Monday, February 10, 2020

Christianity Today: Acts 29 CEO Steve Timmis removed amid `accusations of abusive leadership', revisiting the somewhat opaque early phase of Acts 29 and its history of having leaders who have been described as overbearing UPDATE: Andrew Jones adds some background to early A29 history
As CEO of Acts 29, Steve Timmis was an effective and respected leader. During his seven years at the helm, the church planting network rebounded from the fallout around its co-founder Mark Driscoll and expanded from 300 mostly US churches to 800 around the world.A gray-haired British pastor with sharp Bible teaching and deep passion for mission, Timmis was known for the model of intensive gospel community developed at his 120-person church in the middle of England, The Crowded House. He emphasized “ordinary life with gospel intentionality.”But while his international reputation grew, some who knew Timmis in his ordinary life—who prayed, fellowshipped, and evangelized with him in living rooms, offices, and pubs—saw a different side.

“People were and are afraid of Steve Timmis,” said Andy Stovell, a former elder who led alongside him for 14 years at The Crowded House in Sheffield.

Fifteen people who served under Timmis described to Christianity Today a pattern of spiritual abuse through bullying and intimidation, overbearing demands in the name of mission and discipline, rejection of critical feedback, and an expectation of unconditional loyalty.

In a letter to elders when he left in 2016, Stovell said, “I am not persuaded by the explanation that this is a case of strong leadership inevitably leading to some feathers being ruffled. People have been bruised by Steve’s style. People have become cowed due to it.”

Two weeks ago, internal reports raised similar concerns about Timmis’s leadership in Acts 29, and the board voted on Monday to remove him as CEO. Acts 29 president Matt Chandler announced the news in a video sent out to the network the following day, saying, “For where we’re headed next, we needed to transition Steve out of this role.”


Fellow British pastor Melvin Tinker said while teaching a training program alongside Timmis, students from other evangelical traditions began to complain that Timmis was “dismissive” toward those who brought up other views of church life. Tinker, vicar of St. John’s Newland church in Hull, met with him at the time to address their feedback. Though Tinker had known Timmis for over 30 years and considered him a close friend, Timmis’s response to the meeting ultimately led to the end of their teaching together.

“If Steve is challenged in any way, which he always takes as a threat, then the tables are turned and the challenger is made out to be the one at fault,” said Tinker, who saw the same pushback emerge during the decade his son, Michael, was a member of Timmis’s church. “This is classic manipulation.”

By now, it is common knowledge that Acts 29’s CEO Steve Timmis was fired. According a report in Christianity Today, he was let go “amid accusations of abusive leadership.” The ripple effects are significant. His church in the UK is investigating and his publisher stopped selling his books. All of this is in the CT article.
The essence of the charges against Timmis involve micromanaging and defensiveness when challenged. According to the CT piece, Acts 29 staff members brought this to Acts 29 president Matt Chandler’s attention in 2015. However, Chandler led the dismissal of those staffers and required them to sign non-disclosure agreements in order to get their severance packages.
It is worth noting that Steve Timmis was on Acts 29’s board when Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church was removed from the Acts 29 Network in August 2014. Now we learn that within a year of that act, Timmis was accused of nearly the same actions and protected by Chandler and the Acts 29 board. What changed?
Another name on the list of board members who removed Driscoll was Darrin Patrick. In 2016, Patrick was removed from The Journey in St. Louis for “pastoral misconduct.” Steve Timmis was on Patrick’s restoration team. Now Patrick is back in business.
While none of this may influence how to plant a church, those who are in the market for such services should be aware of what they are getting into.
There has been an update at The Crowded House webpage.

We write with a concern for the reputation of Christ and a desire to care for his people.

Steve Timmis, the founder of The Crowded House, has been transitioned out of his role with Acts 29 following allegations about his leadership style. This was followed by an article in Christianity Today about his conduct in the church. On Friday 7th February Steve Timmis resigned as an elder of The Crowded House. We have valued his ministry among us and his role in founding the church. Many of us owe him a personal debt.

We also feel the weight of the stories told in the article. It is therefore our intention to ask someone from outside our network to explore what has happened and make recommendations. It will be for that person to shape the process, but we want to listen to all concerned with humility. We are willing to hear where we may have failed people. We recognise the need to open ourselves up to external and impartial scrutiny. 

- The remaining elders of The Crowded House churches.
Sunday 9th February 2020

Now longtime readers of Wenatchee The Hatchet may recall that one of the most opaque chapters in the history of Mars Hill Church and associated organizations was how Acts 29 went from being a network that at least one written source described entirely in terms of being founded by David Nicholas and how that network came to be defined as co-founded by Nicholas and Mark Driscoll and then, later still, for a time, as founded by Mark Driscoll.

... And just as Mohler became president of the Southern Baptist Convention's (SBC) flagship seminary at the young age of 33, Chandler has now become the president of the Acts 29 Network. The 16-year-old "gospel-centered" band of churches aims to write the next chapter of the missions described in the Book of Acts' 28 chapters. Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll cofounded the network with late Presbyterian pastor David Nicholas in 1998. In March 2012, during a meeting with board members present, Driscoll tapped Chandler to succeed him, shifting the offices to Dallas. (Driscoll remained on the board for a time, but is no longer listed as a member of Acts 29 leadership.)

But in the Spring 2000 Leadership Journal
Leadership Journal, Spring 2000
 Generation to generation
 How mentoring works for pastors
 Mark Driscoll

I'm a 29-year-old church planter in Seattle. A couple years ago I met David Nicholas, who lives in Boca Raton, Florida. He pastors a large church, Spanish River Presbyterian, that he planted 35 years ago, and he still has a heart for church planting. We developed a close mentoring friendship. I fly down to see David about four times a year, and he visits me each summer. We talk on the phone a couple times a week. He has walked me through some major issues in my life and ministry.

 I am now mentoring other church planters who have launched three daughter congregations out of our church. One is Ron Wheeler, a 23-year-old church planter with a congregation of 200 that already has had a daughter church, our granddaughter, as it were. That daughter church is led by a young man being mentored by Ron.

 David has interacted with all of these young planters. We've put together an entire network of church plantersÑfrom Omaha, Minneapolis, Portland, Seattle, and other places. Each March, we gather with David in Florida for training and friendship.

 David and I are now partnering to launch a mentoring organization for young church planters called the Acts 29 Network. We began with 11 churches in the U.S., some overseas, and we're getting several requests weekly from young pastors wanting to join. David and I invest in them theologically, financially, and personally.

 All of this came out of a friendship between an older man and a younger man who share a love for church planting.

 Mark Driscoll

So if in a 2000 edition of Leadership Journal Driscoll wrote "David and I are now partnering to LAUNCH a mentoring organiation for young church planters called the Acts 29 Network" [emphasis added] then by Mark Driscoll's account circa the year 2000 the Acts 29 Network wasn't officially launched yet, was it?

Or maybe it was.

For some reason when Tom Telford broached the subject of Acts 29 Network in a 2001 book he didn't mention Driscoll at all and focused quite a bit on David Nicholas. 


Tom Telford
copyright 2001 by Tom Telford
Published by Baker Books

ISBN 0-8010-6381-7

Spanish River Church has listed as its "Most valuable missions agency: Acts 29 Network"
from page 63

page 66 David Nicholas' "Acts 29: Churches planting Churches" gets a reference from Telford.  Is that message still accessible for consultation?

from page 69

Acts 29 Network. With things moving well with the network of church-planting pastors, Pastor Nicholas felt led of God to start a new network of churches that wasn't directly part of the denomination. He decided to call it the Acts 29 network and wrote up guidelines: the planted churches should be theologically Reformed, have a heart for church planting, and prmoise that when they become self-supporting, theyw ill pay back the amount that was given to them to initially begin, and put 10 percent of their income into new church plants.

As he shared the idea with the church and others, almost right away, ten established churches responded enthusiastically and committed to the Acts 29 Network, agreeing to sponsor church plants. A Network agreement was drawn up to show the relationship between Spanish River Church and the church plant. The agreement requires reports for financial and leadership accountability.

For whatever reason, when Telford's book was published in 2001, David Nicholas was noteworthy and Driscoll wasn't.  The recent CT article states that Mark driscoll co-founded the Acts 29 network sixteen years ago as of 2014, which makes for a year of 1998. 

Nevertheless, Driscoll's early 00's account may square the circle here:
Seasons of Grace: The Story of Mars Hill
By Pastor Mark Driscoll

In the eighth season, our worship ministry was in great disarray and I had a dream that Brad Currah, who had been a member of our core group before the launch, was leading worship. I repeatedly informed Brad that he was to be our worship leader and after numerous conversations he began volunteering time overseeing the worship and arts ministries. Brad had spent a few years playing the club scene with his band Springchamber, but was quickly overwhelmed with the demands of his first time pastorate and quit his job at Microsoft to free up time for ministry and hoped to live off of his wife Devonna's salary. But, she soon became pregnant and needed to quit her job. I then got a call from a pastor in Florida who had a network that funded church plants. Grace and I met with Pastor David Nicholas at Spanish River Church, and his church planting network agreed to help us financially. [emphasis added] This gift allowed us to bring Brad on full-time, which has culminated in a fantastic independent worship album, multiple worship teams, and an aggressive set of new songs written by some of our many gifted artists.
In our ninth season in the beginning of 1999 we were forced to move from our Laurelhurst location. Five days before the end of our lease we still did not have a location to meet in and were dreading the move. Then, pastor Rick Hull and First Presbyterian Church in downtown Seattle graciously welcomed us in. So, we shut down the 7pm service, and ran the 5pm service in their 1300 seat sanctuary. The move was nothing new, in three years we have had services in four locations and at four different times, and the office has had six different phone numbers due to all the moves. It was also during this season that we launched our first daughter church, The Gathering, one hour north of Seattle in Mount Vernon. A family, the Tackels, I had met while teaching at a conference purchased an RV to begin taking their children and their friends to our church. Their 23 year old son Ron Wheeler had returned from a one year missions trip in Africa and resonated with much of our ministry philosophy. He began a Bible study in his community that continued to grow until they launched their church at 6pm on Easter of 1999 in a beautiful old brick church in downtown Mount Vernon. Funding for Ron was generously given by Dr. David Nicholas and our Acts 29 church planting network, and funding for his worship leader Micah Kelly was given from Ken Hutcherson and Antioch Bible Church. [emphasis added] It was also at this time that we hired Janet Sawyer and Eric Brown, both members of our church, to come on staff full-time as administrators who have very much helped organize and stabilize our chaos. [emphasis added]

To date no public statements from anyone connected to Spanish River Church or David Nicholas has commented on what appears to have been the transformation of a project Nicholas started, by Tom Telford's account, into a co-founded project Nicholas and Driscoll founded or how Nicholas ended up no longer being in leadership or on the Acts 29 board.  All of these questions seem germane to recent public statements made regarding allegations of abusive leadership styles since, to use a phrase that sometimes shows up in the Christian blogosphere, it may tell us something about the DNA of the church-planting network if we could learn how the Nicholas/Driscoll transition took place in light of subsequent concerns that Driscoll and then Darren Patrick and now Steve Timmis have ended up being removed from leadership roles connected to Acts 29.

Two former Acts 29 staff members told CT they spoke up about Timmis’s overbearing leadership five years ago, in his first year as executive director.

According to a copy of a 2015 letter sent to Acts 29 president Chandler and obtained by CT, five staff members based in the Dallas area described their new leader as “bullying,” “lacking humility,” “developing a culture of fear,” and “overly controlling beyond the bounds of Acts 29,” with examples spanning 19 pages.

During a meeting with Chandler and two board members to discuss the letter, all five were fired and asked to sign non-disclosure agreements as a condition of their severance packages. They were shocked. [emphasis added]

“I trusted Matt to do what was right. I had full confidence that our concerns would be heard by him and that we could work towards resolution,” one of the former staff members said.

The letter also described the staff’s issues with Timmis’s new policies for leading the then–heavily American Acts 29 network from the UK—like reviewing every post before it went up on social media and tightening flexible work schedules to require staff notify him whenever they were out. Chandler told CT that, at the time, he saw it as a clash in leadership styles, not as indicators of abuse.

Even within the history of Mars Hill there was some precedent for leaders who transitioned into Mars Hill from Acts 29 to end up having an alienating presence at Mars Hill.  Without getting into much detail for the sake of this post, between Mike Wilkerson and James Noriega who were at one point co-leaders of Redemption Groups (which has recently ended being identified as such), the two men at times inspired drastically different responses within Mars Hill at an informal level.  Wilkerson seemed to have the better reputation of the two, with Noriega eventually gaining, at least in some subsets of the Mars Hill scene a very bad reputation.  It was rare that I deleted comments, since I tend to disallow most anoymous comments and let comments go into moderation.  Comments from MHC associated people about Noriega were one of the key reasons I took that policy up.  People did not like the guy and had pretty unpleasant things to say about how he approached pastoral care.  When I left Mars Hill one of the concerns I had was that the "biblical living" department seemed to be going in a direction where it's approach to member discipline could seem punitive and arbitrary rather than restorative and that Noriega kept coming up in my circle of associates as someone people felt they couldn't really trust. As I researched how Mars Hill Church acquired what was once its West Seattle campus I began to have doubts that Noriega's training and qualification for ministry had been very well vetted.

Part 26: One Body, Many parts
1 Corinthians 12:12-26
Pastor Mark Driscoll
July 30, 2006

… In the meantime, we also picked up another miracle. This is West Seattle. This is on 35th at the top of the hill in West Seattle as you head toward White Center. I grew up in this neighborhood. This is a church building that is an absolute miracle. I’ll tell you the story on this space. I tried to launch Mars Hill Church in that building ten years ago, and we were rejected, and I’ve always wanted to be in there since. And what happened was, is we were growing. I went to Pastor Bill Clem, who was leading that congregation. He planted it for Acts 29 Church Planning Network [emphasis added], him and James Noriega, who is the other elder there and I said, “We’re maxed out. You got a fat building, 50,000 square feet, 1,000 seats.:” It’s a bigger building and the one you’re sitting in right now. I said, “Is there any way we to use it?” They said, “Well, we wanna reach as many people in West Seattle as possible. How about if we give it to you and work together?” we prayed about it for a second and said, “Yes.”

That is a $5 million gift. That is a $5 million gift, right? And I don’t know if you’ve been tracking the real estate market, people aren’t giving away a lotta real estate right now in Seattle and so we have – we’ve taken Pastor James and Pastor Bill on staff at Mars Hill. We have taken their members through the Gospel Class and they’re now members of Mars Hill. [emphasis added] They’ve been meeting as a core group over there. As we speak, there is $1.5 million of construction going on at the West Seattle campus, with the intention of opening in October in time for our ten year anniversary, and we want to expand over to West Seattle as well. We were thinking, “Well, we can borrow $8 million from the bank. We can spend $3 million and for $11 million, we can open up a 40,000 square foot location.” Well, we can now open more square feet for $1.5 million. So obviously, you take that opportunity.

The two cool aspects of this particular campus is one, is already zoned as a church, so we don’t need to fight use permits. We don’t have to bring it up to code. We can just walk in and use it immediately and it saves us, literally, a few years of permitting. Secondly, the lot that it is on is only zoned for 15,000 square feet of building and it already has 50,000 square feet, and because as grandfathered in, we could use it all. We could never build this building today as it exists.  And the cool thing with this building, a very Godly church that loved the Bible – started this church, built it, their denomination went liberal, dropped the doctrine of the inerrancy or perfection of Scripture and this building went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and was the test case for who owns the church building, the congregation or the denomination. The congregation lost and these people actually bought their own building back, because they refused to drop the authority of Scripture as their value. [emphasis added] And so, there were some Godly older saints who paid for this building twice. It then went into decline but there is still a core of these people, like in their 70s and 80s, that are now members of Mars Hill. Grandmas tithing, waiting for us all to show up and fill that thing up again, and they’re praying us in. It’s a really cool God story and what God has done is pretty amazing.

Driscoll recounted from the pulpit, in an extended account that has been purged from "One Body, Many Parts" since he launched The Trinity Church

over at Mark Driscoll's site, the new and improved "One Body, Many Parts", a 2006 sermon that's available in 2016 but one third the length it was a decade ago.

The short version, Driscoll and company sliced out anything referencing how Mars Hill acquired real estate in 2006 and what was mentioned in the acquisition of the West Seattle campus was that Bill Clem and James Noriega were the ones who needed to sign off on the transfer to Mars Hill of a piece of real estate Driscoll had said he'd wanted for Mars Hill ever since the founding of the church.

To be plain, Noriega had felony convictions and a high school education and was on his second marriage by the time he became a pastor in the Acts 29 network context during a period in which Mark Driscoll was church planting scout for Acts 29.

To make things plain, I have to admit I had some questions as to whether what made Noriega considered qualified may have been influenced by his being on a leadership team that was able to gift real estate to Mars Hill whether or not he had demonstrated enough biblical and biblical linguistic literacy to be working as a pastor.  The church, Doxa, had been an Acts 29 plant. 

The Timmis situation is not exactly a surprise, chronicling as I have so many things connected to the former Mars Hill and Acts 29, although the history of Acts 29 has been more opaque.  It seems to me that Acts 29 early history being as opaque as it is about how and why David Nicholas stopped being part of the network he either founded by himself in Tom Telford's account or co-founded in Driscoll's account might potentially shed some light on what has been going on in the last twenty years if people would be willing to speak on record which ... in light of reports of Acts 29 requiring non-disclosure agreements, it does not sound as though Acts 29 leadership wants people speaking on the record.

POSTSCRIPT 2-13-2019
Regular readers may recall my general loathing of Patheos across the board but there are sometimes things posted there that merit some mention.  Roll To Disbelieve mentioned WtH in a recent post discussing the Acts 29 news.

In my opinion, he’s a liar as well as a raging malignant narcissist. So I don’t advise anybody to take his word about anything.
Others dispute Driscoll’s fuzzy, gauzy story, Driscoll’s dating of the group’s beginning, and most particularly his placement of himself at the center of the organization’s founding. The writer of that link offers some eye-opening links to prove their points, too. These critics place David Nicholas much closer to the center of Acts 29’s origins (with Driscoll just an add-on follower of Nicholas’), and place the group’s founding somewhat later. Another book linked there paints Nicholas as the leader of a church-planting group already, calling Driscoll in 1998 to offer financial help to his struggling church. Either of those fit a lot better with our understanding of Driscoll’s character.
Whatever the case, shortly afterward Driscoll and Nicholas stopped speaking of each other. One wonders if this abrasive, aggressive, surly, narcissistic, egomaniacal, petulant man-child managed to drive away this patient-sounding, kindly-seeming older pastor like he did pretty much everybody else.

Yes, Wenatchee The Hatchet has contested Driscoll's account of the origin of Acts 29 for a while now and the trouble has been that finding people who can clear things up and feel comfortable doing so isn't easy.  Brad (regular readers will know who Brad is, most likely) posted some helpful links at a place WtH sometimes visits.

Brad also mentioned a clarifying recent statement from Andrew Jones.
[16 hours ago as of WtH citation 2-13-2020 17:38 PST]

Acts 29. There is a lot of confusion about the founding of this network that is currently a hot topic on the internet after the firing of Steve Timmis. Mark Driscoll did not found it and it might be a stretch to say he co-founded it.
Captain Cassidy's recent blog post is very accurate.…/steve-timmis-rise-and-fall-reve…/…
Here's a little history from me from my point of view in case anyone is interested.
When I was with Young Leaders Network and throwing events around USA, David Nicholas from Spanish River Church in Boca Raton used to come along to find potential church planters. There were some funds at his church set up to start ten new churches a year and he saw our events as a pool for the right kind of people.
He had a small network called Acts 29 at the time and he invited us to come to Boca Raton in 1998 for a small conference. Sally Morgenthaller was one of the speakers. We smoked cigars. Had a good time. Mark Driscoll formed a strong relationship with David during that time and joined up with David, gradually bringing the hubris of the network over to Seattle. When problems arose in the Acts 29 network, David said he wanted to come and talk to them and Mark got him kicked off the board. [emphasis added] Story here
Back to David Nicholas. He was a lovely, funny, generous man and we loved him. Some of the YL group got funding to start a church. It was offered to me also but I turned it down for two reasons.
1. To be funded, you had to subscribe to all 5 points of Calvinism. I could not in all honesty do that but even if I could, I did not like the idea that churches overseas we were helping to start would have to come under a Western construct. [emphasis added]
2. The church planting model was very institutional. A paid pastor growing a church large enough to tithe back the initial funds which were more of a loan than a gift. At the time we were starting simple organic churches without paid staff and wanted to avoid the DNA of traditional Western church models.
But even though I turned down the funding, David Nicholas still gave us a Winnebago that was donated to his church and had sat in his parking lot for many months. We were praying for an RV since our family was traveling around USA at the time with a van and a tent. We went over to pick it up at Boca and were told that they wanted to fix it up before they gave it to us and spent $1200 to get it into a condition worthy of travel. We put 30,000 miles on it over the next 18 months, traveling the country to mentor young people starting new churches in urban centers. What a wonderful gift. So much nicer for our family of five (or were we 6?) than living in a tent. Interesting story about the Winnebago that I will write in the comments coz this post is already too long.
David Nicholas died in 2011. He is greatly missed.

The point that deserves emphasis from Andrew Jones' description of why he didn't accept funding from Acts 29 to start a church is literally the number 1 reason he mentions, to get funded by Acts 29 you had to subscribe to all five points of Calvinism and Jones wrote that he could not in all honesty have done that.  Remember that Driscoll was listed for years as a co-founder of Acts 29.  Since Driscoll claimed the TULIP was garbage last year and that he doesn't believe in it that invites a question as to whether he never subscribed to the five points of Calvinism.  He was known to have not subscribed to the five points of Calvinism in the earliest years of Mars Hill Church yet he came to be known as a thought leader in the young, restless Reformed.  Driscoll has since his resignation from Mars Hill indicated that he was labeled as a thought leader by the media, with an implication that you can't trust the media claim that he was a thought leader in the movement connected to him.

So he no longer claims to be a Calvinist now, but Andrew Jones' comments are a reminder that at some point Driscoll claimed to be a Calvinist or, to put this starkly, Driscoll may have decided to claim to be a Calvinist on all five points of the TULIP in order to secure funding from David Nicholas.  I have proposed this before but it bears repeating in light of Jones' comments, Driscoll may have decided he was Calvinist enough to accept funding from David Nicholas' Acts 29 network regardless of Mark Driscoll's own personal take on doctrinal issues. By 2008, it must be noted that by this time David Nicholas was firmly out of the way, Mark Driscoll articulated what is traditionally described as an Amyraldian position on the atonement, unlimited in potential but limited to the elect in practical application.

For those who were at Dead Men at Mars Hill circa 2000-2002 you may recall Driscoll would say things such as that there's the Calvinist way of interpreting the Bible and then there are all the other ways.  Driscoll may have sincerely convinced himself he was a full five-point Calvinist at some point and he certainly accepted credit as a co-founder of the Acts 29 that, as Andrew Jones recounted, required agreement with the five points of Calvinism as a condition of formal funding.  For Driscoll to have implied in the last few years that his Calvinism was more media report than actually true comes across as a type of spin.   If Driscoll was never really a Calvinist, however, then the spin would have been any indication on his part to David Nicholas that Driscoll subscribed to the five points of Calvinism.

If Driscoll was only as professing a Calvinist as he thought he needed to be to secure funding from David Nicholas and the nascent Acts 29 of which he was regarded as a co-founder in press coverage then it seems fair, some twenty years on in light of Driscoll's repudiation of Calvinism in interviews to the effect that it was the press that labeled him a Calvinist and young, restless Reformed leader (and the bewilderment of former Driscoll associates about that public repudiation), to ask whether that recent repudiation retroactively forces us to wonder whether his professions of Calvinism were actually in good faith.

Or Driscoll could admit that for a decade or so he really genuinely was a Calvinist back in the days when getting funding from Acts 29 was predicated on affirming the five points of Calvinism and that after David Nicholas was out of the Acts 29 board Driscoll was safe to admit he was an Amyraldian rather than a traditional full five-pointer ... although to admit such a thing might require Driscoll to admit that Nicholas ended up off the Acts 29 for ... some kind of reason.  We don't have to assume that Mark Driscoll was faking being a Calvinist but by the same token Mark Driscoll can't continually imply that his reported Calvinism was merely a construct of liberal media.  If Driscoll wasn't sincerely a Calvinist during his presidency of Acts 29 then that should cast yet more doubt on his sincerity on matters of doctrinal profession.  If he was sincere but sincerely changed his mind then there was no need to insinuate that his being labeled a thought leader in the young, restless Reformed movement was some kind of liberal media construct the way he did when he said last year that the TULIP was garbage.  Calvinists have been known to become Arminians in the past, after all.  If Driscoll had a sincere change of convictions on issues of soteriology and atonement explaining how and why and where applicable who was involved in persuading him there are problems in traditionally Calvinist soteriology would make more sense than just insinuating with some kind of nudge and wink that it was the media who claimed he was a Calvinist but, you know, you can't trust that liberal media. 

POSTSCRIPT 2-15-2020
To give some indication of just how inextricably Mark Driscoll's name is still tied to Acts 29, let's consider Julie Roys' recent coverage of the Timmis situation.
In the letter, Chris Bristol, former Acts 29 communications director, writes that Timmis once insisted that Bristol give Timmis “unconditional loyalty.” Bristol said the request came immediately after Bristol had conducted a board-requested review of Timmis. Bristol added that Timmis said, “Don’t speak poorly of me to anyone, just like my wife wouldn’t say anything negative about me to anyone.”  
Bristol likened the type of loyalty that Timmis required to the “lack of accountability and openness” at Mars Hill Church, where Bristol had previously worked. (Mars Hill was pastored by Mark Driscoll, the founder of Acts 29, who was removed from Acts 29 for “ungodly and disqualifying behavior.”)   

Saturday, February 08, 2020

Nikita Koshkin's 24 Preludes and Fugues: Prelude and Fugue in G sharp minor

Here, at last, we're on the Prelude and Fugue in G sharp minor.  This is a work where Koshkin's wearing the influence of Shostakovich on his sleeve, and since I'm a Shostakovich fan I'm fond of this one!   I'll describe which Shostakovich (and Mahler) works I think can be helpful to understanding what Koshkin does in this prelude and fugue after the break.

Nikita Koshkin's 24 Preludes and Fugues: Prelude and Fugue in B major

In the home stretch for the first half of Nikita Koshkin's preludes and fugues as recorded by Asya Selyutina on Naxos.   More discussion of this prelude and fugue after the break.

Nikita Koshkin's 24 Preludes and Fugues: Prelude and Fugue in C sharp minor

This has become one of my favorite preludes and fugues in the entire cycle because of the passacaglia. The fugue is also pretty cool but the passacaglia is one of Koshkin's most compelling creations in his long career.  I admit to the bias of having admired Koshkin's music for twenty years so without further ado, the discussion starts after the break.

Nikita Koshkin's 24 Preludes and Fugues: Prelude and Fugue in E major

Prelude (2:08)

Despite the "Allegretto" indication and the quarter note equals 144 beats per minute in the score, this prelude feels as though its harmonic rhythm is anchored to the half note and could have been scored at 72bpm in 2/4.  Music analysis in general and formal analysis in particular can become a realm of debate quickly and I know that other guitarists and music analysts could dispute this overarching point I'm about to make.  Nevertheless, I suggest we think of this prelude as a gentle and pastoral sonata, of the "Type 1” variety classified by Hepokoski and Darcy.  I realize that that is potentially a hard sell but I'm going to explain what I'm doing with the "elements" in Elements of Sonata Theory that I am using to make this argument.

Nikita Koshkin's 24 Preludes and Fugues: Prelude and Fugue in F sharp minor

One of my personal favorites, the rambunctious Prelude and Fugue in F sharp minor. In the interest of economizing all the links into one blog page I'm saving discussion of the works for after you get past the page breaks.

Nikita Koshkin's 24 Preludes and Fugues: Prelude and Fugue in A major

This is another case where the earlier film was so nicely done I didn't see a need to use the Naxos release as the reference.

Nikita Koshkin's 24 Preludes and Fugues: Prelude and Fugue in B minor

This is another prelude and fugue from the cycle for which we have a video performance.  In this case the prelude is melodically simple but harmonically complex.  It makes sense to provide a schematic analysis that doesn't attempt to get too involved in the harmonic activity of this prelude, even though a theoretical analysis could be a lot of fun to do.  This is a series of blog posts, after all, and for blog posts it should suffice to give guitarists and theorists a foundation for more detailed score analysis at their leisure.  

Nikita Koshkin's 24 Preludes and Fugues: Prelude and Fugue in D major

I blogged about this prelude and fugue earlier using a live performance and am using the Naxos recording as a reference.  Discussion after the break.

Nikita Koshkin's 24 Preludes and Fugues: Prelude and Fugue in E minor

E major and E minor are arguably the most guitaristic keys in which a guitarist or non-guitarist can possibly compose.  It's a key that is both forgiving and unforgiving.  It's forgiving in the sense that there are a lot of things you can write and play that are idiomatic and rest easily on the instrument but it's an unforgiving key in the sense that whatever you bring to this key stands up against the entire history of the instrument in a way that a prelude and fugue in F sharp major never has to because very, very few guitarists are writing preludes and fugues in F sharp major.

I think Koshkin acquits himself well with this prelude and fugue and it's suitably emblematic to his approach to composing generally and for this cycle. Despite the key signature being E minor this is a prelude and fugue in drop D tuning. 

Nikita Koshkin's 24 Preludes and Fugues: Prelude and Fugue in G major

When I first blogged about this prelude and fugue I had to do it with guitar in hand and score in front of me.  Several things jump out more vividly when I have had the luxury (and pleasure) of listening to Asya Selyutina's performance on the new Naxos release.

Discussion after the break.

Nikita Koshkin's 24 Preludes and Fugues: Prelude and Fugue in A minor

In cases where a film of the performed piece has already been up and doesn't seem surpassed by the recent Naxos recording I've stuck with using the older films as reference.

The prelude and fugue gets discussed after the break.

Nikita Koshkin's 24 Preludes and Fugues: Prelude and Fugue in C major

I've decided that although I've posted on many of the preludes and fugues in Koshkin's cycle before I'm reposting on the preludes and fugues I've written about and, where applicable, have written new thoughts and observations as my perspective changed.

Discussion of the prelude and fugue shows up after the break.

some links for the weekend

At GetReligion Terry Mattingly comments on a David French piece about Paula White's sermon and reference to "satanic pregnancies".  The summary is that French went to the trouble of understanding what White actually said in the context of the Pentecostal tradition she's part of rather than react in a clickbait Twitter-moment approach.  As an ex-Pentecostal who has nevertheless not rejected everything from that tradition, I have had some misgivings about mainstream journalism and editorials about "evangelicals" who have supported Trump.  Thirty years ago many an "evangelical" did not regard Pentecostals or charismatics as evangelical at all.  Cessationist and continuationist camps persist and if journalists are not religiously literate enough to understand the categories they can rely on shorthands and stereotypes. That's not to endorse Paula White at all. Far from it. 

But since Mark Burford's monograph on Mahalia Jackson came out I've read it and related works and it's been fascinating to read how, per Anthony Heilbut, so much of American popular music is culturally indebted to black Pentecostalism.  Heilbut has made a point in The Fan Who Knew Too Much that black churches in the United States have become more rather than less against gays. Figures like T. D. Jakes have been pioneers in this direction so while in mainstream journalistic coverage white evangelicals will potentially (or actually) be presented as homophobic Heilbut has said that black churches are far more so.  If it seems abstract it is a point GetReligion has touched upon when considering how Mayor Pete has pretty thoroughly failed to win over the black voting block.

In the last thirty years Pentecostalism has become a more prominent global presence and yet to go by the religious literacy of a lot of religion coverage and social media reaction to statements made from Pentecostal figures there's not much more literacy on the movement in the mainstream than there was decades ago.

Incubating some more detailed posts on music.  We've been overdue to get back to blogging through Nikita Koshkin's 24 preludes and fugues and having had some time to listen to the recent Naxos recording and go through the scores there's some slight revisions to earlier observations I've been wanting to make on some of the earlier posts and I'm in the home stretch for the last few entries in the first half of the cycle.  When I finally have things together for the blog posts the plan is to drop all twelve analytical/descriptive posts on the first twelve preludes and fugues from the cycle all in a go for easier reading for anyone who wasn't already following that blog project here.Thanks to Youtube there are now videos active for every single track which makes the prospect of blogging through the cycle far easier than when I was blogging through the works with guitar and score in hand and no way to convey to you, dear reader, what was going on if you didn't have guitar and score in hand, too.

So things are a bit fallow at the blog but that's the reason. 

a belated note that George Steiner has died, revisiting In Bluebird's Castle and literacies that are not of the letter

The obits have come already but earlier this week George Steiner died.  I only actually heard of Steiner that I can recall because John Borstlap mentioned one of Steiner's work and disagreement with it in a "further reading" section in the second edition of The Classical Revolution.  I ended up reading In Bluebird's Castle and basically thought the point was a fair one to raise.  That the West has moved beyond a literate literacy, the literacy of letters, to a newer kind of musical literacy was probably a point that could be overlooked compared to Steiner's thesis that the Holocaust was the result of a centuries long contest between the monotheistic and polytheistic, the Abrahamic and pagan aspects of European history doesn't seem that absurd to me.  Eric Kurlander's book Hitler's Monsters on how National Socialism drew on various kinds of Odinist and border science ideas in the process of consolidating ideas seems to back up the basic idea.  I recall Borstlap regarded the imputed guilt of the West for the Holocaust as an absurd overstatement.  Richard Taruskin has regarded Steiner's book as absurdly downbeat ... but the  thing is ...

I wanted to go to seminary at one point in my life.  I never wanted to be a pastor or felt "called" to be a pastor so I couldn't justify the expenditure.  I also didn't want to tether myself to a denominational tie that was generally looking to be the prerequisite for funding, even though I've ended up being basically Reformed.  But in the 1990s, for those who remember, there was the Jesus Seminar.  There have been semi-comparable moves in academia with regard to the Tanakh and in the last thirty years there's a "minimalist" position and there are scholars who have proposed that more or less the whole of the Jewish scriptures were compiled or even created during the Persian exilic period.  My point here is not so much to dive into that debate in academic terms but to describe a misgiving I have had as a layperson over the last fifteen years as I've read scholarship that has entertained or assumed the core idea of what's colloquially definable as "minimalism"--the entire Jewish body of scripture was a late Persian-exilic era fabrication drawing upon surrounding regional myths.

That won't seem anti-semitic to the scholars who may never stop to consider what anti-semites can do with their theories but anti-semitism has never been strictly the realm of the "right".  There has been plenty of left anti-semitism in the last few centuries and by this I don't mean to say nobody can take a critical stance with regard to the policies of the contemporary Israeli government--it's easier to find the sentiment online that the legacy of the Abrahamic religions is bad or that the legacy of religion in general is only bad.  That's no different than the stance of a megachurch preacher who would claim that you and I are eating chicken tonight and not human because Christianity happened.  I haven't seen any compelling reason to think cannibalism has been so common as to have been ended by one of the later developments of religious thought in the history of Abrahamic religions (i.e. Christianity).  Judaism had plenty of condemnations of human sacrifice and if the kosher laws didn't explicitly condemn cannibalism oracles of judgment warning that the judged would resort to cannibalism hardly comes across as endorsement.

The crisis of the Holocaust, besides being mass murder, was that it was established by Germany, the cultural legacy that had been considered an apex of Western literary and musical and cultural achievement.

“We know now that a man can read Goethe or Rilke in the evening, that he can play Bach and Schubert, and go to his day’s work at Auschwitz in the morning,” he wrote in Language and Silence. “To say that he has read them without understanding or that his ear is gross, is cant. In what way does this knowledge bear on literature and society, on the hope, grown almost axiomatic from the time of Plato to that of Matthew Arnold, that culture is a humanising force, that the energies of spirit are transferable to those of conduct?”

Taruskin had a memorably macabre observation that in the history of Europe the one thing the left and the right managed to agree on was that the way to solve European social ills in the 20th century was to kill more Jews, whether the Nazis or the fascists or the communists.  To no true Scotsman the Soviet system from being a reflection of the possibilities in Marxist thought is to perform the same ideological act of exoneration for Puritans or Anglicans or Catholics or insert-religious-belief-here.  It's a form of American exceptionalism to imagine that the United States couldn't and wouldn't replicate tendencies in Europe.  For that matter, the history of Africa and Asia should give us pause as to whether there's any "exception" that exceptionalism could exempt on massacre.  As badly as Native Americans were treated by the United States that doesn't mean we shouldn't know about the brutality of their slavery systems or lack gratitude that those systems were discarded. 

A way to translate Steiner's point in explicitly religious terms is to suggest that the crisis of the Holocaust was that, beyond the massacre of Jews as symptomatic of a specific form of loathing and scapegoating that the West was still capable of which has corresponding atrocities elsewhere in the world, the Holocaust constituted a repudiation of the plausibility of collective and individual art consumption as having sacramental power. 

If Steiner can come in for criticism in the week of his death the problem with the Holocaust as focal point is not that it's unusual but because it is emblematic of what has historically been such a normal aspect of collective human behavior, the Holocaust being terrifying as an exemplar of what that impulse to extermination can accomplished tied to contemporary technocratic bureaucratic forms of power. There have been plenty of genocides in the history of the world but the Holocaust was special because it highlights to the West how what the West considers its virtues can perpetrate horrifyingly efficient massacre when devoted to an evil purpose. 

Steiner cast doubt upon using the arts in the Western tradition as a form of immortality.  George Rochberg took an opposing stance, asserting that the arts are a form of individual and collective memory we cannot forsake. To split hairs on the matter, not everything that is in a liturgy is necessarily simultaneously a sacrament and if that seems like splitting hairs, well, such is the nature of arts writing ... and, for that matter, writing on theology.  Germans participating in the Holocaust while soaking up Bach and Wagner may not be as unique as Western arts educators have thought it was.  Nor, for that matter, should we regard "high" culture as necessarily uniquely culpable. 

Let me put this in an admittedly provocative way, am I supposed to think that German gas chambers run by people who were proverbial fans of Goethe and Schubert is more unique than Americans dropping bombs on people in other countries while listening to Jimi Hendrix or The Beatles or Michael Jackson?  That the ideals espoused by the artists and musicians are betrayed by those who use their works as the manifesto or soundtrack for some kind of conquest is not only not unusual it might well be the human condition.  Questioning whether the Western ideal in the arts of viewing the arts as a kind of immortality won't change this problem.  A Taylor Swift or a Beyonce an be a musical-cultural emblem of power whether or not the music and lyrics are regarded as "timeless" or "disposable".

Wesley Morris can write about how African American popular music is the music of "freedom" but I heard from my missionary kid friend who grew up in Nagasaki that blues doesn't sound like "freedom", it sounds repetitive and formulaic.  I hope she's changed her mind about that decades later but if she hasn't the point stands, if music is not a universal language, as some musicologists have insisted, then the extra-musical cultural meanings associated with music are even less universal.  Here's the catch, conflating those extra-musical values and meanings with the music itself was more or less the thing done in the long nineteenth century with music as art and art as religion.  In other words, there's no reason at all for me to believe that a contemporary Wesley Morris or Douglas Shadle isn't going to replicate the mistakes of the nineteenth century advocates of Matthew Arnold style art religion.

A secondary point in In Bluebird's Castle is something musicians may want to reflect upon.  Steiner considered that if the West was becoming a less literate network of cultures in terms of poetry in multiple languages younger people were not becoming less literate altogether, Steiner proposed that the locus of literacy had shifted from the word to the sound:

In Bluebird's Castle: Notes Toward the Redefinition of Culture
George Steiner
Yale University Press
September 10, 1974
154 pages, 5 x 8
ISBN: 9780300017106

pages 115-116
But are there no other literacies conceivable, "literacies" not of the letter?

This is being written in a study in a college of one of the great American universities. The walls are throbbing gently to the beat of music corning from one near and several more distant amplifiers. The walls quiver to the ear or to the touch roughly eighteen hours per day, sometimes twenty-four. The beat is literally unending. It matters little whether it is that of pop, folk, or rock. What counts is the all-pervasive pulsation, morning to night and into night, made indiscriminate by the cool burn of electronic timbre. A large segment of mankind, between the ages of thirteen and, say, twenty-five, now lives immersed in this constant throb. The hammering of rock or of pop creates an enveloping space. Activities such as reading, writing, private communication, learning, previously framed with silence, now take place in a field of strident vibrato. This means that the essentially linguistic nature of these pursuits is adulterated; they are vestigial modes of the old "logic."

page 117

Yet we are unquestionably dealing with a literacy, with codes of recognition so widespread and dynamic that they constitute a "metaculture." Popular music(s) have their semantics, their theory of genres, their intricate play-offs of esoteric against canonic types. Folk and pop, "trad music" and rock, count their several histories and corpus of legend. They show their relics. They number their old masters and rebels, their betrayers and high priests. Precisely as in classical literacy, so there are in the world of jazz or of rock 'n' roll degrees of initiation ranging from the vague empathies of the tyro (Latin on sundials) to the acid erudition of the scholiast. At the same time there is an age factor which makes the culture of pop more like modern mathematics and physics than the humanities. ...

page 121
... The lapse from ceremony and ritual in much of public and private behavior has left a vacuum. At the same time, there is a thirst for magical and "transrational" forms. The capacity of organized religion to satisfy this thirst diminishes. Matthew Arnold foretold that the "facts" of religion would be replaced by its poetry. Today, one feels that in many educated, but imperfectly coherent lives, that "poetry of religious emotion" is being provided by music.
If so then the Matthew Arnold style of art-religion hasn't gone away, it may have simply migrated from the "high" of collegiate canons to the "low" of popular culture.  Cultic devotion is more easily seen at the comic-con or in Star Wars or in devotion to a specific popular singer or rock band.  Michael Jackson rather than Mahler and Beyonce rather than Balzac.  Steiner had no problem admitting he was an elitist (and neither did Roger Scruton) but I wonder ... was Steiner in a sense trying to have his cake and eat it, too, on the issue of the arts and betterment?  

The thirst for magical and transrational forms may be slaked even more by cinema on the big and small screen than by music depending on where we look.  Far more recently than the Holocaust the post Harvey Weinstein era of Hollywood seemed to constitute a kind of Donatist controversy for art-as-religion in the realm of cinema.  If music isn't a universal language how much less the language of cinema and yet you can't visit a SIFF event without seeing that rote multi-lingual credo that "the language of film is universal".  Right.  An art form that is scarcely more than a century old is universal.  

Many a Romantic warned against the dehumanizing aspects of the machine as a thing in itself and as symptomatic of changes in society.  It can seem strange to think that some of the most idealistic and utopian streams of thought can revolve around popular music and cinema, art forms that are more mediated by and of necessity consumed via machines than any of the art forms available prior to the twentieth century.  

Late last year I finished reading Ted Gioia's Music: A Subversive History which was chock full of conventional wisdom and traded on more myths than debunking than I would have hoped for a music history that claimed to be subversive. What I found troubling was the extent to which Gioia presents a master narrative in which the history of music is really a history of Western music and a history of Western music as told by a jazz pianist in which the sum of Western musical history is a schematic battle between the "math" of white Europe and the "magic" of shamanistic suppressed Greek history or the magic of black or person of color music interrupting things, the id irrepressibly rising up and troubling the superego.  That this is a master narrative that, despite being penned by someone I could safely regard as an enlightened liberal white guy, trades on a race-war mythology is troublesome.  I've said it before at this blog, I exist because a Native American man married a white woman.  I am prejudicially in favor of inter-racial marriage, I admit.  So however well-meaning Gioia thinks his subversive history is supposed to be the white math versus black magic mythology seems dubious.  

Yet there is a sense in which Gioia's unabashed claim that as musicians we can all be wizards and shamans puts his cards on the table. The white math vs black magic master narrative seems like an absurd racist trope but it is clearly intended to be subordinate to what is an advocacy for a shamanistic approach to music, music is magic, music enchants human experience and art should be for the sake of people.  Okay, I get the aimed for thing.  Jesus taught the Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath.  

What i have found curious about a stance like Gioia's is that we have had a century in which popular music and cinema is more technocratic in means than at any point before and yet in a book like Gioia's we read a pretty thorough reaction of rejection to older conceptions of music tied to cosmologies from Greek thought, rather broadly a rejection of music as "math" or "science".  Gioia can mention Augustine's treatise in passing but since it doesn't just so happen I've been slowly reading through Augustine's never-completed treatise on music I know that what we got was book 1 of a series of books that Augustine never finished because he started writing his treatise on music before he completed his conversion to Christianity.  The treatise on music is actually better described (by those who have actually read it) as a treatment on the topic of rhythm in poetics and language.  Augustine went so far as to say music was the science of mensurating well, or the science of measurement.  Music was seen as part of a set of disciplines including arithmetic, astronomy and geometry.  Music was seen as part of those sciences.  We might do well to ask why.  In Gioia's master narrative European mathematicians and power-brokers imposed a mathematical order from the top down but this is, well, a sloppy presentation of things.  

Kyle Gann's book on tuning systems, tuning history and microtonality just came out about the same time as Ted Gioia's book and I would suggest that you read Gann's book as a substantial counterpoint to Gioia's master narrative claims that tuning systems are emblematic of The Man keeping people down.  It's a rather incredible claim for a pianist to make since pianists who work with equal-tempered keys are more beholden to the so-called tyranny of tuning systems than any string player who doesn't have to bother with frets will be, or singers, or even woodwind players or brass players. Gioia's repetitive claims that blues didn't fit into the prescribed notes of the Western tuning systems is the kind of claim that is in bad faith if Gioia has read enough about tunings and tuning history to spot that D# and E flat aren't the same thing.  

Claiming that African diaspora music made use of all sorts of notes that didn't fit into prescribed tunings is a claim, but Gann has pointed out that even among Greeks there were advocates of tuning intervals by ear rather than get bogged down by ratios.  Nevertheless we've needed talk about ratios and syntonic commas and all of that.  Musical performance that is beyond the use of the human voice, any instrumental performance at all, depends upon us being able to play the same note (or approximately the same note!) twice.  Gioia can claim that blues musicians found the notes between the notes and imply that Europeans didn't have that but that's unfortunately likely just a sign that a jazz pianist who has written books on blues and jazz (and they're worth reading, mind you) never read anything by Anton Reicha who, in his Treatise on Melody, extolled the use of quarter-tones in phrases by an opera singer to accentuate expressive moments in an aria.  

What does this have to do with George Steiner?  Well, the musical literacy he observed decades ago is a musical literacy that is full of exciting possibilities but we still have people peddling master narratives and, in the case of Ted Gioia, the irony is that an author with a master narrative thinks his is subversive when it may encapsulate the myths of our technological age better than most.  It's easy to present old dead European guys as imagining music was "math" and "science" in a technocratic society that proposes we have disenchanted the world but in an era before such an alleged disenchantment took place arithmetic, astronomy, geometry and perhaps last of all music could be seen as ways of observing the rhythm and harmony of the cosmos.  Someone like Roger Scruton could spend a career pointing out that that fusion of mathematical and artistic discipline has been lost to us.  

I'm rambling on the weekend here but I wonder whether or not it is symptomatic of our technological age that as music is more and more mediated by technology at every stage of production and consumption whether the Ted Gioias of our time and place need music to be the magic of shamans and will cast about for which ever ancient eleatic monist Greeks (Parmenides) or people of color symbolize the "not-math! magic!" option regardless of how careful the history of music or race happens to be on the issue.  It's not as though musicians in Africa or China didn't develop ways of tuning instruments.  Gioia has written some fascinating books over the last twenty years but the more he attempts to summarize all his work into a master narrative in his Music: A Subversive History the less persuasive he becomes.  It's as though since Work Songs, Healing Songs, and Love Songs he suddenly got very, very sloppy.

The kind of musical literacy George Steiner observed could be able to accomplish a lot if we don't rely on a Ted Gioia style master narrative of white math vs black magic.  To take things back to the Holocaust, our worst can be an outworking of what we can tell ourselves is our best.  If European highbrow culture was no preventative for a Holocaust we should hardly imagine that the best of blues, jazz and American pop will be any kind of preventative in our day.  Steiner spent a career reflecting on connections between the Holocaust and the most canonized of European arts but perhaps the Holocaust was not as unique as it has been presented as being and that should terrify us because potentially any technocratic bureaucracy could perpetrate a Holocaust and do so to its own soundtrack of elevation.  

some provocation from Douglas Shadle, "Let's cancel the 19th century". The fastest way to cancel the 19th century would be to end symphonies

For guitarists, since our instrument was in important ways only developed fully by the dawn of the 19th century, the idea of canceling the 19th century seems dubious.  It's not like Native Americans will get un-massacred by canceling the 19th century warhorse standards of the symphonic repertoire.  

Back when I was mulling over how hegemony is a term thrown around by academics in academic contexts bridling at what they had to teach or couldn't teach, I got a sense that the best thing that could have happened to me musically was simply never being able to afford grad school.  We guitarists largely get ignored across the board in conservatory contexts, it can seem.  I skimmed through a book years ago by Robert R Reilly, I think it was, about beauty and music.  It was interesting how in a chapter dedicated to Heitor Villa-Lobos (who wrote a lot of music I, as a guitarist, enjoy) there was no mention of his guitar music.  Symphonies?  Yep, references to those and to the Bachianas cycle, of course and maybe there was something about string quartets.  No guitar, not a mention.  As Matanya Ophee used to say, we guitarists are relegated to some back corner and are not treated as if we belong in the rest of the music school scene.  Our six-stringed instrument of choice has been part of every musical style and musical revolution more or less the world over and yet ... just that "classical" gets added to the guitar tells us something about the disregard our instrument has.  Violinists never feel a need to say they play "classical" violin.  A fiddle and a violin are not the same instrument, a saying has it, and there's a truth to that and that may be the truth that is more important to observe and then disregard if we really want to cancel the 19th century.

I've written a few thousand words here and there at this blog about my disagreement with the legacies of German idealism in the arts and particularly my rejection of views to the effect that the arts are some kind of sacrament.  One reason is simply that I'm a low-church Calvinist sort who reads Puritans from time to time and really rejects the Wagnerian notion that art can do for religion what religion no longer does.  I think that what that has led to has been a sacramentalizing of the arts that damages the arts.  As I've put it before and will say again, the problem with art-as-religion is the canon is closed and there's no room to add new revelation.  

But this was a problem more or less created by music education itself.  You can't cancel the 19th century and the music education systems that developed around it without canceling the symphony and canceling the post-19th century conception of music education.  Maybe I can take a page from John Philip Sousa and suggest that professionals are trying to solve at the intra-professional level the kinds of problems that can probably only get "solved" by letting amateurs be amateurs.  Nobody who wants to make money in the music scene is likely to be able to "solve" the problem of the stranglehold any canons of any music education curriculum is likely to have.  

I realize this is sort of trolling but in the American musical traditions it's not entirely clear the symphony hasn't been on some kind of life-support from the beginning.  Yes, I read Shadle's book where he detailed all the ways American journalists and music educators sidelined American symphonies.  I appreciate that but writing as a guitarist I am going to suggest that the symphony has had its day.  There's no future to it except as museum culture and not because it's bad or evil.  The polyphonic mass reached its high point centuries ago and it hasn't gone away but it's clearly not the peak of prestige in terms of musical culture any more.  The symphony, some two centuries since the heyday of Beethoven, may be a spent force.

Cancel the symphony and canceling the 19th century that sacralized the symphony in its post-Beethoven form will happen as a matter of course.

There isn't a realistic possibility of canceling the 19th century within the educational systems themselves.  If anything obliterating grad school level music programs might be what's needed.  Lest you think I'm just trolling here, even within music education there have been people skeptical about the long-term benefits of advanced music instruction:
But what first struck me about the book was the history lesson it gives on the development of musical style, with parallels that offer mirrors of our own situation. One article quoted from the music critic Vladimir Stasov, written in 1861 [emphasis mine] as Russia was just beginning to form its own art-music culture, seems as relevant now as it was then. Dubious about Rubinstein’s attempt to introduce conservatory training, Stasov warns:
“Higher” institutions for the arts are an altogether different matter from higher institutions in the sciences…. A university imparts nothing but knowledge; a conservatory is not content with that but meddles in the most injurious way in the creative work of an artist trained there, extending its despotic power over the style and form of his work, attempting to force it into a certain academic mold, imparting to it its own customs, and what is worst of all, sinking its claws into the artist’s very mind, imposing on him its own judgment of works of art and their creators, from which it will later on be exceedingly difficult if not impossible for him to extricate himself.
…The experience of Europe teaches us that to the same extent that modest schools which limit themselves to the rudiments of music are useful, higher school, academies, and conservatories are harmful. Is this experience going to be lost on us? Are we then required to copy slavishly what exists in other places, so as to have the pleasure of boasting afterward nothing but an enormous quantity of teachers and classrooms, a fruitless distribution of awards and prizes, proliferating volumes of worthless compositions and legions of good-for-nothing musicians?
Of course, in the narrative of successive decades Stasov goes on to become something of a clown, jingoistically continuing to cheerlead for the Russian nationalist composers, those descended from the “Russian Five” or “mighty heap” (kuchka), long after their students and protégés have descended into patent mediocrity. And yet, on some level Stasov’s tragedy vindicates his thesis: the kuchkist faction declines in quality precisely because those composers gained power in the conservatories, and turned out generations of dutiful students taught to compose in similar manner. It’s a particularly clear object lesson in how a musical society turns rancid through access to power and excessive inbreeding..
See, music advocates have been wanting to cancel the deleterious effects of conservatory training in 19th century music since right in the middle of the 19th century.  We know this.  We also know, as Gann eloquently put it, that Stasovs have been seen transforming into the things they railed against. 

The history of this happening might inspire people to argue that the problem is all grad school and doctoral level music education at this point.  Want to get rid of the 19th century?  Abolish graduate and doctoral degree programs in music and let musicians sink or swim with their undergraduate degrees. With the executive we currently have and may yet get again this future isn't actually all that hard to imagine in some ways. 

For those of us who have never written and basically never really want to write symphonies there's going to be no loss.  Guitarists "could" write concertos but when's the last time you heard a guitar concerto and remembered it?  Be honest.  If I'm honest I can't remember most of the concerti I've heard that were composed in the last twenty years with a handful of exceptions.  I remember the Higdon concerto because Hilary Hahn played it and it had some okay moments but the only concerto I still remember and remembered enjoying enough to hear live twice was the Samuel Jones Tuba Concerto.  That's kind of it.  I listened to the Wynton Marsalis Violin Concerto and it's ... okay ... but it's not really sticking with me.  Thomas Ades' In Seven Days doesn't stick in my mind at all.  I mention how long it's been since I've remembered a concerto I've heard because Gann went on to point out that the go-to commissions in this century have been concerti and ten-minute symphonic opener-style pieces.  So ... 

Semi-seriously, cancel the symphony and cancel the concerto and then canceling the 19th century will be easy if it's just the shadow of Beethoven and Wagner we want to cancel.  Not that people will think you "can" write a chamber piece for electric guitars, electric bass, and drum kit.  I've got a mind to do it because I was in a prog rock band decades ago and writing a sonata form for the standard four-piece rock ensemble might be fun. The sacredness of pop timbrel vocabulary, as Gann has pointed out, can be its own kind of sacred cow but I digress, again.

Still, the prospect of canceling the 19th century seems doubtful to me and not just because we guitarists finally started getting music for the six-stringed Spanish guitar (as very distinct from the five-course Baroque era guitar) in the 19th century.  

Even if Shadle doesn't become a Stasov ... canceling "just" the 19th century?  There's still those hundred-some symphonies of Haydn, right?  Do we have to cancel those?  Cancel Haydn and I'm off-board.  If anything I'd say we need Haydn right now more than we'll ever need Beethoven or Mozart. Mozart was perfect for ... the 19th century ... but not for me in the 21st century.  We can learn from Haydn and Clementi and Dussek and Hummel and if we "have" to cancel the 19th century in its fuller effects we should cancel Mozart and Beethoven for being the gods of the 19th century demagogues.  Haydn's okay, though.  I say we keep him. 

I want to keep all the 19th century guitar music that non-guitarists don't even know or care about.  The Matiegka Op. 31 guitar sonatas are cute and funny if you understand how he took up Haydn's style and run with it for solo guitar.  The recapitulations in flamboyantly wrong keys are really funny if you're familiar with the style but I digress.  That should be a set of blog posts later.

Now think about this, if we cancel the 19th century we cancel Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag", published in 1899.  What American really wants to do that?  Not Captain America.  Only the Red Skull would want to cancel "Maple Leaf Rag"!   

If we cancel symphonies that got their start in the 19th century then Symphonies 1 and 2 by Charles Ives have to go and ... nope ... not going to do that.  

Didn't Charles Ives write String Quartet No. 1 in the 19th century?  Well, then, no way I want to cancel the 19th century if it means not having that Ives string quartet.  Didn't Jas Obrecht mention something about how Blind Willie Johnson drew upon songs from a 19th century hymnal edited by T. C. Okane in ... 1881?  Yes.  How about Thomas Dorsey drawing upon "Maitland", a 19th century tune for his most famous hymn?  The thing about canceling the 19th century is if we cancel it we cancel widely recognized inspirations and tunes that early 20th century gospel and blues musicians drew upon and "cancel" the single most famous piano rag in the history of the style. For all sorts of fairly obvious reasons we can't cancel the 19th century and even if we could so much of the 20th grew out of that 19th century we should be more clear about what we're really against.

I'm tired of hearing the same old Beethoven/Mahler/Mozart stuff.  I used to go to the symphony but hearing yet more Schubert bores me.  So I stick closer to my own instrument, the guitar, and try to keep tabs on what is being written in my own time.  There's fantastic music for the guitar getting written by Balkan composers, for instance.  Also Russian and Georgian and Polish composers as well as composers from Latin American countries.  I'll admit an American bias and say the best music for the guitar I've heard in the 20th century has come from Americans ... but it's often music that would never get discussed in a conservatory.  What exactly are you supposed to say about Blind Willie Johnson's music in a conservatory?  Would anyone even want to buy transcriptions of Blind Blake?  As a fan of pre-World War II blues I have been realizing that many American musicians don't even really want the first third of the 20th century back to go by their listening habits but that is when some of the most beautiful music in America was written ... as long as we're mostly not paying attention to the symphony ... . 

Which is why, even though I have a hunch I understand perfectly well what Shadle's trying to get at, the rhetoric can still seem in a bit of bad faith.  If we want to cancel the 19th century we will have an easier time canceling it if we abolish symphonic based education, tell students that was the thing two centuries but that there's never been a truly sustainable American symphonic tradition outside Hollywood and video game music can be done with synthesizers now anyway so even though there's beautiful symphonic music Americans have written that's basically the past and let the past die.  

Imagine a music curriculum in which there is no symphony and what can you do?  Depends on what the resources are.  Renaissance composers wrote some great masses, for instance.