Copyright ©️ Elizabeth Sheppard 2013. All Rights Reserved.
Accusations of “high-brow” elitism in Church music are often levelled at Anglican High Church (i.e. episcopalian or Anglo-Catholic) parishes in Australia.
At the other extreme, the so-called “low” Anglican Churches of the evangelical persuasion, who have simplified their Church music repertoire in an attempt to increase congregational participation in Church music, are often accused of “low-brow” banality, or outright iconoclasm. This debate generally disguises the real issues. i.e. music costs and music ministry time commitment. Small parishes cannot afford the luxuries of paid orchestras, professional choristers, or a pipe organ, no matter how much they want these. The fix-it-quick option for a cash-strapped parish with no hymn books, organ, or organist, is a limited hymn copyright licence, projected slides, and recorded music accompaniments. The longer-term option (and in the long run the more productive one) is a firm commitment to weekly Church music education for all ages. Parishes with internet access (that is not always available in Australia) can organise hymn practice sessions easily, otherwise CDs can be used. The Royal School of Church Music provides Church music training resources, and many Anglican schools and dioceses, ethnic Churches and ecumenical associations organise Church music schools, camps and conferences.
Since every Church is committed to promoting Christ’s teachings and way of life, there is no mandate for Christians to bicker over selecting their worship music repertoire, or greedily engaging in attention-grabbing media beat-ups that gleefully escalate inter-church music squabbles. Obviously, different Church cultures and backgrounds will favour different, legitimate Church music repertoires, and there is no harm in this. Church music governing organisations, Church schools, and parish music directors are charged with ensuring that Church music in Australia is well composed and performed, that it proclaims Christian teachings, and that it is well integrated with worship. In Western Sydney, it is not uncommon for 40+ different languages to be spoken in one Church parish, but in the interests of preserving Church unity, congregations still manage to learn and sing a core repertoire of hymns. Annual, monthly, or weekly monocultural liturgies, and special feast day celebrations, fill the need for each cultural group or faction to perform and hear their own Church music in various locations, but there is also an unspoken hospitality rule, by which an invitation is always extended to visitors from other cultures to attend and observe ethnic or denominational liturgies and music, where they should be treated as honoured guests.
By visiting all parishes, and not indulging in excessive partiality re music genres within their diocese, clergy can exert a considerable charitable, pacifying influence that promotes unity in Christ, even where differing music repertoires, doctrines and texts tend to divide. The strongest unifying force for any diocese is an authentic Christian witness, where Church people join in caring pastorally for those in need, and encouraging intercultural friendships. When peaceful Christian work of this kind takes priority, Church music repertoire issues are often reduced to their proper perspective.