Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Does Classical Music Have a Place In The Church?

     Ok, I know that this is a very controversial topic! While I am not trying to open a can of worms, I do want to share my humble perspective.  I could not have written this post 6 years ago, because my view was very unbalanced. But now that I've taught for some years and have seen the benefits of classical music (when I use the term "classical" I am referring to all of the eras and styles that we typically include in such repertoire),  my view has very much changed. So, yes, as you've probably guessed, I wasn't exposed to much classical, and I thought that classical music was ugly, chaotic, pointless, and oh-so-very-hard-to-play!  I did not play much classical music until I got to college. The teacher I had when I was little took me through the complete Alfred series, with a great emphasis on hymn playing. I played a lot by ear, and well, you just can't play classical music by ear! So I would get frustrated and would give up easily.

     Enter my teachers in college, Paul Crow and Betty Valenta. Wow. They were awesome. Paul Crow challenged me to increase my practice time to 12-15 hours a week. As a freshman, somehow I did it. And I really improved. I also began to enjoy classical music. I learned Beethoven's Sontata Pathetique under Paul Crow and it is still one of my favorites.  And Miss Valenta- she pushed me to limits I didn't know I had, and once again, I improved greatly.  She had me doing RCM Performer's Level music, learning it one measure at a time. What a wonderful lady she was- she would always pray with me before each lesson, and she was sharp! She picked up on my weak areas and honed in on them with more passion than I had for myself. 

     Those years in college changed the way I viewed classical music.  I began to see it as a discipline, an amazing art to learn.  Even more amazing is the history behind many of the composers and pieces. They were brilliant men with steadfast discipline. And they passed their passion on to us.  I believe that even classical music can bring glory to God.  So does it have a place in our local church? I would say "Yes."  However, it should be used carefully. Music should always bring glory to God through the method, the mouth (words), and the musician.  I apply that principle to my home and car, too. But as a church musician, I will focus on the church. 

      My personal rule of thumb for the use of classical music in the church is this:  It should be used as a springboard for a sacred piece.  In essence, the melody of the hymn should always be predominant.  If the melody gets lost in a classical piece, it seems out of place. I personally don't do offertories that are mixed with classical very often.  But if I do, I try to keep the melody of the sacred song in the forefront. I am working on one now, actually, that muddles the melody....so I have a bit of improvising to do before I'm comfortable with it.  I should add that, if ever I was under a pastor who didn't like classical music in the church, I would certainly honor his wishes! 

     So the can is open now, I guess. Do you have an opinion on this issue? 

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