Walter E. Buszin
1932 Synod Convention Essay
“Praise ye the Lord. Sing unto the Lord a new song, and His praise in the congregations of saints.
Let Israel rejoice in Him that made him; let the children of Zion be joyful in their King.
Let them praise His name in the dance; let them sing praises unto Him with the timbrel and harp.
For the Lord taketh pleasure in His people; He will beautify the meek with salvation.
Let the saints be joyful in glory; let them sing aloud upon their beds.” Ps. CIL,1–5.
In these words, as well as in many other passages of Scripture, man is enjoined to use music as a means to praise Him who has created the universe, to Him who has redeemed sinful mankind from the eternal curse of the law, to Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. This giving of thanks is one of the most delightful privileges bestowed upon man by God. It affords his opportunities to enjoy a most beautiful fellowship with Him who is “far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come.” Eph. 1,21. It is the realization of such kinship which prompts young and old to sing in loud exuberant strains:
“O that I had a thousand voices,
A mouth to speak with thousand tongues.
My heart which in the Lord rejoices,
Then would proclaim in grateful songs,
To all, wherever I might be,
What great things God hath done for me.”
It furthermore affords us opportunities to join in with “the multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Luke, 2,13.14.
But more. This giving of thanks is truly effective only when it comes from a heart which confesses: “God be merciful to me, a sinner,” or, to quote the words of Christian song:
“Out of the depths I cry to Thee,
Lord, hear my lamentation;
Bend down Thy gracious ear to me,
And grant my supplication;
For if Thou fix Thy searching eye
On all sin and iniquity,
Who, Lord, can stand before Thee?”
Singing the confession of his own unworthiness, but singing also the praises of his gracious God, the Christian confidently approaches his God as the prodigal son approached his loving father. As an unworthy prodigal made worthy by the blood of Jesus, he says:
“Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because Thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.”
And God, embracing His unfortunate yet fortunate child says:
“Hold fast by me,
I am thy rock and castle;
I wholly give myself for thee,
For thee I strive and wrestle;
For I am thine, and thou art mine,
Henceforth my place is also thine;
The foe shall never part us.”
Seeing this unbounded love of God, can we still hold our tongues and remain silent? No, we must sing:
“Now I have found a sure foundation,
Which evermore my anchor grounds;
It lay there ere the world’s creation
Where else but in my Savior’s wounds?
Foundation, which unmoved shall stay,
When earth and heaven pass away.
On this foundation I unshrinking
Will stand, while I on earth remain;
This shall engage my acting, thinking;
While I the breath of life retain;
Then I will sing eternally,
Unfathomed Mercy, still of Thee.”
The sacred obligation of applying Law and Gospel has been committed to three powerful institutions existing in this world, to the Church, the school and the home. If these institutions fail in performing their duties and in exerting their influence you will soon find chaos in this world; rob them of their great privileges and outstanding duty and you will soon have disorder, anarchy and ruin. It is conceded quite generally that the black pages which have been bound into the book of history show very distinctly that Church, school and home had at the time been shorn of their cardinal purpose; the sad conditions obtaining in the present days of universal depression show that the Church, school and home, including, of course, the individuals who constitute these institutions, have not met the requirements and standards set by Him who has made us “ministers of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” 1 Cor. 4,1.
You ask: But what has that to do with music? … If you will view the situation more closely you will find that the relationship is more intimate than you think when passing off-hand and superficial judgment concerning the matter. Church, school and home often sing and play themselves away from their great purpose. I do not mean to say that music is solely responsible for present-day conditions, but I do maintain that the cheap music used so often in our churches, the trivial songs taught so abundantly in our schools, and the debasing and degenerating jazz played and sung also in Christian homes have contributed generously to those mighty forces which tear away from what is noble, holy and pure. It is quite timely, therefore, that we devote some time at these sessions to a careful and honest perusal of music in the Church, school and home. Such a consideration can but redound to the glory of Him who finds delight not only in the eternal hosannahs of the cherubim and seraphim, but also in the musical offerings of His children here below.
I. Music in the Church.
The one great duty of the Church is to preach the Word and administer the Sacraments. All other activities of the Church must be subservient. We dare not overlook this fact. This fundamental principle applies also to the use of music by the Church. Our churches are not concert and exhibition halls which afford space and opportunity for the display of personal ability or secular entertainment. As Christians, who take the teachings of Scripture seriously, we Lutherans should and do object strenuously to the performance of foreign and worldly elements in our church-auditoriums and particularly in our services. Our churches are sanctuaries and all due precautions should be taken against defiling or desecrating the place “where the Lord doth dwell.” Those words of Scripture here apply which state: “Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God and be more ready to hear than to give the sacrifice of fools; for they consider not that they do evil.” Eccl. 5,1.
The Lutheran Church has always rightfully approved of the rendering of concerts in its places of worship, but it has always insisted that these performances be services which glorify not man, but God. Many reformed denominations, following the principles of John Calvin, have not permitted the rendering of sacred programs in their churches. Calvin, however, in his zeal against Roman Catholicism, shot beyond the mark. He ignored the fact that a program of appropriate sacred music, when rendered in a spirit of humility and intent only on serving Him who inhabits His temple, is well pleasing unto Jehovah. The Lord God encourages His children time and time again, particularly in the Book of Psalms, to worship Him through song and through the sound of instruments. This, however, imposes upon the performers, whether they appear as soloists or as a group, a solemn duty. They are not to bring the sacrifice of fools, but they are to keep their foot; they are not to seek glory and praise for themselves, but they are to serve, and serve God alone. To them also apply the words: “Be more ready to hear”; their selections are to bespeak the grace, the mercy, and the glory of God. Music that does not serve this purpose may have its place in the concert hall, but not in the church. “The Last Rose of Summer” may edify when heard in a parlour, but it loses its savor when heard instead of spiritual song in a sacred place, even when sung by a Galli-Curci.
We have our churches that we might have a place in which we Christians may meet as a body for the express purpose of hearing God’s Word and receiving the Sacraments. In this place we meet regularly that we might “continue steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayer.” Acts 2,42. Because of the blessed purpose which this building serves, the Christian says with the Psalmist: “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in His temple.” (Ps. 27,4.) And again: “So will I compass Thine altar, O Lord, that I may publish with the voice of thanksgiving, and tell of all Thy wondrous works. Lord, I have loved the habitation of Thy house, and the place where Thine honour dwelleth.” (Ps. 26,6–8.) Let us also hear from a Christian poet:
“We love the place, O God,
Wherein Thine honour dwelleth;
The joy of Thine abode
All earthly joy excelleth;
It is the house of prayer,
Wherein Thy servants meet;
And Thou, O Lord, art there
Thy chosen flock to greet.”
And while the Christian is careful not to bring the sacrifice of vainglorious fools in programs rendered in his church, he is still more careful in the services which he attends. These services are of such import to us that we permit nothing to take the place of the main services of the week, not even a song service. The Lutheran Church furthermore insists that the utmost care be taken that nothing be heard or seen in the service which would disturb the distinctly spiritual atmosphere of the service.
The participants in a divine service are the pastor, the congregation, the choir and the organist. The pastor, in God’s stead, proclaims the Word and administers the Sacraments; as spokesman of the congregation he also offers and leads in prayer to God for spiritual and temporal needs. The congregation, choir and organist are essentially an entity and not three distinctly different classes of participants. The choir and the organist are a part of the worshiping congregation and are not to be separated from it. Because they are a part of the congregation, they should face the altar with the congregation. Bearing this fundamental principle in mind we avoid many difficulties.
The organist, in his office as organist for the service, is not a soloist. His preludes, offertories and postludes in the service likewise are not to be regarded as solos; their purpose is not to entertain or gratify. The purpose of the prelude is to prepare the congregation for the hymn it is to sing; the purpose of the offertory is to afford an opportunity for serious contemplation of the Word that has been preached; the purpose of the postlude is not to sound out loud and hilarious tones of unrestrained bombast, but rather to express again in conclusion the spirit of the service and also the wholesome effects it has produced.
The spirit of the service is determined by the season of the church-year, by the Word of God that has been read and considered in the respective service and by the hymns which have been selected for the service. The Word of God which is read and which serves as the basis for the sermon should take the church-year into consideration and the selection of the hymns is again determined by the sermon and the Scripture-readings. It is, therefore, the sacred duty of the organist to be well prepared. He should be acquainted with the text of the hymns the congregation is to sing that he might accompany sanely; his prelude should, if possible, be in the same key as the hymn which he is about to accompany and should be of such a nature that it puts the congregation into the proper frame of mind for the service. His offertory should not be a piece of pretty musical embroidery played with sentimental stops accompanied by a quivering tremolo, but should rather be objective and reflexive. Enough has been said concerning the postlude.
Unfortunately organists are getting away from the practice of playing preludes which are based on hymn-tunes. The fact that these are not “pretty” is, perhaps, largely responsible for this. No finer and more devotional music has ever been written than our Lutheran choral-preludes; no organ music has ever been written which is better able to put the congregation into the proper frame of mind for the service than the choral-preludes written by serious-minded Lutheran composers. A very large percentage of these are quite simple and we ought to feel in duty bound to encourage our organists to make more and better use of these.
Concerning the purpose of a choir much has been written and said. Liturgists are disagreed concerning this point. Following the fundamental principles laid down by their church, which denies the universal priesthood of all believers, Roman Catholic liturgists maintain that the priest is the mediator between God and man and the choir is the intermediary in song. They maintain that the choir does not represent the congregation, but it assists the priest in his official capacity as mediator. As assistants to the clergy, these choirs use the Latin language; this is not done exclusively, however. While the Roman Catholic choir is not regarded as a part of the worshiping congregation, it is regarded as a body representing the congregation of those saints who have already gone to their eternal abode. This viewpoint moulded the compositions of Roman Catholic composers; not only their texts, but also their music, much of which is very beautiful, reflect the position of their church. Music written by the great Roman Catholic composers does not express the cries of a sin-laden conscience; in fact, the cries of sinful man, when translated into music, have been branded by the Roman Catholic writer as “noise and fracas which belong to the world.” (Musical Quarterly, July, 1928, “Palestrina,” p. 337.)
Lutheran liturgists are not agreed among themselves as to what the actual purpose of the choir is. Three viewpoints may be mentioned. The first has been set forth by the so-called “rigorists,” who maintain that the purpose of the choir should be to support and lead the congregation in its singing and to surrender its activities when such support and leadership are no longer necessary. This is a radical attitude which neither deserves nor needs any further consideration. The second viewpoint, which is also extreme, and which was borrowed largely from the Roman Catholics, sets forth that the choir serves as the mouthpiece of the redeemed in heaven, even of the angels. As such it is to sing “art-music,” that is, music which is above the level of the music sung by the congregation. Those who take this stand furthermore insist that this singing is to take place at that point where the reactions to the Word have arrived at their climax, which is immediately after the sermon. The choir, in other words, is to do what the congregation cannot do. The congregation is to sing its simple hymns, in unison of course, but the choir is to sing compositions containing heavenly harmonies and an intricate contrapuntal texture. This aspect is likewise unsound. The fundamental principle that the choir is and must remain a part of the congregation here comes to our assistance in rejecting this viewpoint. A simple composition may at times be far more effective than a most involved polyphonic masterpiece and the healthy sonorous unison singing of the congregation has on more than one occasion relegated the heavenly harmonies sung by the choir into an obscure background.
We now come to the third viewpoint. In seeking to establish the purpose of the choir, two fundamental principles must be borne in mind; first, the choir is a part of the congregation; secondly, the purpose of the choir, like the purpose of the organist, is to serve God, not to display ability. These two principles do not only agree, but they even dovetail each other. As a part of the congregation, the choir is to sing in the language of the people. Should an unknown tongue be used, the number thus sung ought to be translated into the language of the people; at any rate, the correct and complete contents of the number should be made known to the people. Furthermore, as a part of the congregation, the choir should, with the congregation and the organ, face the altar and the pulpit. Our congregations could have averted much strife and much abuse had they borne this in mind. Having the choir face the congregation instead of the altar has introduced much personal display into our services and has likewise brought on much dissension through heated debates concerning the propriety and impropriety of choir vestments, processionals, recessionals and the like. People have drawn the conclusion that these very factors separate the choir from the congregation and it is this very fact more than anything else which induces many to look upon these customs with disdain, though they know that they are not anti-scriptural.
The choir is to serve. Its service should be commensurate with its ability and not with its ambitions. We too often hear church-concerts, cantatas and even oratorios rendered by ambitious choirs which are not even able to do justice to a simple piece of music. We too often hear long anthems rendered when a shorter composition would not only be just as effective, but would also afford more time for the careful study of compositions for other services. Choir directors often work hard on compositions which are not worth the time spent on them. Others, eager to have a large choir or chorus, will cater to the tastes of the multitude and will render simple but high-sounding music of the clap-trap variety. Since the choir is to serve, let it serve in a spirit of humility. All true service is humble in character. Let our choirs and choir directors remember that point. Choir singing that is done in a spirit of humility and faithfulness is, if otherwise appropriate, always most effective.
Bearing these various points and principles in mind it should now be an easy matter to state what the real purpose of the choir is. As a part of the congregation the choir is, first of all, to assist the congregation in its congregational singing; it is not to deprive the congregation of its duties. Choir music should not supplant congregational singing; on the contrary, choir music should fortify and strengthen congregational singing. Choirs should also be used to familiarize the congregation with hymns and hymn-tunes which are as yet unknown; it should also be used to correct mistakes which the congregation may make in singing its part of the service. A choir should not hesitate to sing in unison especially on such occasions. Another purpose of the choir should be to enhance the beauty of the service. It may do this by rendering appropriate anthems, moiets and various other forms of choir music. While beauty should not be the most prominent feature in a service, yet does real beauty, when clothed in churchly modesty, but redound to the glory of Him who has given us so much that is beautiful. The beauty found in a service should be “the beauty of the Lord” spoken of Ps. 27,4.
In connection with this matter of choir-music a few pertinent remarks ought yet be added concerning the use of quartets and soloists in a service. It is a well known fact that some churches use a quartet in place of the choir. Various reasons may prompt such an action; in some instances it is a case of economy, in others a matter of thus hearing a more artistic rendition of music, in still others quartets have replaced choirs which have brought dissention into the congregation. A beautiful feature of Lutheran choirs has always been that they are volunteer organizations. A good and tactful choir-conductor can succeed in subduing those whose vocal abilities are not of the most desirable order. Many of our finest church-choirs consist largely of members whose vocal abilities are quite mediocre. A quartet is usually not a volunteer organization; its membership is very limited and its attainments do not, as a rule, satisfy when taking the place of the choir, even when the voices are exceptionally good. A selection by a quartet may at times help beautify the service, but the quartet should never supplant the choir.
Many liturgists, for good reasons, do not approve of the use of soloists in a regular service. Some make the concession that soloists may be used in services other than the chief service of the week Most liturgists do not object to solos which are part of a composition rendered by the choir. Various reasons enter in for these objections. Nervousness, a disconcerting tremolo which is often affected, comparison with other soloists, the desire to dis- play, gift or lack of personality, all these points contribute towards depriving the service of the spirit and atmosphere it should have. The matter of facing either the congregation or the altar again plays an important part.
Let us build up and develop choirs, also junior choirs and children’s choruses, and we will be better able to supply our services with vocal music of the highest and most satisfactory type.
The Lutheran Church is known as “the singing Church.” This name was given our denomination not because of the choir singing that is heard in our services, but because of the singing that is done by the congregations themselves. When Martin Luther put hymns into the hands of those who occupied the pews and himself wrote hymns for the people, thereby encouraging other worthy composers to do the same thing, he put a stamp on his Church which proved to be indelible.
Our hymns, when sung as they should be sung, do in truth bespeak the beauty of the Lord. Our people like to sing and they like to sing Lutheran hymns. The reason why so much that is un-Lutheran in spirit and expression is sung in our churches is because there are some in our circles who no longer appreciate the beauty of the Lord as it is expressed so beautifully and so nobly in the Lutheran hymn. It is stylish to join in with the crowd and crowds like what is rather trivial. It is hard to be different and somewhat separate; unionism is in the air and distinct Lutheranism is unpopular; this spirit is reflected in the music which some of our own circles prefer. Some of the sectarian bodies have been forced to realize that they have lost out through their shallow music; but there are people in our circles who insist on learning through their own experiences and not through the experiences of others. This is certainly a foolhardy attitude, but what makes the situation all the more serious is the fact that it affects not only an individual here and there, but the Church at large.
Much can be done in the divine service to teach our people to appreciate their great heritage. While speaking of the choir this point was already indicated. Appreciation for our Lutheran hymns will grow when our choirs will begin to sing these hymns either in very simple settings or in the beautiful harmonizations of Johann Sebastian Bach. Our choirs can render their Church a great service in this very respect. Our organists can inspire our people with healthy organ music that is based on the Lutheran Chorale. The children of our Lutheran day-schools may be used to sing a Chorale for the congregation in the service. And last, but not least, let our pastors learn to appreciate and understand Lutheran music.
The average congregation knows but a few hymn-tunes. This is largely the fault of our pastors and organists. A pastor should know his hymn-book and know it well. He should exercise the utmost care and diligence in selecting his hymns and hymn verses. Instead of having the congregation sing stanzas one to four, let them sing stanzas five to eight for a change. Pastors likewise should assign doctrinal hymns as often as possible, especially such hymns as treat of the doctrine of justification. In keeping with the principles of the Church, Lutheran hymns are quite doctrinal, much more so than other hymns.
Congregational singing should be unison singing. Lutheran liturgists have always regarded unison singing as a symbol of the unity of the Church. Part-singing by the congregation lacks the strength and vigor which congregational singing should have. We often overlook the fact that unison singing is very effective. Country congregations usually sing better and more heartily than city congregations; this is the case despite the fact that city congregations usually have better organs and organists, also more trained voices.
The harmonization and rhythmical setting given a hymn may add greatly to the strength and character of hymn-singing. Beautiful harmonies may be sung very effectively by a choir, but the more simple and clear the harmonic accompaniment of the organist for the singing of the congregation, the better will be the singing of this body. Minor harmonies are often responsible for weak congregational singing. Concerning rhythmical settings no law should be laid down; taste and good judgment should here be the determining factors. Some hymns are most effective when sung in a straightforward way, others when more of the rhythmical element is present. To illustrate: “Comfort, Comfort Ye My People” (Hymnary, No. 170) sounds much better when sung in a straightforward way than when sung rhythmically; “Praise to the Lord the Almighty” (Hymnary, No. 5) is more jubilant and vigorous when sung rhythmically. Bach showed wonderful discrimination and taste along these lines when he harmonized Chorales. Hymns should never be sung with such suggestive rhythmical pulses as are suggestive of a march, a waltz, or of other forms of music which have no business in the church. Inverted chords and dragging frequently weaken what should be strong; a speedy tempo leaves no time for contemplation.
We have heard that due precautions should be taken that the personal element is omitted from the service. This applies also to congregational singing. Music sung by the congregation should, on the whole, be objective, not subjective in character. When we say that church-music should be objective, we do not mean that it should be objective in the same sense as the music of the Roman Catholic Church. Roman Catholic music, we must remember, is rendered to the people, not by the people. Roman Catholic music does not express the reactions of God’s saints on earth. Lutheran music does, and most of the best Lutheran music does this without becoming subjective. Lutheran music states not only divine truth and doctrine, but it states also in an impersonal way that the truths of Scripture are believed, appropriated and lived by the Christian. Congregational singing should indicate the reactions of the Church, not of the individual. Individuals have their own peculiar ways of expressing their reactions and experiences and the manner in which one person expresses these may not appeal at all to another person, may not even be understood by him. Hence Lutheran hymnologists agree that hymns should be objective, not subjective in character and content. Here again we have a difference between Lutheran hymns and hymns of the Reformed denominations. Subjective hymns are very often quite sentimental.
What should be the character of the hymns we sing? They should not, first of all, be sentimental. Chromatic hymns are usually sentimental and pretty; our best Lutheran hymns are diatonic, and diatonic hymns are usually healthy, vigorous and strong, as church-hymns should be. Since hymns are to be sung by “the masses,” they should be not only dignified, but also simple, singable and melodious, the melody being in the soprano. The range should be comfortable. Ornamental tones, syncopated notes and the like are out of place. The joy expressed in our hymns should be joy in the Holy Ghost; the peace that is expressed should be the peace of God; the depth of our hymns should symbolize the depth of the knowledge and wisdom of God.
To all who are members of the Church apply the words of St. Paul: “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto the Lord.” Col. 3,16.
II. Music in the School.
We Lutherans maintain Christian day-schools that we might thereby establish our children in their Christian faith and also that, through these schools, other children might be won for Christ and His kingdom. Through these schools is the Church enabled to perpetuate her noble ideals and disseminate her great principles. May God preserve these schools and fill us with the knowledge of their significance and purpose.
If we wish to give the children of the Church a sound and truly beneficial schooling in matters musical, then must we send them to schools which are in duty bound to inculcate the ideals uppermost in our minds. A school that fails to impress lofty ideals upon the minds of its pupils, fails in its purpose. We Lutherans have ideals which are indeed of the highest order, ideals which are different from the ideals of others, and the only schools which can represent these ideals are our Lutheran schools.
We maintain and support elementary schools and schools of higher learning. In these schools there should be a unity of purpose and principle. The work done in the schools of higher learning should be a continuation of the work begun in the elementary schools and the work done in the elementary schools should be so soundly grounded that it serves as a worthy and solid foundation on which high-schools and colleges can build and from which the Church at large derives benefits which make the maintenance of these schools worthwhile and profitable. We must not forget, however, that the profits derived from our Lutheran schools are too great to be figured in terms of dollars and cents.
Since the foundation is to be learned in the elementary schools, we shall consider these first. The problems which confront us in teaching music in the grade-schools are far more difficult than the problems which confront us in the schools of higher learning. There is, in the first place, the matter of the instructor. In the high-schools and colleges music is usually taught by specialists, that is, by people who have made a more or less intensive study of music, who have studied it by choice and who are vitally interested in this work. We have teachers in our elementary schools who are vitally interested in music, but, as is to be expected, the greater percentage is not; they teach it as they teach geography, grammar, arithmetic, penmanship and other subjects; a high percentage do their work faithfully and well, but the spark of enthusiasm, which is so necessary in teaching an art, is almost totally lacking. Furthermore, many of our schools are one-class schools in which the little tots join in with the older pupils in music study. This has its advantages, but it has many more disadvantages. A child of six does not think and react as does a child of fourteen, its capacity is more limited and the same might be said of its ability. Many a young child has ruined its voice because it was obliged to do what only a more mature child could do. Educators have studied such problems for years, have also solved many of them, but the whole matter is still a problem which at times seems to be insurmountable.
But the task, while it is serious, is certainly not hopeless. The seriousness of the whole problem becomes very eminent when we consider that we, as a rule, have these children in our grade schools for eight long years, during those very years in which their minds are most impressionable and absorbent. What are we to do? First, a plea for our teachers. Since our day-school teachers cannot be expected to be specialists in the field of music, let us not demand of them what we would demand of a specialist. Let us encourage them in their work by being reasonable and by showing our gratitude for what they do accomplish. A teacher who works with the ability God has given him is doing what God requires. Let us not require more. We so often discourage the men and women who are doing this wonderful work and give them only a part of the support they so richly deserve. We have parochial-school teachers in our circles who have accomplished things that are truly astounding. The interest you show in their achievements and the support which you lend to their undertakings will but redound to the glory of our God, our Church, and our schools.
Teachers should not try to accomplish too much. There is abroad to-day a tendency to crowd and to pack. This tendency is unhealthy. It stunts and retards instead of fostering growth and development; it seeks to ripen things before the time of maturity. Modern methods and systems are largely responsible for this; they bewilder the teacher and delay the pupil. Let the teacher likewise bear in mind that he is dealing with children, not with adults. We are here reminded of the words of Lucie Haskell Hill:
“Reach down the hand,
The little one who trudges by your side
Is striving hard to match your grown-up stride;
But oh, his feet are very tiny yet,
His arm so short — I pray you, don’t forget —
Reach down your hand.”
The average child, when it has finished the grade-school, should have some musical ability. It should be able to distinguish between a good tone and a poor one; it should know the fundamental principles of clear and beautiful diction and be able to apply them; it likewise should have some ability in reading music at sight. Class-room instruction in applied music is being introduced in many schools to-day. May the day soon come when such instruction can be given in our schools also. But there is one thing above all else which the teacher should seek to develop in his pupils and that is a sense of good judgment and appreciation in matters musical. When organized properly and given in the right spirit, such a course will not only prove to be highly beneficial, but it will also be most thoroughly enjoyed by the pupils.
At this point I cannot help but refer particularly to the value of the Lutheran Chorale in this respect. Dr. Wilhelm Middelschulte, a famous organist, once made the remark: “I owe much of my sense of the appreciation of good music to the fact that I learned the Lutheran Chorales in the elementary grades and grew up with them.” Many of us have, perhaps, never given this point any special thought. How often do we not meet people who have never had a course in music, who do not know one note from the other, who know practically no music but their church-hymns and a few folksongs, yet can they distinguish very clearly between good and poor music and they find satisfaction only in music of the better and deeper type. They detest music of a low type, reject revival and so-called gospel-hymns, and find no appeal in trivial and sentimental hymns. While they may not be aware of it, yet the fact that they were at one time almost constantly exposed to the Lutheran Chorales has left its wholesome results. Our teachers ought by all means familiarize their pupils with the outstanding Chorales and impress them indelibly on their minds. Not only ought they make these hymns familiar, however, but they should also point out their beauty. Former Dean Peter C. Lutkin once made the statement: “We teachers often teach everything but the beauty of music.” The people within our circles who do not care for our Chorales are invariably either such as have not become familiar with these in their early youth, or such as have never been shown their beauty. Some will, of course, object and say that the Chorales are too heavy for a child. This is a fallacy. That a teacher should show discretion in selecting the Chorales which his pupils are to learn is quite self-evident. All Chorales are not equally deep. Teachers who have taught Lutheran hymns to children will, I am certain, be able to corroborate what has been said and will add that children enjoy singing the Chorales.
Children should also learn good folksongs, both religious and secular. The relationship between these and our Chorales is very close since many of our Chorales were originally folksongs. There is something wholesome about a folksong which makes it popular in the best sense of the word. Our American people have written no better music than their folksongs. The songs of Stephen Foster are amongst the finest folksongs ever written. The folksongs of the Norwegian people are truly outstanding; this is universally admitted. Grieg would not have been what he was had it not been for the fine folksongs of his country. It was this folkmusic which tore him away from the wholesome influence of Schumann and induced him to stand on his own feet. Unfortunately, however, the Norwegian folksongs are not known as well among people who are not of Norwegian descent as they should be. The folksongs of the Germans are sung the world over and together with those of America, Norway and other nations deserve being taught our children in the schools.
A few remarks concerning the music used in our Sunday-schools would here be in place. We deprecate the fact that so much trashy music is taught the children in the Sunday-schools. The superintendents of our Sunday-schools should, above all, be sound and conservative in their Lutheranism. A superintendent may be a conscientious and enthusiastic Christian, but if his taste is not truly Lutheran then is he not the man who should be the incumbent of this important office. Teachers and superintendents who are not properly minded in the matter of music used in the Church have done damage which has often proved to be almost irreparable. Let us make our Sunday-schools schools of real Lutheranism and let us not fall in line with the sects which have no identity and do not even care for it. Our Sunday-schools should not be hotbeds of unionism and this applies also to their accomplishments in the field of music. It is true, here again the Sunday-school cannot handle the situation as adequately and satisfactorily as can the Christian day-school, but let us not use this as an excuse for making the sad mistake of crippling this institution which can and does accomplish much that is good.
It was stated before that there should be a unity of purpose and principle in teaching music in our Lutheran schools and that the work done in the schools of higher learning should be a continuation of the work done in the elementary schools. Our chief work in the grade schools should be to teach the child to understand and appreciate what is good in music; this should be our aim and purpose also in our high-schools and colleges. We do not say thereby that high-school and college students should not study piano, voice, or other individual branches of music; we are speaking of the student-body as a whole, not of the individuals who can and do take a special interest in music. In these schools music should be taught chiefly because of its cultural value. This pertains also to the study of applied music. After all, very few ever turn out to be recitalists or concert artists; those who have such ambitions and the necessary qualifications will get there anyhow. If we stress the cultural side of music then will we enrich the lives of the students and help them live a happy and wholesome life in their homes after they have left the institution.
Since we are at present considering student-bodies rather than individuals, let us see what might be clone to exert a profitable and wholesome influence over these groups. One activity has already been mentioned, namely classroom instruction in applied music. Such instruction is being introduced not only in the grade-schools, but also in the higher schools. Since one great purpose of such a course is to reach the masses, we ought not pass by this opportunity, already because of the general influence it exerts. Classroom instruction may be given very profitably and the financial obligations incurred by the study of music are thereby reduced to a minimum. Choral singing cannot help but lead to a good understanding and appreciation of the best there is in music. Conductors of choral groups in our Lutheran schools should regard it as their sacred duty to use these groups for the purpose of awakening and maintaining in the school and in the Church a sense of appreciation for the music of our Church. Lutheran student-choirs, while they may most certainly also sing some other music, should realize what God-pleasing work they can do by rendering real Lutheran music, which is so unknown in our circles. It is just through such organizations that our people can be shown the beauty of the Chorale, upon which so many choral masterpieces of our Church have been based. Choral activities at a school should be so arranged that they embrace as many students as are able and willing to learn. We ought not lose sight of the fact that the chief purpose of such bodies also should not be to display, but to serve. Artistry which is theatrical is cold, despite its technical perfection. Ability and gifts may be potent factors in developing an organization, but the spirit, when properly guided, can do more than the finest voices or the most highly developed technique. It is here where many very carefully selected choral-bodies fail. More harm may be done by such purely technical renditions than by a poor voice or two. The worthiness of the cause and the ultimate aim of all choral-music of a sacred nature should induce us to make the benefits and influence as far-reaching as possible. What applies to the church-choir as regards service and humility applies also to the school-choir.
While many benefits may be derived from lectures on music, far greater benefits and also much greater joy and satisfaction is derived from the actual participation in it. A talk on the beauty of Bach’s cantatas may arouse interest, but the actual rendition thereof will arouse love. Orchestras, bands and various other kinds of ensemble work ought bring forth fruits in abundance. Music courses which will be conducive to raising the cultural standards of the school may be offered as part of the regular course. Every high-school and college should offer a course in the history of music and, together with this, a course in appreciation. Such a course will prove to be very fascinating if the piano, phonograph or some other instrument is used to illustrate various points. A short course treating what is elementary in music will be enjoyed even by the unmusical if given by a teacher who possesses the necessary enthusiasm for his art. Lectures, student-recitals, faculty- recitals, lecture-recitals and recitals by artists, if they consist of the right kind of music, will exert a most wholesome influence. Every school which has a large enough student-body should have a concert or lyceum course. These can easily be arranged and the fees charged for such courses are certainly just as justifiable as fees charged for athletics. Athletics help create a healthy school-spirit and music helps create a pleasant cultural atmosphere; both should be supported, but both should also be kept in their proper place and neither of the two should interfere with the chief work of the school.
III. Music in the Home.
When we look at the home of to-day and compare it with the home of former days, we are obliged to say that “things are not what they used to be.” The many attractions which the world offers for our amusement have taken away from our homes what we might call “the home spirit.” This applies particularly in the large cities. Automobiles, the movies, athletics, social organizations of various kinds, even over-organization within the Church, all these factors tend to make home only a place to eat, sleep and change clothes. It is not unlikely that one reason why the Lord has sent us the present days of depression is that He might thereby bring us back to our homes.
Music played a very important part in the home-life of former days. There were, in the first place, the family devotional exercises, at which the family would join in and sing the hymns of the Church. There were, likewise, the family gatherings and the social gatherings with friends at which folksongs, sacred and secular, were sung and enjoyed. In most homes in which a piano or a reed-organ was to be found one would find on these instruments a note-edition of the hymn-book of their Church and also volumes containing other worthy songs.
When we enter even Christian homes to-day, we find so often that the jazz-music on the piano is the first thing which arrests our attention. We examine this more closely and find that there is much said in the texts of this music which is vulgar, offensive and degenerating. Very often the sons and daughters of the family are not at all interested in any other form of music; they do not care to play anything else and when they do try, their playing is so full of the jazz-spirit that parents often regret having permitted their children to bring such music into the house. This fondness for the low type of music has taken many of our young people into questionable places of amusement and has thus weaned them away not only from the home, but also often from the Church and from Christ. This music appeals to the baser instincts of man; by leading to questionable places of amusement it establishes contact with people who are jazz-minded and whose companionship may prove destructive of Christian ideals. Not all popular music is unwholesome; we ought, perhaps, distinguish between jazz and popular music, designating the low and degenerating form, which is usually based purely on rhythm, as jazz, and the more pleasing and melodious form as popular music. There should be a Christian atmosphere in the Christian home; music that does not fit into this atmosphere is simply out of place and should not be tolerated. Jazz characterizes questionable places of amusement; let us not permit it to brand our homes as places of unholy worldliness.
It is indeed most unfortunate that so few of our people have family devotion with the singing of hymns. What a glorious opportunity to breed into our children the beauty of all that is sacred. Like Martha, we are too often cumbered about much serving; unlike Mary, we sit so seldom at Jesus’ feet and hear His Word. There are no better means whereby we might put into our homes the atmosphere that should be there than family devotion with song. Despite all vocal deficiencies that may be heard, these family services are very impressive and many a man and woman looks back with fond recollections to those God-pleasing devotional exercises of his childhood days.
Not only our hymns, but also folksongs should be sung to a much greater extent in our homes. More need not be said than has been said concerning the characteristics and influence of these, but let us again remind ourselves of the fact that such music will put a stamp on our family-life of which we certainly need not be ashamed. They help develop our taste and with their simplicity and purity serve as a worthy criterion whereby we may learn to put a fair estimate on music that is put before us.
Every home should have a worthy instrument of some kind and in every home ought we find at least one person who possesses some ability as a performer. The more music there is in the home the more good cheer do we usually find there. Ensemble music will help establish a fine family spirit. If there are several with musical ability, let duets be played, trios sung, or let a small orchestra be formed. It is really surprising what such enterprises calling for teamwork will do to make the home more pleasant.
Children should not be forced to study music; coercion very often develops resentment and dislike. Parents should do what they can to point out to their children the beauty of music and should encourage them in their endeavors, even when they are not as successful as they would like to see them be. It may be exasperating for parents to hear their children practice scales and technical exercises, strike wrong notes and wrong chords, play in distorted rhythms and the like, but patience will prove to be a well rewarded virtue if it is applied. We often marvel at the patience shown by children; the patience of parents should be not only correspondingly great, but greater. Whenever possible, children should be given the opportunity to hear concerts and recitals; such performances will stir up healthy ambitions within them, teach them to listen and kindle in them a flame of enthusiasm for what is beautiful, wholesome and good. Here the radio may be used to good advantage. Many fine programs are offered especially for children, programs which are bound to bring good results. Without overdoing it, children should even be encouraged to listen in now and then on the heavier orchestral programs in order that they may learn to see the beauty of music of a deeper nature. Their attention should be called to certain features and characteristics of such music that they might learn to hear what is not always observed. Develop good taste in a young child and you will accomplish something that is lasting and enduring.
Parents should be very careful when they select an instructor of music for their children. The world is flooded with teachers who have neither taste nor ability. The fact that the taste of the American people has been of a rather poor quality may be attributed largely to the poor taste of the greater percentage of music-teachers. Fortunately things have improved considerably along these lines; there are still many poor teachers in the field to-day, but they are losing out in their competition with teachers of ability. It is not so very many years ago that we heard children practice “The Maiden’s Prayer,” “The Burning of Rome” and “Napoleon’s Last Charge”; to-day it is not so unusual to hear selections from Schumann’s “Scenes from Childhood” and Mendelssohn’s “Songs Without Words.” The strides that have been made in teaching children have been truly remarkable; parents should, therefore, be as careful in selecting a teacher of music as they are in selecting good food for their family. A good teacher may charge a higher price (this is not always the case, however), but it will pay in the end to engage the services of such a teacher. The character of the music-instructor should likewise be taken into serious consideration; the contact between teacher and pupil is very close, as a rule, and a music teacher who maintains low standards of living can easily ruin the whole life of a pupil.
In closing permit me to call your attention to the scriptural injunctions “Let all things be done unto edifying” 1 Cor. 14,26 and “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” 1 Cor. 10,31. Bearing these two passages in mind, we see what the ultimate purpose of music should be. Beautifying our lives with true beauty is indeed edifying and cannot but redound to the glory of God when done in the right spirit. If our likes and dislikes, our inclinations and aims in the field of music are worldly, carnal and selfish, we sin, but if they are pure and wholesome, they are a blessing. “For me to live is Christ” says Paul, Phil. 1,21; let our attitude towards and our activities in music prove this.