Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Music is NOT a universal language

In interesting article from a more evangelical perspective.   The key phrase that someone picked up on:
"Music is the universal language." How often have we heard the phrase? It's amazing-the power of an oft-repeated, unexamined aphorism. This one in particular, it sounds so, romantic-convincing."

Anyone who's ever listed to traditional music from Asian cultures will know that the line isn't true: somehow what sounds right to their composers sounds totally wrong to ears formed in Western patterns - even if we don't have the training or vocabulary to recognize and describe what's wrong.

So what does this mean in a liturgical / catholic / Catholic context?   In short, Gregorian chant is no more the universal musical language than any other. Jesus didn't use it the way we know it - any more than he prescribed sing the Psalms the way the Jewish people did as the only way to worship God.

Personally, I found this part interesting too:
"We Went, We Sang, We Conquered
During the 19th and 20th centuries, as Western and European Christians went out around the world, ... some even tried to “help” the local music-makers by teaching them to sing in unisonand by encouraging the translation of Western Christian songs into local languages. Current
practice [does not] always demonstrate a value for the God-given musical and artistic resources of the host cultures.
... it never occurred to most Christian workers that just as they were learning new, complex, and “strange-sounding” languages in order to communicate with local people, they also needed to learn to understand the local music systems. Instead, they brought their Bible in one hand and a hymnbook in the other. Often the Bible was translated into the vernacular, but when it came to the hymnbooks, only the words changed (in translation), not the basic musical language of the songs."

I think it's even worse than that:

As well as margnalising the indigenous musical expressions, many of the missionaries weren't actually the best of musicians. So I've met people who were taught to sing Latin hymns that many Catholics regard as treasures of the faith to tunes that Western culture considers trite and disrespectful (eg Kumbayah). I've also met people who think that certain hymns are "traditional African hymns" because those (18th century and out of favour) hymns aren't widely used in European countries any more.

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