Copyright ©️ Elizabeth Sheppard 2013. All Rights Reserved.
Lamenting the great Aussie government-induced church music cringe. See link at
This online lecture (see link above) refers mainly to contemporary secular Australian art music composition, but it is also relevant to Church music in Australia. I love classical Church music, and many other music genres, and I support maintaining a repertoire of “traditional” Anglo-European Church music. But I object to the way non-Australian Church music repertoires have recently been imposed holus-bolus on Australian Church communities, without parishioners’ consent – just when a new crop of brilliant Australian church music composition was taking off.
Imposing this overseas monopoly has smothered and stifled Australian Church music, and has created a musical generation gap in many parishes, that seriously impedes local religious and cultural education. The practice of culturally gagging Aussie congregations and ordering them to worship God with second-hand imported music, has done enormous cultural damage to Australian churches.
The fact is, imported non-Australian Church music repertoires, however excellent (or cheap), come from a different time and place and population. Although we may empathise with and appreciate non-Australian musical expressions of Christian faith, it is impossible to reach the deeper communal levels of faith as Australians living in Australia, unless we worship God directly with our own unique Australian music, that comes from the beating heart of Australia. Much of our Australian Church music (from such tiny colonial churches as the one pictured below, at Greenough, Western Australia) has not been fully documented, and many original scores are stored in the Australian National Library in Canberra, awaiting re-discovery and re-publication.
A survey of just how many Australian-made compositions are included in, and excluded from, Australian Church music repertoires and licensing lists, is badly needed. Editing out or minimising local Australian compositions in our church music repertoires degrades, and threatens to destroy, our living, dynamic, developing, inherited tradition of Australian Church music. Australians who attend Churches are often musical, and many have produced original musical concepts, ideas and creations. Our original music is expressed and sometimes briefly admired, but our work is seldom promoted, simply because the composers are local, Australian, and therefore deemed unimportant. Australian composers and performers who hope for proper recognition or publication are currently forced to seek this outside Australia, and once recognised, few of them return. Promoting a token number of Australian Church music composers is seen by Church music repertoire selection committees as an acceptable, cheap and easy solution, but why should the majority of Australian Church music composers be relegated to oblivion, to benefit a privileged, elite few?
Typical Church music repertoires in Australia include only 5% of Australian Church music compositions at best. Overseas visitors, who expect to find a flourishing local Australian Church music repertoire, find this extremely odd. The percentage could easily be increased, as many new Australian compositions are available. Unfortunately, those responsible for Church music selection are often in economic thrall to corporate or monocultural giants, and this hampers their ability to promote locally enculturated faith development through local Church music.
If there is an Australian Church music composer in your congregation or nearby, you should seek them out, encourage them to continue composing, listen to / workshop their music with competent performers, and arrange for it to be included in church services on a regular basis, with the usual royalty payments that all overseas composers receive. There are composers of all ages and cultures in Australian church communities, and their works reflect significant Australian faith experiences of many different generations. Ask your local composers to compose easy versions of their music, and publish them as audio tracks and pdf lead sheets, for online purchase. Buy them and play them as background tracks at parish parties, and provide lead sheets purchased from the composer, to spread the word and familiarise parishioners with the tunes. Research your local Australian Church music, and compile a local Church music list for family and church group services. You may be surprised at the quality of the compositions you find, and their morale-boosting effect on your community.