Music Information

Anglican Arrogance: Small-Minded Choirmembers

What is "Episcopal" music?

We often hear people express concern about losing ties to our Anglican heritage, which dates back about 500 years. One area that draws attention is music. To approach the question of what is official Episcopal music, we might look to our own denominational hymnbook, The Episcopal Hymnal (1982). Compiled by the Standing Commission on Church Music, this edition surely reflects what is both traditional and sanctioned. A brief sampling of selections from TEH '82 should shed some light on what is authorized and what is not.

First, a survey of origins will be useful. Of the 726 hymns in this book, several are Gregorian chants, which originated in the Middle Ages. They were codified under Pope Gregory in the 8th century and compiled in the Roman Catholic Liber Usualis. An example of chant (or "plainsong") is Of the Father's Love Begotten. Naturally, it existed only in Latin for centuries. Other chants in the hymnal include Russian Orthodox, Slovak and Czech.

Another source of hymns is the Lutheran chorale, having been composed specifically for the German Reformation to provide a singable alternative to chants. They were first found in collections by Johann Walther, Martin Luther's right-hand man commissioned to bring music back to the people by providing singable tunes in the vernacular, i.e., German. An example of this is A Mighty Fortress (words by Luther with tune derived from a German tavern song and later harmonized by J. S. Bach, a devout Lutheran). Don't forget Angels We Have Heard on High, also written by a Lutheran, Felix Mendelssohn, who incidentally was a convert from Judaism.

Many of our hymns are borrowed from the colonial American "Sacred Harp" school, found in songbooks like Virginia Harmony and David's Psalter. Amazing Grace is an example of this, written by an ex-slaveship captain. A few, like Donald Fishel's Alleluia No. 1 or Kathleen Thomerson's I Want to Walk are recently composed and are associated with the non-denominational renewal movement of the late 60s/early 70s. Some come from other denominations like Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian and even Shaker (Tis the Gift to be Simple).

Finally, let's not forget Christmas carols, many of which are French in origin (Il est n), Negro Spirituals (Go Down Moses) and Hispanic folk songs (Durmete, Nio Lindo). In fact, in the preface to our hymnal, the Commission states plainly they deliberately tried to represent the church's diversity by selecting from non-European traditions such as Afro-American and Asian.
There are, of course, hymns written by professing Episcopalians/Anglicans, like Ralph Vaughn Williams' For All the Saints, or Healey Willan'sO Lamb of God in the service music portion of the book, or Sir C. Hubert H. Parry's "Jerusalem" set to O Day of Peace. And there are a few tunes by Thomas Tallis, Orlando Gibbons, and other notable Elizabethans who were chronologically close in history to Henry VIII's break-away from Rome, but these are in the minority! (And if any William Byrd tunes had been picked by the hymnal committee, it would have been ironic indeed, since although he and Tallis held the copyright monopoly under Elizabeth I, Byrd was a lifelong Roman Catholic!) All in all, MOST of our hymnody was written by NON-ANGLICANS

After all is said and done, a survey of TEH '82 reveals that "Episcopal" music is really "Eclectic" music. Our church has borrowed from many traditions and put its seal of approval on it. So the next time you feel anxious that we are losing touch with our roots, just remember our musical roots spread out far and wide, and yet it is still an Anglican tree, perhaps stronger for its diversity!

P.S.: James and his wife were confirmed Episcopalian in 1979. Since this writing, Mr. Weinberg has left the Anglican communion due to corruption, heresy and unGodly politics in the Episcopal Church (ECUSA).

James began piano lessons at age 5 with his mother. In time he studied at a variety of private studios including the Eastman School. After high school, he entered SUNY Fredonia as an organ major, transferring to Stetson University in Deland FL. While raising a young family, James entered Peabody Teacher's College in Nashville. Later he trained as a Navy broadcast journalist, and once a civilian again, spent five years as a classical radio announcer & producer at WPLN in Nashville. In 1985, James completed a bachelor's degree in church music at Belmont College (cum laude) and returned for a master's in music education, conferred in 1991. His area of emphasis for the M.M.E. degree was Elementary/Primary Pedagogical Methodology. His internship was at Montessori Academy in Brentwood teaching pre-school through 6th grade. Now in his 6th year of teaching piano at Belmont Academy in Nashville, James has 35 students. He is also organist at Belmont Heights Baptist Church. See


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