Sunday, April 27, 2008

Worship Wars

In his academic work, Worship Wars in Early Lutheranism: Choir, Congregation and Three Centuries of Conflict (Oxford University Press: 2004), Joseph Herl relates some delightful anecdotes reminding us that some things never change (p. 172).

A well-seasoned traveler in Europe, Charles Burney, describes the singing of a LUtheran hymn he heard sung in Bremen in 1772:

"However, I visited the Thumkirche or cathedral, belonging to the Lutherans, where I found the congregation singing a dismal melody, without the organ. When this was ended, the organist gave out a hymn tune, in the true dragging style of Sternhold and Hopkins [the English psalter of 1562].

"The instrument is large, and has a noble and well-toned chorus, but the playing was more old-fashioned, I believe, than any thing that could have been heard in our country towns, during the last century. [Burney describes the interludes between phrases.]

"After hearing this tune, and these interludes, repeated ten or twelve times, I went to see the town, and returning to the cathedral, two hours later, I still found the people singing all in unison, and as loud as they could, the same tune, to the same accompaniment. I went to the post-office, to make dispositions for my departure; and, rather from curiosity than the love of such music, I returned once more to this church, and, to my great astonishment, still found them, vocally and organically performing the same ditty, the duration of which seems to have exceeded that of a Scots Hymn, in the time of Charles I."

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