Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Report on Forrest M. McCann, "Changes in Worship Music in Churches of Christ"

McCann, Forrest M. "'Time is Filled with Swift Transition': Changes in Worship Music in Churches of Christ." Restoration Quarterly 39 (Fourth Quarter 1997): 195-202.

This article was originally a speech, delivered at Abilene Christian University in 1997. Forrest McCann, a musician and historian, identifies and describes distinct episodes in the musical history of the Churches of Christ. According to him, they are as follows:

The Nineteen Century: The Campbell Tradition

No surprise, Alexander Campbell was the most significant influence on the worship music of the Disciples movement during the nineteenth century. Campbell had been raised a Presbyterian. Consequently, he favored the "metrical versions of the Psalms" well-known among the Presbyterians. His original hymnal of 1828 was republished a number of times. And, it served as the basis for hymnals produced by the American Christian Missionary Society between 1865 and 1882.

First Major Transition: Competition

In 1882, James Henry Fillmore published a song book that was much the same as the one produced by the ACMS. But, Fillmore's book was cheaper! Consequently, Campbell's dream of the the united Disciples having just one hymnal was crushed. Too, a new era of song-book competition began. Standard Publishing produced a hymnal in 1888, and in 1889, the Gospel Advocate came out with a hymnal whose lyrics were overseen and edited by E. G. Sewell. Interestingly, there was evidently no one among the Churches of Christ at the time who was qualified to oversee the music for the Gospel Advocate hymnal. So, a Methodist musician, Rigdon M. McIntosh who was on the faculty at Vanderbilt, did the job.

Second Major Transition: Advocate Books

Following the official separation between the Christian Churches and the non-instrument, non-society Churches of Christ in 1906, hymnals produced by the Gospel Advocate always had a non-instrument, Churches of Christ text editor. But, again, there was apparently no one in the group who was qualified to oversee the musical part of the hymnal. Consequently, an "instrumental" brother or someone like the Methodist Rigdon McIntosh edited the tunes. "The sad fact is that since the 1906 separation, Churches of Christ have never been a part of the mainstream of church song in America" (196).

Third Major Transition: Competition Again

Just as there was competition among Disciples hymnals in the 1880s, the emerging Churches of Christ witnessed similar competition. There were the Gospel Advocate hymnals, which competed with hymnals produced by the Firm Foundation, plus a large number of hymnals produced by independent editors. None of these hymnals featured songs whose words and music were consistently good.

Among the many hymnals published in the early 20th century, The Wonderful Story in Song (1917), by F. L. Rowe, was more substantial than most, and had some staying power (197). Some of the song books produced by the Churches of Christ in the first half of the twentieth century were of very low quality.

West of the Mississippi, Churches of Christ typically used the hymnals produced by the Firm Foundation headquartered in Texas. Hymnals were edited by G.H.P. Showalter, editor of the Firm Foundation magazine. The content of these hymnals was heavily influenced by F. L. Eiland, "the most prominent singing-school teacher among the Churches of Christ in Texas" and his proteges (197). Eiland's own Trio Music Company and subsequent Quartet Music Company produced several small, paperback hymnals, none of which lasted very long. These were filled with the words and music of Eiland and his students, songs which no one had ever sung before (and hardly since). Especially in the west, Churches of Christ were going their own way musically. This was a regional, mediocre tradition which produced very few songs which have lasted. Eiland's best-known book was The Gospel Gleaner (1901).

(FVB's guess is that two best-known songs from this time and place are F. L. Eiland, "Time is Filled with Swift Transition," and a song by one Eiland's students, Will Slater, "Walking Alone at Eve").

Fourth Major Transition: Great Songs

In May 1921, E. L. Jorgenson, a trained musician, completed Great Songs of the Church. Commendations poured in and were published in Word and Work, which had produced the new hymnal. Among Churches of Christ hymnals, the quality was unprecedented. And, this hymnal "reconnected the Churches of Christ with the great historic tradition of hymns and spiritual songs" (198). The book was a combination of Christian history and more-recent music produced by the Restoration Movement. Here was the best music from Christendom and from Restorationism. The musical isolationism of the Churches of Christ was coming to an end.

In producing Great Songs of the Church, Jorgenson was heavily influenced by the lesser-known W. E. M. Hackleman. For example, like Hackleman (and Fillmore), Jorgenson divided his collection into "Hymns" and "Gospel Songs."

Fifth Major Transition: The Dominance of Great Songs

The Gospel Advocate was silent about Great Songs, which was published by Word and Work, associated with R. H. Boll and premillennialism. Nonetheless, Great Songs became the standard everywhere, apparently because of its quality and despite its connections to "Bollism." By 1958, Jorgenson could say, "Nearly three million souls, in some 10,000 churches, now sing the Saviour's praises from its pages" (200). In the 50s, Jorgeson sold his standard-note edition of the hymnal to the Christian Standard, and the shaped-noted edition to Abilene Christian University. "The result of these transactions was that for the next decade and a half the heirs of the Stone-Campbell Movement again approached Alexander Campbell's dream of one hymnal for the churches" (200).

Sixth Major Transition: Imitation

Beginning in the mid-50s, producers of song books began simply copying songs straight from Great Songs of the Church. Sometimes the new books were 50 percent reproductions of songs from Jorgenson's work. They did so with impunity and apparently came to imagine that what they were doing was right. "His work, which has greatly elevated and standardized our hymnody, is now in its death throes because of inveterate copying. Perhaps my speech today is its requiem" (201). (Seems like this section should be called "Duplication" not "Imitation").

Seventh Major Transition: Current Events

McCann clearly saw the 1990s as an era of decline. A summary of his observations:

1. Only seventeen years later, it is astonishing to read McCann's assumption that part of the answer is to keep the best hymnals in print. (How many Christians sing from a printed hymnal anymore? They sing words projected onto a screen. In many cases, there is no musical notation).

2. Publishers of song books operate on the premise that more songs makes for a better book. McCann notes that by that time, there was a hymnal with over 1000 selections.

3. The advent of "so-called praise songs."

4. A trend toward performance music, music written for choirs and other trained musicians, not for "the average worshiper" (201).

In his conclusion, MaCann hints that the introduction of more-complicated music makes the adoption of instrumental music more likely. He quotes approvingly from a 1861 article by Isaac Errett in the Millennial Harbinger, which discusses the importance of music and singing.

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