Saturday, March 06, 2021

John Fea on the wasting of the evangelical mind (assuming there has been one in the US)

Fea linked to a paltry entry in The New Yorker but then I haven't been able to take The New Yorker all that seriously in the last eight years. Mark Noll's The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind opened bluntly by saying that there has never been much of an evangelical mind in the United States.  Perhaps to be more specific, the neo-evangelicalism that emerged in the Cold War era has not produced scholars, humanists, artists or writers of any long-term distinction.  

I wonder, though, if another way to put things is to say that white evangelicals have contributed little to civic life that isn't about the topics of gaining and wielding political power and, of course, family life and sexuality.  There may be contributions toward, say, American civic religion a la Billy Graham, but that hour has passed.  Whether or not Christians should contribute to American civic religions is another topic I don't want to get into too very much ... but I noticed Pliable over at On an Overgrown Path noted a juxtaposition between a young poet's words and the Biden administrations actions recently.  It's possible that when an American poet writes using the first person plural there's an implicitly or explicitly American civic religious impulse at work.  

But since some folks who are in the broadly evangelical or conservative low church Protestant scene have been lamenting critical race theory let me try to provide a specific example of what I think can be said about the wasting of the evangelical mind, if we're going to assume for the sake of conversation that American conservative evangelicalism has any serious intellectual capital to invest in cultural activity to begin with .... which ... you may infer from that I have doubts about this from time to time even though I would say I'm an evangelical and a moderately conservative one.

so ... 

Fredrik deBoer has a new Substack blog and did an experiment on readership and analytics, the application of which is germane to his observations on the insularity of the contemporary institutional press (i.e. NY, et al)

Although it is possible to read deBoer's trio of posts as an experiment in online rage and reactions that might be too fly-over an appraisal of what deBoer was doing at his new Substack blog.  As deBoer put 
it at his new Substack blog, what he did was an experiment from the subscription/analytics side of what kinds of posts get what level of attention and subscription activity.  The "Nitro" post got more 
readership and reactions than the "non-nitro" version of the same core observation about a journalist's assessment of Substack as something harmful to more traditional journalism.  

Now people have been saying traditional newspaper-based and magazine-based journalism has been dying a slow and miserable death for at least a generation.  Some people, like Andrey Mir, think that journalism is going to die out and that postjournalism, a new form of ... let's not label it just yet ... information dissemination customs is going to emerge.  Journalists call it "activist journalism" but if you're not for whatever the activist journalist is for then you might regard it as agitation propaganda or tract writing.  

Alan Jacobs on the not-quite-censorship Amazon can accomplish in an age of technocracy; thinking back to how neo-cons had no qualms about deplatforming people who objected to Gulf War 2 15 years ago

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Atanas Ourkouzounov - Asymmetrical Improvisations (score/video)

I'm going to blog about Ourkouzounov's solo guitar sonatas at some point in the future, I hope, but meanwhile, linking to videos of his works is something I like to do.

Douglas Shadle has a new book coming out Dvorak's New World Symphony and its legacy in American music and musicology

While on the one hand I was kinda bummed Shadle wasn't blogging at Substack so much 

he's got a new book Antonin Dvorak's New World Symphony is about, well, Dvorak's "From the New World" Symphony and its reception history.

His earlier book Orchestrating the Nation, which I learned about from Kyle Gann's blog review, was good. I still prefer George Walker's music to the music of Florence Price, personally, but I respect his advocacy for her work and I hope more of her chamber music gets recorded.  If the current pandemic guts concert life for the big institutions as much as music journalists still fear it will chamber music is going to be what keeps musical legacies alive, whether the old canonized white guys or women composers of color whose works are just now getting attention they didn't get in the past.

My reading list is pretty backlogged already but what I've read of Shadle so far has convinced me that if you're into classical music and want to keep up with what contemporary writers are saying on racial politics and aesthetic politics then Douglas Shadle's one of the authors you want to keep track of, maybe more especially by those who don't agree with him than the ones who do.  I found his case that American music journalists scuttled the still-born American symphonic tradition with a double bind of a Beethoven/Wagner problem to be largely persuasive, but then I'm a guitarist who plays classical guitar and admires blues and jazz from the 1920s ...s o I'm already sympathetic to Shadle's idea that a lot of beautiful music was ignored by the music journalistic powers that be in the 19th century. :) 

as in, yes, I'm getting the book and plan to read it.  

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

John Ahern at Theopolis Institute on how Calvin's view of music was more positive than you might have heard, and less ambivalent than Augustine's


On the one hand, Calvin agrees with Augustine that music is subservient to the ends of the text. This is plain from his comment that music is a “help” to the wandering mind. Music is, in Lutheran terminology, a sermon on, an exegesis of, the text. Calvin may have a positive view of music, but he would be no fan of the ideology Beethoven, Hanslick, Nietzsche (or, dare I say, Roger Scruton) applied to church music. Even Calvin’s positive principle of music is, I believe, totally incompatible with “absolute, autonomous art music” in an ecclesiastical setting. (In the same vein, Calvin would, I wager, have little patience for the organist who insisted that their flowery introductions were “their own act of worship” and so ought to override the pragmatic concerns of congregational worship. Just so we’re clear.)

On the other hand, though, Calvin clearly paints music as some sort of alarm clock on our noetic failings. So Calvinist music should be anything but dull. And, indeed, as originally composed and performed, it wasanything but dull—it wasn’t for nothing that Calvinist psalm settings were called “Genevan jigs.” I think Calvin’s positive view of music can be used to endorse some kind of Christian musical maximalism: yes, music is subservient to the text, but that does not mean that it is meant to be backgrounded. It is subordinate in a hierarchy of ends, but not necessarily in a hierarchy of means and certainly not of perception. Music might well need to shout at us to get us to hear. Like Flannery O’Connor’s vision of the good Catholic writer, the good Calvinist musician must “make your vision apparent by shock—to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures.”[3]

So, if we agree with Calvin’s principle, we should be more comfortable with Josquin’s chaotic polyphony than Palestrina’s tidy counterpoint (certainly Luther was). Perhaps we should be happier with Olivier Messiaen’s dissonant, screaming organ sketches than Widor’s frilly Victorian organ symphonies. Possibly even happier with a hard rock rendition of Psalm 2 or a Lecrae track than the soothing sounds of Chris Tomlin’s mic held ever-so-close to the mouth. I would judge that our approach to the text is better served in the former of each of these pairs. The overly familiar text is made strange and unfamiliar. And that is just what we need, lest we draw near to God with our lips but not our hearts. I don’t merely mean to defend an ugly aesthetic, but perhaps to place music less in the category of “aesthetic” altogether, and in a category more consonant with ancient thought, that of “rhetoric”. Music should speak intelligibly and prophetically in order to be edifying, just as Paul says in I Corinthians 14.

and I can well imagine Jim West, if he read the piece, wondering why Zwingli didn't get mentioned. :)