My favourite church music

After a near life-time of singing in church choirs, playing the organ for church services, attending cathedral Evensongs and other forms of corporate worship, I think it will not be easy to discover amongst all the music played and all the music heard that which could be designated “my favourite church music”. If by church music, however, we are thinking solely of that which, together with words liturgical and or devotional, form part of the church service then our problem is less formidable than if we include, for instance, voluntaries performed by the organist or a group of musicians, before and after the Act of Worship.

Recently at an organ recital I attended the recitalist took us through the progress of music from the Baroque era to the modern era, beginning with a performance of Bach’s Allabreve in D. Not all the recital was of music written specifically for the organ, one or two pieces were in fact transcriptions of orchestral music. I think however that pretty well all of it was music that could form part of a church organist’s repertoire. Can this be included in our definition of Church Music, or is it perhaps music to create the right atmosphere before the Service and after the Service, to reflect something of the experience itself? In short, does it become ‘church music’ because of its association with the ‘church service’?

Does thinking the above help me to come to some kind of decision? I can only conclude that my interpretation of the term ‘church music’ must embrace, in addition to hymns, anthems, settings of psalms, and other liturgical and devotional words, any instrumental music that conveys something of its own peace and serenity to the mind of the hearer.

Perhaps the above may already have given some indication of what my “favourite church music” is, but I certainly cannot claim that all church music is ‘favourite’. I am not for instance fond of some modern style music (although some of it I do like) but I believe that in the sphere of communal worship there is room for all expressions of faith be they sincere ones. Am I getting any nearer, however, to the question of what my favourite church music is? It doesn’t look like it. Could it be that the answer quite simply is that it is music I like to listen to? It would indeed include music of the Baroque Era, music of the classical and romantic eras, and music of a modern age.

Dare I in conclusion however make one small admission? I am particularly fond of the church music of Palestrina and Byrd, and that of Stanford and Parry, and it was J. H. Maunder who opened one of the doors to me, as a young choirboy, of the glorious wonder of church music.

Peter Moule, organist of All Saints'
© St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 7th March 2004