The argument for musical diversity, part 6

19 Oct

Our discussion on this subject is drawing to a close. I argued, in my previous post, that I suspect that much of the enthusiasm for the worship diversity argument is in no way distinctively Christian, but is, rather, an attempt to re-purpose the idealogical pluralism that pervades our society. In this post, I wish to begin to address the most theologically significant of Kauflin’s arguments: that the manifold perfections of God cannot be expressed in a single style of worship.

In order to make this conversation profitable, we should have some reference points. Let’s consider a number of settings of Luther’s “Ein’ feste Burg.” I’ve selected these not entirely at random; several I’m familiar with because they’re part of my own music collection. I have attempted to pick legitimate representative samples of various styles; it would have been quite easy (and quite unfair) to highlight many abysmal recordings of this piece of both conservative and modern style.

  1. Choir of King’s College, Cambridge (Track 5)
  2. The Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir (Tracks 1–8)
  3. Himlische Cantorey (Tracks 5–7, preview only)
  4. Concordia University Wind Symphony (Track 5)
  5. Indelible Grace
  6. GLAD
  7. Crossroads Live Worship (Track 2)

We can now consider how these artists imagine God as our fortress; what does each portray that the other lacks? In what way do they help us understand the manifold glories of God?


Posted by on October 19, 2009 in Fundamentalism, Worship


8 responses to “The argument for musical diversity, part 6

  1. Scott Aniol

    October 19, 2009 at 9:47 am

    So, the Indellible Grace and GLAD versions are the ones in your personal collection, right?

    • Michael Riley

      October 19, 2009 at 10:34 am

      Definitely. They’re on my most-played list on my Zune :)

  2. Matthew Olmstead

    October 19, 2009 at 10:24 am

    One problem with all of them (I presume, since I have not listened to them) is that they misunderstand the hymn. “A Mighty Fortress” isn’t even about God as our fortress primarily. ;)

    • Michael Riley

      October 19, 2009 at 10:33 am

      What would you contend that the song is about?

  3. Jim Gelatt

    October 19, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    Michael & Scott,
    Why does the King’s College arrangement bring tears to my eyes, yet Michael’s choices don’t seem spiritual at all?

    • Michael Riley

      October 19, 2009 at 5:49 pm


      Quick clarification: Scott was employing a bit of sarcastic humor in his comment (and I was as well in my response); I own copies of the first four in my list.

  4. Megan McCauley

    October 30, 2010 at 10:43 pm

    Enter the non-theologian into the discussion. :) From a musician’s standpoint what is interesting to me in this entire argument is Kauflin’s definition of musical styling. His second argument (which I know you didn’t address), is most interesting:

    “Differing musical styles allow us to see different aspects of the truths expressed in the words of our songs.”

    I do agree with the statement, but when I think of different music bringing out different aspects of the text, I think of using a different melody altogether. This is what so many wonderful musicians do today: take an old hymn text and set it to new music, allowing them to express and highlight the words or phrases that ministered to them most.

    Of course listening to the examples you posted here, the melody remains unchanged. In fact, even most of the harmonies remain the same. It is only the style that changes.

    To answer your posted questions… I think that the later examples (5-7) are most lacking in that there is no indication that the performers truly understand the poetry. They have changed the rhythm of the phrase so that emphasis is given to unimportant words and phrases are spouted off quickly without thought for the meaning of the text.

    Thank you, Michael, for your thoughtful and intelligent handling of these controversial issues!

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