Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Que es el Punto? 

Liturgical Music II class today revolved around introducing us to non-english language hymn texts and music, besides Cantad al Senor, which is a mandatory hymn at all Spanish language services at Seabury. We sang lots of interesting and challenging (to sing) hymns from a variety of sources. At the end of class, one student posed the poignant question, "What is the benefit of an entirely anglo congregation singing songs that are not in their language and that are not a part of their culture?" I've often wondered this myself. I can see the point in using them on very specific occasions, but am not sure I understand introducing them into regular usage for an entirely anglo congregation, of which not a small number of the Episcopal parishes are. There is a lot of good music out there in other languages and from other cultures - lots of it! But why would we want to borrow songs from other traditions only to mutilate the language as we sing and destroy the sense of beat and rythym which are present, but foreign to us? Experienced clergy out there - any thoughts from a leadership standpoint? Experienced laity out there - any thoughts from a congregant's point of view?



Ryan--> One of the reasons why Latin persisted so long in the Roman Catholic church is that it served as a marker, indeed as a guarantee, of the church's catholicity. As Anglicans, we don't have that luxury (of a single language), but someone interested in highlighting the catholicity of the Anglican Communion should be seriously considering the use of non-English music as a way of pointing to the world-wide nature of our faith.

Two additional points: 1) Don't say, "Yes we do have a single language--English." In much of the world, English is still the language of the colonizer. Yes, that was true of Latin into the 5th century, but by the time of the Middle Ages, it was the language of the Church, and of practicially no other world power. And 2) Don't sell your congregation short on being multilingual. Are you seriously saying that NONE of your congregation took Spanish in High School, or French in college? Sing simple songs that are easy to pick up and understand (that's why "Cantad El Senor" is so popular, as is "Santo, Santo, Santo"). It doesn't have to be complicated, the songs won't be "mangled," especially with practice.

Multicultural music is part of how we learn in our bodies that Anglicanism is a world-wide faith. That's more important today than ever. <--Micah.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:40 AM  

Well as a lay person I would not want to get bored with liturgy, and I would not want to remain ignorant of such music. I think it could be useful as many churches are starting to reach out to the Hispanic community (finally!).

Though I do agree that an Anglo congregation would probably have trouble with it every Sunday (and I probably would too.)

By Blogger K, at 9:44 AM  

Congregant: Using one gospel as the lens through which we view our relationship with God would be a very bland way to do it. Moving away from our comfort zones makes us look with new eyes at what we think, do, say, and believe.

Sometimes the input hurts because it shows us where we have been blind, or blinded. Sometimes it makes us happy because it reinforces the way we've always done things.

Fresh eyes always help.

By Blogger Jim, at 9:47 AM  

Since I was recently labeled a "lurker" I suppose I will put my two cents in. Having freshly re-experienced St. Hilary's last Sunday (during which we celebrated Youth Sunday as well as Pentecost), I am pretty sure our home congregation would not take kindly to singing songs in different languages. I noticed that many of the members of our congregation seemed highly uncomfortable singing the "youth" (or as you know more contemporary) songs in church - mind you among this year's selection were "This Little Light of Mine" and "Kumbaya." (Showing the significant presence of young children and noticable absence of high school age youth.) I also saw many people simply weren't there. If you remember, this seems to happen regularly both with Youth Sunday and the Feast of Lights services - services highlighting the youth. If our elderly members choose not to attend because they dont want to be bothered with different songs, then I can only imagine what their reaction might be to songs in foreign languages. I think it is important to remember in all of this the largest demographic of our denomination is (at least in my experience of the Episcopal Church USA, and I know that the Anglican Communion exists outside our own country) - for lack of a better term, elderly WASPs. I guess I just feel that often times we have enough trouble understanding (and even singing) songs in our native language let alone one that is foreign to us. There you have it Ryan, I commented.

By Anonymous Trevor, at 5:44 PM  

I sort of have mixed feelings on this one, personally. I certainly have no problem with trying new hymns and using different languages. I think its pretty cool actually.

However, what does bother me about using foreign language songs when no one in the congregation in fact speaks that language is Tokenism, which ECUSA is renowned for these days. The crucial question that needs to be asked is "Why are we doing this?"

Are we honestly doing it to enrich our experience, or are we doing it so we can get this P.C. warm fuzzy by saying, "Hey, we must be diverse...look at this {insert language name} hymnology!" Is it really to allow the Holy Spirit to move or are we covering over the fact that we are woefully WASPy and have utterly failed to reach out to anyone not like ourselves?

How you truthfully answer that question will give you your answer.

By Blogger The Archer of the Forest, at 12:10 AM  

I agree with the Archer of the Forest, Ryan. Singing songs in a foreign language just for the sake of diversity is tokenism and it's not fair.

here, in the DR, we don't sing in English, nor in french or swahili. We sing in Spanish. i feel like if people can't understand the words, how can those words actually be worship? (although music as worship is a whole different topic... let's be honest - how many Episcopal congregations focus on music as worship and not just singing?)

there is a time and a place for introducing other languages. perhaps if you have visitors from another country that want to share part of their culture (because hymns in other languages are not different just because of their words - right? the MUSIC is different) or if you have a large constituency of "other language" speakers.

meh. if we started singing in english here i'd be a little concerned. but i don't think it'll ever happen.

By Anonymous melanie, at 4:41 PM  

If you want to include a foreign language song, why not let it be the choir's offering during communion. The song gets out there, and you don't have to worry about the congregation mangling the language/rhythm/etc. by not having practiced it. I know the choir at St. Hil's has done that a few times.

Additionally, I think it would be a nice thing to include if you have a guest speaker from a non-English speaking country. A song in his/her language would be more understandable at that point than just randomly inserting one in the service.

By Anonymous Lacy, at 8:11 AM  

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