The designation of blues as “devil’s music”—a notion that has been largely unquestioned since the publication of Paul Oliver’s Blues fell this morning (1960)—imposes Christianity’s dualistic views on the holistic cosmology of an African-derived culture.
The supposed atheism of blues is simply a polemical means of opposing oppression, a stance that does not contradict blues’s fundamentally religious nature. White blues scholars have misrepresented blues by reducing its meaning to the language of ethnomusicology, a theoretical methodology that is not indigenous to the culture of blues; theomusicology, an indigenous approach, offers a deeper understanding of the people who created blues.
This according to “Blues and evil: Theomusicology and Afrocentricity” by Jon Michael Spencer, an essay included in Saints and sinners: Religion, blues and (d)evil in African-American music and literature (Liège: Société Liégeoise de Musicologie, 1996 pp. 37–51).
Above, Reverend Gary Davis, who had no problem with reconciling blues and the church (photo by Bill Smith); below, Blind Willie Johnson’s Jesus make up my dying bed.
In 2012 the Akademia Muzyczna im. Karola Lipińskiego in Wrocław launched the series Psalate synetos with Wybrane zagadnienia akompaniamentu liturgicznego (Selected problems of liturgical accompaniment, ISBN 978-83-86543-69-2), edited by Marta Kierska-Witczak. The series is dedicated to church music and is addressed to organ students and others who wish to widen their scope of knowledge and practical skills.
The first volume combines contemporary church music theory and practice. Its 16 essays are divided into two groups: Chorał gregoriański źródłem odniesień dla nowożytnej muzyki liturgicznej (Gregorian chant as a source of reference for modern liturgical music) and Historyczny, estetyczny oraz praktyczny wymiar akompaniamentu liturgicznego i liturgicznej improwizacji organowej (Historical, aesthetic, and practical aspects of liturgical accompaniment and liturgical organ improvisation). The table of contents is here.
In its stirring setting by Hubert Parry, William Blake’s Jerusalem furnishes the text of one of England’s most popular hymns—it has been called the country’s second national anthem. It is particularly favored for weddings, as it was for the 2011 marriage of Prince William and Catherine Middleton.
Nevertheless, the work has been banned by clergy who believe that Blake’s version of Christianity is too radical, and that the poem falls short in theological matters. As recently as 2001, a bride in Cheadle cancelled her wedding when the rector refused to allow her to include a performance of Jerusalem.
“As a poem it is interesting, but Blake was a bit of a weirdo,” the rector explained to the press. “Blake appeals to the proto-atheists and proto-socialists, camps which—although they weren’t known by name back then—the poet fell into.”
This according to “William Blake, Hubert Parry, and the singing of Jerusalem” by Mark Chapman (The hymn: A journal of congregational song LXII/2 [spring 2011] pp. 41–51). Above, Blake’s Jerusalem: Emanation of the giant Albion (click to enlarge); below, the performance at the royal wedding on 29 April 2011.
In the preface to his collection Polyhymnia caduceatrix et panegyrica (1619) Michael Praetorius engaged in a play on words, juxtaposing the similar-sounding Latin terms concio and cantio. But the passage is not a mere display of cleverness—it is a theological assertion that musicologists have described as a manifesto on liturgical music.
Praetorius wrote (translated here): “for the completeness of worship it is not only appropriate to have a concio, a good sermon, but also in addition the necessary cantio, good music and song.” By stating that worship would be incomplete without “good music and song”—which he further deemed “necessary”—he was expressing the underlying premise of his entire career as a Lutheran church composer and cantor.
This according to “Concio et cantio: Proclamation and praise in song and music” by Daniel Zager; the article is published online here. Below, the Monteverdichor Würzburg and the Monteverdi Ensemble, conducted by Matthias Beckert, perform Praetorius’s Puer natus in Bethlehem from the same collection.