Monday, November 16, 2009

The Dean

There is no single "dean" of church music. Not in our day, nor I suppose in any period of history. J. S. Bach holds nearly divine status among many church musicians, and clearly his was an extraordinary life with an astonishing impact on generations. But in his day, he was "the dean of church music" to a quite small circle.
The "deans" of church music can be temporal, denominational, and regional. One might be a hymn-writer, another a composer, another an organist or music director - anyone that has exerted great positive influence beyond her or his immediate circle or place of service.
If I were to begin to list the "deans" that come to my mind today, it would be long, and it would be difficult to cut it off, and I would have to keep coming back to it, and readers would leave comments wondering why I hadn't included the most obvious "dean" ... [insert Dean of Choice here]

In fact, that's a pretty great idea: who would be your "dean of choice" in church music? Living or historical?

I am reflecting on this today following a delightful lecture with Q & A, by Dr. Donald P. Hustad. Usually when I quote Dr. Hustad, I will add, "he is the dean of evangelical church music." Well, and it is sort of hard to argue against that statement, but I will say that he is to me, anyway.
  • Every hymnal I have used in music study and in ministry, has been edited by Donald P. Hustad
  • His book Jubilate: Church Music in the Evangelical Tradition and Jubilate II: Church Music in Worship and Renewal have done for mainstream evangelical music history, what others have done for mainline and liturgical traditions.
  • With a foot firmly planted in gospel music and evangelistic crusades, he has nevertheless been a champion of both classic ecumenical hymnody and the renaissance of hymn writing in the UK and US over the past 50-60 years.
  • He continues to challenge the evangelical church to honesty and faithfulness in congregational song, without being a snob.

At 91 years of age, Dr. Hustad is vibrant and unquestionably lucid. His speaking voice is unchanged since I first heard him speak some 30 years ago. He is unfailingly gracious.

Today he spoke on the campus of Wheaton College: "On Editing Hymnals - Duty & Delight, with Some Incongruities & an Uncertain Future." I hope the College will make this talk available online. Dr. Hustad's work with hymnals spanned the 2nd half of the previous century, and his awareness of what is current is impressive. It was a fascinating journey, part autobiography, part appreciation for the work of many. At the end, there was a sense of his gratitude for this life work.

Dr. Hustad will not be with us forever, and there are others of his generation who continue to exert a healthy and abiding influence on church music and musicians. There are also of the generation behind him - and of my generation, and of that behind me - who are "the deans of church music." I am thankful for the privilege to learn from him, and them, and you, along the way.

1 comment:

Carol said...

ohhh, I'm so sorry to have missed this. I'll be looking for it online. Thanks for the post.