Should a church musician perform what he considers good music or what the people in the pews want?

The musician is the man in the middle. He’s “torn apart,” in the phrase of Don Hustad, who, as a member of Billy Graham’s crusade team, is one of America’s most-heard organists.

There are two extremes, he says: those who judge music only by artistic ideals and those who aim only at the desires of the listener. “The two crowds are at each other’s throats constantly.”

Many music directors face pragmatic pressures: the sort of music they prefer is beyond the singing abilities of their choirs and congregations. Either they do poor music well or they do good music poorly. Besides this, what they consider worshipful may not mean much to the laymen.

Such artistic tensions hit hardest at evangelical churches, which often have small budgets, informal worship, and a tradition of entertainment-styled music. A growing core of trained musicians hopes to educate evangelicals away from their musical past.

Hustad is a leader in a key educational effort, the National Church Music Fellowship. Its program for small evangelical denominations and independent churches and colleges parallels that of mainline denominational efforts. Yet NCMF, which was fourteen years old at its convention last month in New York, predates such groups as the National Fellowship of Methodist Musicians and the Lutheran Society for Worship, Music and the Arts.

Hustad contends that these music societies are part of a renaissance in church music which has been taking place since World War II and which is the most important development in the professional music world. Other evidence: the growth of church music as a fulltime, lifetime vocation; better college courses; more music written and more written about music.

There are some crazy crosscurrents today in religious music. Some Christians seek to regain the lost heritage of ancient music, while others want immediacy with society through such means as current folk music. While evangelicals try to banish the influences of popular music, liturgical churches experiment with jazz in worship.

At the NCMF convention, the style of gospel music common in the constituency got short shrift. These comments from monographs in NCMF’s new publications program reflect the unrest among the leaders:

“Why is the Church so often the haven of the banal and the home of the tawdry?” asks Harold M. Best, music professor at Nyack Missionary College. “By what distorted decree of the human spirit must the glory of Christ be pitifully squeezed into the dry-rotted skins of a withered vocabulary?”

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Lee Olson, chairman of Nyack’s sacred music division, contends that “the gospel hymn melodies call too much attention to themselves and not enough to the text.… This humanization of the gospel hymn is only a reflection of the spiritual state of the evangelical church.”

The NCMF president, Alfred E. Lunde of Philadelphia College of Bible, issued a stinging attack on the entertainment cult among gospel music publishers and record companies. Publishers justified this as an economic necessity (see the following story).

The NCMF ran anthem and music essay contests this year but considered none of the entries worthy of an award. This led Houghton College’s Charles H. Finney to remark that many evangelical composers are “technically incompetent … not up to the average of our more liberal friends.…”

Changes are due. Nyack has become the first Bible school with a fully accredited music school. Moody Bible Institute was on the road to professional standards when Hustad left as chairman, reportedly because administrators feared too much of a break with tradition and possible de-emphasis of Scripture courses.

Hustad, who sidesteps comment on that situation, is now advising the blonde, energetic Lunde and his colleagues, who plan on pioneering a five-year music degree with a core of Bible courses at Philadelphia.

Lunde thinks a critical soft spot is ministers’ attitudes. He says he never heard a word about music during four years in seminary. The problem is widespread. An NCMF survey of seminaries accredited by the American Association of Theological Schools showed dozens offer no courses in music.

The NCMF is growing but with 488 members cannot be called strong, and leaders fear they’re not getting through to the local church. Similarly, the Methodist music fellowship has 1,750 members, but there are 39,000 Methodist congregations. At this summer’s convention, a cry went out for a Methodist music leader—if not a fulltime professional—for each congregation.

One of NCMF’s strengths is the variety among its members. Lutheran and Regular Baptist listened with equal interest as an Alliance speaker discussed the importance of liturgical revival.

Music has proved an important ecumenical meeting point. The 2,500-member Lutheran society was one of the first cooperative ventures among the Lutheran Church in America, Missouri Synod, and American Lutheran Church. New President Paul O. Manz of St. Paul said the society plans a series of intensive, one-week courses in various cities this year to help church musicians brush up.

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Another seminar for church musicians was held late last month at Louisville’s Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The Southern Baptists have one of the largest denominational music efforts (see “Revolution in the Choir Loft,” News, March 27, 1964).

Similarly, the Episcopalians’ graduate-level College of Church Musicians in Washington, D. C., sponsored a two-day seminar the same days NCMF met. The college itself is significant, Now beginning its fourth year, it is the only school in America designed for the church organist and choirmaster. The select student body of fifteen includes eight non-Episcopal students.

In all this activity and change, some leading musicians want to preserve a place for the gospel song. One is the young dean of Baltimore’s famous Peabody Conservatory. Ray E. Robinson. Baptist Robinson edits NCMF’s smart new Dimension quarterly. He spent a decade in Youth for Christ music, where he said the programmers’ motive was entertainment, not worship.

The gospel song should have a role in evangelism, he said, and is “appropriate whenever people tell people what the Saviour has done for them, in good taste, as an outgrowth of worship.”

“You draw your own kind,” he concluded. “Christ, presented superficially, attracts superficial people.”

Hustad, who holds a doctorate in church music from Northwestern University, would agree. In his present job he faces these problems head-on. He admits many songs at Graham crusades do not satisfy him artistically, but he gets “vicarious pleasure” from seeing their effect on others.

The big-framed, congenial organist thinks that the “highly specialized” crusade music should he no “measuring stick” for church programming. “It is spiritually unhealthy to dote on my experience with Christ all the time. Me, me, me! We must exalt the excellencies of Christ also.”

But Hustad does not want to see gospel music traditions neglected, as he believes Southern Baptists are doing. “If we believe in a personal experience with God, it has to he expressed,” he said. Though “untutored, in artless words,” the gospel song can be meaningful, as well as being true folk music.

The gospel songs of recent decades, he fears, have sapped emphasis on hymns to such an extent that congregational singing and hymn-writing have suffered. “This is a negative symptom of revivalism,” he said. “When the Church prospers spiritually, there is a great flowering of song.”

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Motives For Music Publishers

“We’re not real proud of everything we publish,” confessed a religious music salesman, but his company can’t take a chance on anthems the highbrows want.

“The people in the sticks couldn’t do them, and the people in the audience in the sticks couldn’t appreciate them,” Lorenz’s Eugene McCluskey told members of the National Church Music Federation during a publishers’ panel (see story above). He said Lorenz is in business to sell to the mainstream, not form tastes.

“A brutal business,” lamented his colleague, Robert J. Hughes. He said Lorenz and two other publishers represented at the conference, Hope and Rodeheaver, had bought out other houses that went broke trying to sell what people ought to sing, rather than what they will sing.

Music just for music’s sake is “vanity,” hence “unchristian,” he added. “You can’t tell people how to worship.”

The sales vs. quality debate seethes away, not only in music but also in book publishing and other trades. But some take a different view of economies.

Donald Griffith of Franco Colombo, which publishes mostly contemporary music, asserted: “For music we publish, we must create the demand. It costs very little to publish a twenty-five-cent octavo. The risk is in publicizing it.… We can help to set standards. If we have an experimental number we like, small sales over five years will pay the cost of publishing it.”

Concordia’s E. W. Klammer also took the high road, made easier because his house is part of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. A denominational publisher has a financial cushion if it fails in market competition. This produces some rivalry between church houses and independents. For instance, Lillenas, the Church of the Nazarene publisher, is accused of undercutting independents because it offers anthems at fifteen or twenty cents below what unsubsidized publishers can afford.

Klammer said the starting point in religious music should be “the theology of worship,” not money. He echoed Missouri’s liturgical and historic character in saying music took a “nosedive” after Bach, from which it is still recovering. But he said Concordia is also interested in what men are writing now, since “God is always contemporary.”

“We definitely try to change tastes; not for the sake of change, but for the sake of the Gospel. We publish things we know won’t sell very well.…” He said Concordia favors texts based on the Bible, “not mixed with subjective reactions by the author.”

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Wesley Bartlett said Carl Fischer, one of the secular publishing giants, is in business partly to improve public taste, and it consciously prints some popular, low-grade items so it can afford to publish prestige numbers. He advised composers to “have something striking in your music” that will stand out in the mountain of new pieces coming out daily.

Feeling The Draft

Draft-dodging has grown from covert art to organized rebellion during the Viet Nam escalation. The United Church of Christ executive council says the current campaign, which includes public burning of draft cards, subverts the legitimate religious principle of conscientious objection. Groups of sincere religious pacifists fear their cause is being degraded by the come-lately college demonstrators.

The swelling troop commitment overseas has produced a critical need for chaplains. The Pentagon offers no specifics on the number needed, but Army Chief of Chaplains Charles E. Brown, Jr., has asked churches for “several hundred” more new recruits this year.

The Methodist Commission on Chaplains is to double its supply. Normally it provides twenty new chaplains, added to a current Methodist force of 493 on duty.

The National Association of Evangelicals, clearing agency for forty small denominations, has a new quota of ninety, up ten.

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