Cherishing the Old While Embracing the New
Is this not the challenge for us all – in life as well as in faith? It need not be a radical supplanting of one by the other. In fact, such comprehensive changes probably don’t succeed as often as some agents of change would like us to think (read “firebrand reformer” or “consultant”.) Successful systemic change is usually more of a gradual adaptation, I believe.
This is true in music, in architecture, and in societies in general. It seems to be true in our churches and the way we worship God.
The social and architectural aspects of this are no doubt fresh in my mind because our son is a graduate architectural intern. He recently spent six months living and working in London and Edinburgh, and we were blessed to be able to visit with him in London as an entire family.
London is an amazing place, architecturally speaking. Having been in existence since Roman times – as has the Christian Church – the very old is never far away. St. Paul’s Cathedral and Big Ben’s tower still dominate the skyline. But the London Eye is impossible to ignore. And a short walk across the Thames from St. Paul’s deposits the stroller at Tate Gallery of Modern Art. The Tate building – as well as its contents – is in stark contrast with the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square. But London has both – old and new together – blended to enrich the lives of all.
We attended worship at St. Paul’s the Sunday morning we were there, and it was a wonderful experience for a church musician. We entered and sat in the huge space designed in the seventeenth century by Christopher Wren, beneath its massive, reverberant dome. Already in progress was an awe-inspiring organ prelude, full of mystery and beauty. Merely sitting and prayerfully reflecting during this pre-service time, with eyes surveying the beautiful and ancient carved and gilded stone and woodwork, one cannot but be drawn to contemplate that which is divine. There’s a reason organ music became the chosen vessel to accompany worship in places such as this. It can truly sound other-worldly and magnificent.
The service concluded musically with a postlude voluntary – much more uptempo with articulated notes. In a cathedral space where I estimate the natural reverberation decay at from 3 to 4 seconds, the voluntary got a bit muddy. Hence, it was not as affecting as the prelude. But the musicianship was excellent. The amazing opportunity we have in our less lofty worship spaces, is that we can experience much of the awe-inspiring sound of such a cathedral organ with the push of a few proper buttons – and not be limited by the physical space.
Today’s digital and pipe-combination organs allow a unique marriage of traditional sounds with a vast range of contemporary ones. That doesn’t even mention the revolutionary digital capability to control, record and play those sounds. It is a brave new world musically – to adapt Shakespeare’s Miranda – that has such instruments in it! With today’s tools, we can truly blend the best of old and new – to God’s glory.
Tom LeFevre, Editor-in-Chief
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