Friday, 26 February 2010

Musical Church

Candlelit score
Originally uploaded by Alex is late
Just a thought. What about Church as an adventure in collective improvisation in the key of Christ?

Christ as the tonal centre of gravity, the reference point for all other tones, the tone that gives all tones meaning to which they all relate, and the destination of the piece.

Members of church as a band with different skills doing different stuff but taking account of, responding to, supporting what the others doing, informed by the tradition and its conventions but always ready to risk new ventures. And always with reference to the tonal centre.

I think this works well, as long as you don’t like Schoenberg.

(With a nod in the direction of Tom Wright’s five act play notion of the Bible and Kathryn Tanner’s intriguing idea that the church is in effect an argument about the meaning of discipleship.)


tim f said...

What key/mode are we talking?

Glen Marshall said...

Does that matter?

Geoff Colmer said...

Hi Glen!
I like the idea. I've been playing around with 'The Enduring Melody', the title of a book by Michael Mayne, based on the cantus firmus, which Bonhoeffer uses in a similar way to your idea. Our love for Christ is the cantus firmus in our lives around which other melodies are played. Craig Gardiner has done some great stuff with this.

I think the whole improvisation thing has masses going for it with lots of different applications. Tom Wright's idea works well in the light of incomplete works like Elgar's Third Symphony which was completed by someone well-versed in Elgar - the final result is thoroughly convincing! Also Mahler 10.

Incidentally, I like Schoenberg and I think your idea works even with him at a stretch!

I see you've got The Music Instinct on your 'Stuff I recommend' and at a not unreasonable price. I was going to wait until it came out in paperback. I've read a couple of reviews but your comment has sold it to me! Have you read Alex Ross, The Rest is Noise? - the 'book of the year' for me, and he's got another one coming out in September.

Glen Marshall said...

Geoff, thought it was too much to hope that it might be even close to original!

Yeah read The Rest is Noise but it didn't quite do it for me. I think I'm a bit too ignorant about 20C orchestral music to able to follow it properly.

Also read Roger Scruton's The Aesthetics of Music over the summer. Mixed feelings about this one. In places there are some good insights but too often I was out of my depth sometimes with the philosophy but more often with the music.

Philip Ball is not really the same as Scruton, less philosophy more science and, imho, written more clearly. Also found myself warming to him much more than Scruton who came across as bit of a reactionary grump.

What would you recommend in relation to the Music/Theology interface?

Ingrid said...

Jeremy Begbie writes on music and theology - I read some of his stuff when I did my dissertation. I remember thinking as I dipped in that when I've got more time I really must get back to this - that time never comes!

Geoff Colmer said...

Ingrid beat me to it - I've read a lot of Jeremy Begbie!

He wrote a great little booklet 'Music in God's Purposes' and then a fairly dense volume, 'Voicing Creation's Praise', which was his PhD. 'Theology, Music and Time' was brilliant with some great bits, but some heavier stuff. 'Resounding Truth- Christian Wisdom in the World of Music' is the latest and superb. I wrote a review of it for Hopeful Imagination as it's formed much of my thinking. Some of it's technical but there's some superb music/theology interface.

I have some talks he gave at Regent's Vancouver with the title 'Theology Transposed'. They are a theology of the arts, but with a lot on music. If you want to listen to them I can let you have them. My enthusiasm for these is immense as he's such an effective communicator.

Barth did a great little book on Mozart which is lovely. There's another great book, 'The Harmony of Heaven' which is a Lent Book with a piece of music for each day. Gordon Giles knows his stuff musically and theologically and there's some real content but with a light touch.

Craig Gardiner's Whitley Lecture really connected with the interface and I think of him as someone who's done some foundational work.

And that's about it! I'm always on the lookout for this sort of thing. If you come up with anything, I'd love to hear from you.

tim f said...

"Does that matter?"

Well, if you'd said C major it wouldn't have automatically invalidated your idea. But yes, I think it does matter. Different keys & modes have different resonances (Spinal Tap famously described D Minor as the saddest of all keys, for example) so the key/mode someone picks would say something about their conception of Who Christ is.

Glen Marshall said...

Ingrid, Geoff,

Thanks for that.


I reckon that's probably starting to push the metaphor too far. I think the point is that it's in the Key of Christ so he would be the one giving the the music it's character. Does that make sense?

tim f said...


Glen Marshall said...


Glen Marshall said...

... or more constructively, it really isn't a cop it it's about understanding how metaphors work. As CS Lewis said, just because the Holy Spirit is like a dove doesn't mean he lays eggs.

The whole point of the analogy is that our usual way of describing a key by reference to the tonic is replaced by Christ, the key is the key of Christ, he is the tonic, he is the analagous referent, life lived in church is lived in the key of Christ. To go on and, "and by the way, that key is B flat major would, in the terms of the analogy by meaningless.

Glen Marshall said...

For anyone following this you might want to check out Geoff's related post here

Craig Gardiner said...

Hi Glen sorry I'm a bit behind the pace on this blog ... busy weekend. Jeremy Begbie is the guy on this although to me his writing sometimes feels over orchestrated. I've got a bibliography of stuff i foudn helpful during my PhD. DAs Geoff said I did alot of this Bonhoeffer derived polyphonic was then summed up in the Whitley lecture a few years ago but the 'what key" argument can be neatly side stepped by thinkoing not in terms of harmonies and counter melody (very western classical or jazz) but in polyrhythms. This has become all the more clear to me recently whole taking part in djembe drum circles where there is a constant beat but many interweaving rhythms move and give opporuntiy for improvisation. No key necessary. I inteded to blog about this a few weeks ago before the whole Rima thing kicked off in Glasgow. Will try and do so soon.

Glen Marshall said...

Cheers Craig. Following the Rima thing via FaceBook.

I'll look forward to reading your post.