues as to how they left behind good programs only to be SHOCKED but a year or two later to discover how quickly things 'changed'.

The late John Folkening once told me of how he was very suprized to return to a former parish for worship only MONTHS after leaving, and found that instead of Psalm, Verse, and stanza(s) on the Hymn of the Day, they were singing "praise music" and the pastor was then taking "shortcuts" with the liturgy. He asked what was going on, and his former pastor told him: "John, we did your think while you were here; now we're doing what our new director wants to do!"

And all along, John thougth they were not doing "John's thing", but rather worshiping according the liturgical piety that is shaped and normed by our theology.

IggyAntiochus said...

I think "How" was written by Harvey Foonman, no? ;) I can't find my copy to verify.

Last spring I cleaned out the church balcony. I found "Service Propers Noted" and a Walther League folk song booklet from 1968 or so! FYI: these were probably used by the same music director.

Phillip said...

Hi Iggy,

I've got many copies of the Foonman. Next time you are in Naperville, stop by and I'll give you a copy! :)