A Musical Tradition

The office where my esteemed spouse performs many of the studies and administrative duties comprising his workload outside of the conducting element at the church where he’s now interim chancel choir director hasn’t got a lot of stuff in it other than a big desk, a small piano and a couple of bookshelves. Most of the books that had filled the shelves went away with their owner, the previous director; a few that go with the office itself remain on the shelves, and all by themselves they tell quite a story. That’s the way of books in general, isn’t it.

It’s all the more so in this instance, by virtue of the books’ being vintage hymnals. The history of the United Methodist Church at large is in their pages. The history of this specific congregation within the UMC is there, too. And there’s a great deal of Protestant church history, Wesleyan history, English and American folk music and even larger and older parts of the musical tradition. All right there in the pages of some rather small, rather worn books that just happen to be full of hymns.

There are libraries; there are Protestant theological resources; there are music collections; there are history books. All of them are in this one room, in a handful of little old books. And that, in itself, is the nature and long-lived tradition of printed music in general. So much has been passed down in the oral traditions of so many cultures and religions and peoples, but there’s an enormous amount that lives on and grows and inspires because of those amazing repositories that exist in the written music that survives everyday use, one generation after another. I only hope that all such traditions can be preserved and enjoyed far beyond our lifetimes, whether in temples or towns, religions or regions, families or foundations, schools or individual choirs. Beyond inspiration or even enjoyment, these are great containers of food for thought.digital collage

15 thoughts on “A Musical Tradition

    • Yes. Superimposed over the photos of the organ pipes (left and right columns) and the church steeple (middle) are three of the book covers in the middle column. For the remaining six images in the left and right columns, I opened the books to different songs and scanned the hymns. Many of these hymns are not only old songs that were known in earlier times as folk songs with different words, but often they have been used by different denominations of churches as well (Catholic, Protestant; Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran; etc.).

        • The others are all groups within the Protestant tradition, similar in their views and practices but enough different that they all maintain independent churches and leadership and styles of worship. I suppose you could say they’re a little bit like Sunni, Shi’ite, Sufi, and other sects would be within the larger Muslim faith, for example.

        • πŸ™‚ well , i was thinking the same like your given example. I always think about these divisions . How divided we are… color, sect, cast, culture, languages, customs… i mean we are the creatures of same kind and living in the same planet but we are sooooooooooooooooooooo divided ..so lost ..and why i am saying LOST.. because we are fighting over these things.. everyone of us thinks I AM RIGHT, MY WAY IS RIGHT.. ok its not bad we can think and believe this .. but who we are to BELIEVE.. ONLY I AM RIGHT AND NO ONE ELSE ???

        • My sister, you are very wise. I think until we all figure out that every person created has value and beauty and learn to respect our differences–which are often much smaller than we think them!–we will be troubled with these foolish divisions we create that keep us from being our best. I am always so glad to find friends like you who prefer to look beyond the differences and rejoice in the shared humanity and love!

        • πŸ™‚ I just loved when you called me Sister πŸ™‚ really , it touched my heart. Thanks

          I believe in humanity and love. Give respect and receive it back and if you didn’t received it back that is the clear sign that you are giving respect to a wrong person. πŸ˜›

  1. Thought provoking. Indian music is based on oral (aural?) tradition, although historical musical notations do exist. Beautiful photo as always!

    • One of the things that interests me with western music traditions is that some of the contemporary composers in the last couple of generations have gone ‘back’ to creating idiosyncratic alternative forms of notation, even–my favorite–graphic notation, which is sort of a way of making beautiful visual images and decorations out of the music notes and instructions themselves. And of course most western music began as a strictly oral/aural tradition as well, and only gradually evolved in its odd way into the forms of notation that are so common now. Certainly there’s a lot about any kind of music that I can’t imagine could be learned or taught in any way other than through conversation, imitation and action, so all the notation in the world means nothing if it’s not accompanied by the rest of that! Glad you enjoyed the post. πŸ™‚

  2. Gosh, you stopped just when I thought you were getting started! My folks were passionate about church music (my dad a seminary professor and my mom a church organist). They were part of the committee that chose the songs to go into the new Methodist hymnal, although I don’t know what year that was, exactly.

    • Oh, I could go on for years, of course–the topic is enormous, as you obviously know! I just bite off little bits to ruminate upon from time to time and consider music posts in general to be a perpetually ongoing conversation here… πŸ˜€

      Very cool to hear that your parents got to be part of the hymnal updating process. Quite a challenge, that! πŸ™‚

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