“Church Music for the Whole Church.” This was the motto over the stage of Convention Center in Louisville, Kentucky, during a three-day conference that celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the church-music program of the Southern Baptist Convention. Twenty choirs from Baptist colleges and seminaries delivered erudite sacred classics and sophisticated arrangements of folk hymns, then joined with the Louisville Symphony Orchestra for the premiere performance of Talmage W. Dean’s Behold the Glory of the Lamb, an apocalyptic oratorio commissioned for the occasion. Workshop sessions met thirteen at a time, with recognized experts discussing topics ranging from “How Is Your Diction?” to “Vocal Problems of the Pre-Adolescent.” More than 5,000 delegates had a chance to review the revolution that has taken place in American church music since World War II.
While some experts speak of a “church-music renaissance,” the change is better described as the first advent of serious church music in America. It is a product of democratic music education and of a spirit of self-examination unique to our time—with money enough to support it.
Statistically, the movement toward better music is impressive, especially among Southern Baptists. The larger seminaries boast music schools on an equal footing with schools of theology and Christian education. Yet they are not able to turn out enough ministers of music to supply the demand of their churches. Southern Baptists print two monthly church-music magazines. A field services department works through more than thirty state music secretaries, conducting numerous workshops and clinics and two annual conferences.
Twenty years ago, some observers ...1
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