Back to Bach: The Secret Truth Behind the End of Great Church Music?

Graduale Aboense, hymn book of Turku, Finland....
Graduale Aboense, hymn book of Turku, Finland. 14th-15th century. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The church used to be the home to phenomenal classical music like Bach's cantatas, Gregorian Chant, and Handel's oratorios. What happened? What changed church music from being great to being a set list of repetitive 7/11 songs? What have we lost? 

As a musician of over two decades, I have performed numerous Easter cantatas, Christmas programs, and music specials both as a professional and as a church patron. In 2008 I wrote a prize-winning sacred oratorio, Creation. Though I would hate to say it, I have to admit that the overall quality of the contemporary church musical repertoire seems low, with songs and cantatas riding the line between unimaginative and silly. I am not questioning their effectiveness in their overall purpose, but musically these works pale in comparison with the incredible masterpieces of Bach, Handel, or even contemporary composers John Rutter and Eric Whitacre.

When did the church stop being the patron of the arts? And why?

Historically, the Catholic Church remained one of the primary patrons of the arts until the Age of Enlightenment took hold. During the Middle Ages, the monks and nuns remained the educated class, penning both notes and sacred texts with amazing speed and anonymity. Over the next several hundred years, the Church hired the most talented classical composers and musicians in the region. Composers such as J.S. Bach and Frederic Handel composed sacred masterpieces.

Creation Oratorio Highlights Reel

However, by the 20th century, the Church no longer held the honor of being primary patron of the arts. Even the monarchy did not hire the majority of composers. Instead, composers in the 20th century found that wealthy patrons, educational institutions, governments, and professional music institutions were much more likely to pay the bills than a temporary post as a church minister (though many still took such posts).

The 20th century church no longer attracted the most talented musicians and composers. Instead, religious institutions in general needed to rely on the talents of amateur choirs, poorly trained music arrangers (who relied on software to churn out hundreds of mediocre songs), and the cannibalistic music industry.

The music publishing monster encouraged the created of substandard praise songs, poorly constructed cantatas, and mediocre anthems which attempted to copy more popular secular songs. By the end of the 20th century, the music industry had managed to copy nearly every major secular musical style, from Christian rave music to sacred hip hop. Not all of the artists shared the same monetary motivation as big the big music giants, and many fell into the hands of eager music executives desperate to church out the next Christian version of Britney Spears, Jonas Brothers, or Hannah Montana.

Fortunately, sacred classical music is alive and well, if outside of the church. Talented composers like Eric Whitacre and John Rutter continue to make musical masterpieces using sacred texts. Whether the church will ever again be home to truly great music remains to be seen. Hopefully the tides will change soon, and the next Bach or Hildegard von Bingen will rise up from the masses.


Composer Boot Camp 101: 50 Exercises for Educators, Students and Music Professionals

classical music, classical, composition, classical composer, contemporary composer, write music, how to write music

Composer Boot Camp is a series of 50 exercises for educators and beginning, intermediate, and advanced musicians who want to develop their skills in composition. 

Composer Boot Camp 101 workbook is designed to help educators, students, and seasoned professionals to hone their compositional craft. There are a series of exercises, helpful tips, resources, and more to help the musician prepare a solid foundation in music composition developed by award-winning composer and music educator Sabrina Pena Young. 

Exercises are divided into four sections: 

Appropriate for young students, adult learners, and those who do not yet read music. 

Appropriate for high school students, music educators, college students, and musicians who want to learn how to write music. 

For advanced college students, composers, music educators, and musicians with a strong grasp of music theory and performance who want to continue to excel in the craft of composition. 

Exercises for Intermediate to Advanced musicians who want to incorporate technology with their songcraft. 

The Main Subjects covered in this exercise workbook are: 

INSPIRATION – Learn how to kickstart a musical idea 
MELODY – Focus on developing melody 
RHYTHM – Exercise rhythmic skill 
HARMONY – Discover tonal harmony and chords 
ORCHESTRATION – Practice writing for ensembles 

“Unlike a complex method book, this book focuses on practical exercises that I have used myself as a composer or when instructing students. Educators will find a wide expanse of exercises here focuses on inspiration, melody, rhythm orchestration, and harmony. Students and professional composers will find exercises that will hone their musical skills and help them soar to the next level.” – Sabrina Pena Young 

An extra section on Technology brings composition to the 21st century and covers basic exercises for advanced students, educators, and composers to practice to develop composing to multimedia. These are key skills for any musician hoping to be marketable. 

Sound Resources for Composer Boot Camp: 

Award-winning composer Sabrina Pena Young is a foremost expert on Virtual Opera Production and Music Technology. A sought after consultant and speaker in music, arts, and technology, Young continues to push musical boundaries. Critics have called her "Wagner 2.0"and "Talented" with her works presented at Art Basil Miami, Opera America in NYC. the Beijing Conservatory, ICMC, London's Angel Moving Image Festival, the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival, SEAMUS, the NY International Independent Film Festival, Miramax's Project Greenlight, TEDxBuffalo, the Holland Animation Film Festival, TEDx, and countless venues in Europe, Asia, Australia, and the Americas.


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