A Raunchy Critique of the Christian Church
Well, I managed to make it to four different church music programs for Christmas -- one on each coast and two in the greater Chicago area each of a different denomination.   They were simply stunning and, indeed, overwhelming and moved me to tears.    Rarely does the church achieve such levels of overweening pride and hypocrisy then in their music programs  -- and, it seems, especially during the Christmas season.   These are performances, purely and completely, and are treated as such by the congregants.   The stupendous, thunderous applause after the first performance I saw on the east coast, left me bewildered.   As I looked around at the rapturous faces, they clearly had greatly enjoyed the performance.  Did they realize the music was not for them but for the worship of the Christ child?   Subsequently at the reception, they spoke of the music with reverence and devotion.  Yet in all their praise for the performance and the performers, the language of faith was nowhere to be heard.   This was not a large church -- the musicians and choir were all amateurs led by an enthusiast.   The pride the congregation had in the choir and their musicians was apparent in the frequently expressions of gratitude and appreciation for their efforts -- including statements that 'no other church in the surround cities had anything as good'.  Clearly this was a performance competition and the needs of worship, faith, and life were not a priority.   I do praise the choir members and the musicians for their efforts but there needs to a substantial reappraisal of the purpose of music in the church worship service.  At each of the four performances I attended the results were deplorable and made me ashamed.  Do they and their leaders realize they are not doing a performance?   Have they given serious thought and effort to what makes music good in worship?   Did they see their music as a gift to God?  Did they see the music as a means to enrich the worship of all the congregation?   Were the congregation given the chance to themselves worship by their own musical contributions?   Was the music devoted to faith, to the Christ child? The unequivocal answer to each of these is a resounding NO!  

Yes, not all of the four performances I attended were as bad as the others.   Yet in each one, the sheer quality of their work was enough to drive one screaming from the church.   Yes, yes, I know these are amateurs yet the focus on technical excellence was so keen that often the soul of the music itself was utterly lost replaced by a mechanical rigidity to the notes on the page.   Yes, the notes sung and played were generally correct -- some errors came from a lack of ability (nothing to be ashamed with amateurs) but more often errors were due to vain struggle to be perfect.   The enunciation of the words was hideous.   Painful, painful, painful. Often you could not understand the words being sung.   They knew what they were singing -- no doubt from many rehearsals and much effort.   There was, however, a complete lack realization that the congregation was hearing it for the first time and that the articulation of the words must be precise and clear so they can understand what is being sung.  This is even more necessary when sung in another language.  The most telling criticism is with the "S" or soft "C" words that sounded more like the snakes of Slytherin with sibilants starting too soon and lasting well into the next several beats.  I cringed at the near-whistling sounds in one performance as they did a special arrangement of "Silent Night".  The sloppiness and slurring of the sibilants, the failure to enunciate sharply, and the overindulgent sentimentality of the singing meant that even as performances these were appalling.   Apparently every music choir director out there thinks that slowing down the beat gives the choir a chance to emote and express their utter devotion. Au contraire!    Where is that rigidity to the sheet music when they most need it?    Some songs were simply painful in their ponderous slowness and the disgusting sentimentality.  Vanity, vanity, vanity -- all is vanity.  And to have this at Christmas time of all times.  

At one of the performances, the congregants were simply left out.   They did not even get to sing; their purpose was only to listen and appreciate the performance.   At another performance, the congregants were given the chance to sing yet the choir made sure it had the upper hand, adding needless frills that made it impossible for congregants to sing for themselves however badly.  In listening to comments during the reception, certain choir members and the director themselves blatantly made it clear that music was far too important to be left to the 'untutored masses'.   Frankly, snotty remarks were made that 'Only the choir could truly carry forth the difficult, sublime work of singing' and non-choir members listening in on the conversation nodded their approval.   Pastors seemed to have completely abdicated their responsibility to ensure worship and let the choir directors do whatever they wish.   In none of the performances I saw did the choirs or organists help the congregation to sing for themselves, none aided the musical worship of those in the pews.  Pastors sat by and let it happen like a piano roll.

The choices in what was sung only made matters worse.   There seems to be two extremes that allow no hope for worship.   I am sick of the contemporary stuff where the words are cute and cheaply sentimental while combined with cloying, cute tunes that leave one wanting to do serious bodily harm to those around you just to bring some semblance of the real world to the music.  Yet those who selected from the long history of sacred choral works were not infrequently pompous beyond measure and lacked the sophistication to understand and fulfill its demands.   The latter group tended to those given to a rigidity that undercut the very sentiments their music was expressing. 

I was left in despair after all these and I had a chance to go to still another performance but could not make myself.   I'd had too much.  I went home instead, put on a performance on the stereo, and sang badly along with them.   At least, I knew it was a performance but yet the singer's heart seemed to be in it  however worldly and commercial was the result.  The irony of it.    At least, I knew I wasn't doing it 'right' but what I was doing was heart-felt and worshipful.



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