Every few Sundays, the praise band at our church has a Mannheim Steamroller moment. Now, anyone who knows me, knows that I am a total musical snob and have a hard time keeping a proper perspective on these things. (Actually, I think my view is the proper one, but I struggle to balance that against a society which has been out of step with it for most of the last half-century.) Anything that falls below the standard of, say, Handel or Beethoven, is, in my view, failing to live up to what one ought to rightly expect in the music of a properly civilized people. Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, and the Psalter are not too shabby either. But, even the term praise band strikes me as dubious, suspect, and does not, to my knowledge, appear in the Psalms.
Why is it that one has to go down to the quasi-heretical liberal church to hear the conservative musical repertoire - but at the theologically conservative churches, I have to be subjected to something less...musically impressive? The problem, of course, is that of relativism. Folks, including Christians, have come to think of musical beauty as being in the eye of the beholder...which isn't actually true, but is taken as being true by enough people that the error has become axiomatic. I have the real sense that we are living in an era where the chief quality of music (both in society generally, and in the Church particularly) is decay. One can only pray that the half-life of rap is mercifully short.
Anyway, I came across this off-hand reference by Hendrik van Loon in his single-volume epic The Story of Mankind. It was one of those stream-of-consciousness references that writers like van Loon and I tend to make if they think-as-they-write and find that they just can't restrain themselves from making commentary these kinds of cultural questions. But, sometimes those throwaway remarks are the ones which, because they derive from those convictions which we hold most deeply, and are thus those things about which we are most passionate, they are the keepers.
“If I had been born in a pleasant middle western city I probably should have a certain affection for the hymns which I had heard in my childhood. But my earliest recollection of music goes back to the afternoon when my Mother took me to hear nothing less than a Bach fugue. And the mathematical perfection of the great Protestant master influenced me to such an extent that I cannot hear the usual hymns of our prayer-meetings without a feeling of intense agony and direct pain” (450).
Van Loon and I see eye-to-eye on this one.