The aim of this series of adult classes will be to make the process both somewhat clearer and somewhat less individual; engaging in joint, do-it-ourselves, theology may help to enhance and deepen the place of hymns in our lives as Christians. During each of the four sessions several hymns will be looked at, primarily, as sources for theological reflection. At the same time, we shall try to remember that hymns are instruments of worship, and to that end we’ll consider the role of the tunes to which they are set – not by musical analysis but by singing through them ourselves. No musical ability is required or even expected.I attended the third of four classes last night, and we explored some very interesting themes. What caught my attention was a comment made while we were discussing "Now, my tongue, the mystery telling" set to the hymntune Pange Lingua, as found at #329 in the Hymnal 1982.
The person who made the comment appears to be in his mid- to late-60s. (I will admit that I am not always the best judge of ages, but I don't believe he is any younger than 60s.) He expressed fear that the plainsong hymns like #329 might not make it in any future revisions of The Hymnal. On the other hand, a young, early 20-ish college student said that amongst his peers, there is a resurging interest in anything chant, plainsong, polyphony, etc., and that he is not worried at all about such pieces surviving amongst people of his generation.
I think they ended up agreeing to disagree on this point. However, from my experience, I can say honestly that I agree with the young college student. It has been my experience that it's the younger people who are happy to hear chant, and even to learn chant, and that the older people are those who express the most reservation, even disdain for music they consider "dead."
Sung Compline at Chapel of the Cross is a perfect example of the young man's assertion. I remember when I first joined the compline choir back in ... I want to say 2002 or 2003. We'd be lucky if we had at least 20 people turn up for the service in a church that seats at least 400-450 people. As the years have gone by, the choir has gained in membership whilst attendance at these services has grown, steadily. Most of those who attend the Compline service are young, college-age students. Not surprisingly, most are students at UNC Chapel Hill.
As for the choir itself - most of the choir members are undergraduate or graduate students and post-docs. I don't believe there are any choir members who are older than 50. And if you ask the young people present, they gush on about how wonderful this music is, and how completely fitting it is to hear it in church.
I discussed this after the class with the facilitator, who is a History professor at UNC and also an ordained Episcopal priest. He agreed with my assessment, and stated that the sung Compline service was a vision by the director, Dr. Van Quinn, and that he was happy that Van's faith in establishing this service has been rewarded. And it is quite obvious that the Compline service is one of Chapel of the Cross' most attended services of the day.
I was also discussing this with my young 20-something year old co-contributor, the erstwhile computer guy/organist fission, who is a happy member of the Church Music Association of America (CMAA), and he pretty much echoed the observations he's made with mine.
So how is this related to the idea of "legacy"? Well it's more the discussion that followed the one related to plainsong and chant. As far as future hymnals are concerned: what sort of hymns would be included in them? Would we still see more plainchant in the hymnals? Would we still see some of the more traditional hymns? Or would we see more of the "contemporary" songs such as what one would see in most Roman Catholic "hymnals" and Episcopal supplements such as Wonder, Love, and Praise and Lift Every Voice and Sing II?
Discussion, comments, etc. are welcomed in the combox, but flames will be sent to /dev/null.