December 19, 2005

Gratuitous Musickal Posting (TM)

As I mentioned earlier, yesterday was the lessons and carols service at church. For the occassion, we blew a fair chunk of our rayther meager music budget and brought in a string quartet. Alas, music in general is not one of my church's strong suits: the organist is pretty good, but the choir is rather weak and the lead soprano has a voice like Glinda the Good Witch of the North - high, nasal and with enough vibrato to make your fillings start to resonate. Nonetheless, when everyone was gathered together, it sounded quite nice.

The other thing about the music at my church is that you never quite know what you're going to get served. The organist himself is pretty hidebound and traditional and, left to his druthers, would probably play Bach all the time. However, the rector is well known for his fondness of Twentieth Century settings as well as his desire to bring in stuff from outside the Anglican tradition. I've heard rumors of a kind of Cold War between the two, a war that threatens to go hot every "Jazz Sunday" - the Sunday before Ash Wednesday - when the rector brings in a couple trumpets and a bass, sits down to the drums himself and lets fly. The organist typically looks as if he's playing his own funeral march on such days or, perhaps more accurately, wishing he was playing the rector's.

All these forces were in evidence yesterday. The service was bookended by Arcangelo Corelli's Concerto Grosso Opus 6, No. 8, one of my favorite pieces of chamber music. We also got helpings of Handel, including a game attempt by one of the choir members to sing "O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings To Zion" in countertenor which produced a startled inquiry from the seven year old as to why that man was singing like a girl. In addition, we had some Palestrina, plus a number of traditional carols. So far, so good.

But I could see the rector's hand behind some of the other choices, including some pleasant but forgettable Vaughn Williams, some pleasant but cliched Bizet and some detestable Britten. I also knew as soon as I opened the program that we were in for......John Rutter.

Now, I'm sure Mr. Rutter is a very nice man and that he means well but the fact of the matter is that his music gives me the guts-ache. It's been variously described as "quirky" and "light" and "happy" and is, I suppose, designed to give listeners the warm fuzzies. In me, it induces a violent urge to reach for a two-by-four and start swinging.

Also, I don't know whose text Rutter uses, but the words are typically as cringe-making as the music:

Have you heard the story that they're telling 'bout Bethlehem, Have you heard the story of the Jesus child?

Isaac Watts it ain't.

The other sure sign of the rector's influence was the inclusion of "Go Tell It On The Mountain". Now personally, I don't hold much of an opinion about spirituals one way or the other, either from a religious or a musical standpoint. However, I will say this: such music being sung by a low church Episcopal congregation of upper middle class suburbanites, accompanied by pipe-organ, is an aesthetic absurdity, and I sincerely wish the rector would cut it out.

Posted by Robert at December 19, 2005 02:01 PM | TrackBack

the Jesus child?
Nope, never heard nothing 'bout no Jesus.

Posted by: rbj at December 19, 2005 03:21 PM

Jesus Child is a creation of Rutter. No doubt and i have the song and midi for it.

Posted by: Joe at July 15, 2006 12:57 AM