I wrote the following on another board about half a year ago, and, not having seen anything like it in my brief tenure here, I thought I'd replicate it here and see what comes of it. Submitted for your approval....


I am no great fan of organized religion, and anyone who has read my stuff either here or elsewhere knows that. That said, if religion had never been, there are few other things which very likely would never have been, either:

* Mozart's Requiem Mass
* Bach's Mass in B-minor
* Brahms' German Requiem
* Lauridsen's Lux Aeterna
* Pergolesi's Stabat Mater

Without religion to inspire them, these marvelous works of music and too many other to count very likely would not exist.

I mention the Mozart first for a very important reason: beyond the fact that is, by itself, and amazing and powerful work, one of his finest, this piece inspired a young kid by the name of Eric Whitacre to become a choral composer. Mr. Whitacre is an amazing talent who has thrilled both the audiences who have listened to his work and the performers tasked with giving it life. Interesting to note that Eric's only work that refers to religion is based on the Old Testament text, "When David Heard That Absalom Was Slain," and deals less with belief than with a father's grief at the death of his son. It may be the most powerful thing Eric has ever written, and if you don't believe me, I can supply you with an MP3 of it.

Indeed, you could argue that it was religion which inspired one work which I think of as rather reactionary to the whole religious concept: Carl Orff's Carmina Burana, a powerful, bawdy work which frequently talks about seducing virgins, of drink and gambling, among other things. I've sung Carmina. It is a fun, vital work to sing, and I once described it to a fellow chorister as "the most fun you'll ever have with your clothes on." No jive, fact!

Without doubt, there is someone reading this who is thinking, "Okay, but what about the text these works are using? 'Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison!' You're begging God or Christ to have mercy on you!" To which I say, "So Fraggin' WHAT?" If I say "Shit on a shingle," does that mean I'm taking a dump on a roof, too? In any case, it is the music that matters here, and this is ENORMOUS music, music with depth and expression and emotion, music that, I have no doubt, will last long after the guy writin' this is DUST.

Music is only one casualty of the disappearance of religion. Art would take at least as big a hit, perhaps bigger. A healthy part of the Renaissance was devoted to religious art, some of which I can take, some of which I'll leave ... but I would just as soon that Michelangelo's David hung around, okay? And what about Da Vinci's Last Supper? Did he REALLY mean to throw us a curve ball about Jesus and Mary Magdalene, or is Dan Brown on bad acid? Either way, I'd prefer the work itself hung around.

My point's simple: religion in and of itself I can live without. I don't personally believe that all the supposed good works Mother Teresa and others of her ilk did in the name of her God make up for Crusades and Inquisitions and pedophilic priests and encyclicals like Humanae Vitae and the "Troubles" in Northern Ireland and far too many other things to count. The music IS another matter, to me an entirely separate and very important matter. What I'm asking is that when you throw out the bathwater, can we make sure the baby doesn't go with it?

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Stipulated, John D, and no argument. The thing is, though, I LIKE these works. I've sung at least a couple of them and deeply enjoyed them, for the quality of the music if nothing else. Frankly, what their words have to say is of little concern to me, made easier when it's in Latin or German (two languages I AM semi-conversant with, BTW!)

Coincidentally, I literally just now stumbled onto a discussion regarding religious Musak on a commercial flight, with attendant comments, some serious, some not, regarding alternative lyrics to said Musak:


For myself, I have no problem with the lyrics. It's a case of mind over matter: if you don't mind, it doesn't matter. That does NOT mean I tolerate active proselytism; I don't. What I've done is attune my own attitude and tolerance to the given situation. In other words, I choose my battles.

The thing is, too, substantial religious music continues to be written, some of it DAMNED GOOD. I'm thinking particularly of Morten Lauridsen's "Lux Aeterna," luxuriously orchestrated and arranged for mixed chorus and orchestra. I have a clip of the third movement, "O Nata Lux," on my profile if you're interested. I listen to it simply because it is beautiful and could care less what the words (in Latin again!) have to say. I should further note/reiterate that it was Mozart Requiem which inspired Eric Whitacre to become a choral composer, yet Eric has yet to date written what I could call a piece of religious music! Point being, it was the MUSIC that inspired Whitacre, not some deity, and again, I'd rather not see the baby thrown out with the bathwater.

We've asked (generally unsuccessfully) theists to tolerate our existence, as we present no active threat to them. I would suggest that we in turn at least tolerate if not just plain enjoy music that sources from the theist tradition for the same reason.
I enjoy religious music too, and I sang Haydn's Stabat Mater in the choir this very summer. Yet I can't agree with statements like

Music is only one casualty of the disappearance of religion. Art would take at least as big a hit, perhaps bigger.

Inspiration comes from many sources, and religion is only one of them. Would Bach have been a lesser composer had he focused only on profane and didactic music? Are the Goldberg Variations inferior to his Mass in B Minor? I don't think so. Besides, Bach was a committed Lutheran and the Mass was intended for a Catholic audience, so it's unlikely he wrote it out of religious fervor.

Would music history be different without religion? Certainly, but there's no basis to claim that it would be inferior in any way. Bach wouldn't have written the Mass, and Palestrina his Stabat Mater, they would have written something else, and we'll never know what this something could have been. What if Bach had composed operas like Haendel did?
Would music history be different without religion?

Yeah, it probably would ... and I'd rather it WASN'T! As I said, I LIKE the works listed above. Obviously, I couldn't miss them were they never written, but I will at least posit that classical music as a genre would be the less for their departure. Would something else of equal stature take their place? That we'll never know. You'll pardon me if I quote Aslan from C. S. Lewis's Narnia stories: "No one is ever told what would have happened."
We can only play with the cards we are dealt. Religion exists, and it has produced a great deal of good. Suppose we could convert all of the religious to atheists. That wouldn't cancel out all of the great music and works that have been created in that name of "God" or religion - you'd still have them.

Keep on enjoying what you enjoy.

Would the world be different if there had never been any religion or god-belief? Of course, be we cannot know what that would have been. Pointless to speculate. A question which I have pondered is: "How much pain and suffering and misinformation and holding back of good thinking blah blah blah went hand in hand with the beliefs of the people who have created these great works which even atheists can admire?" How many mosques have been erected because people are mightily afraid of displeasing "Allah" - better to spend time creating stuff for "him" etc. etc. etc.

And by the by, doesn't Islam frown on the use of musical instruments? Or do you only care about certain religions, Loren?
Hmmm, hadn't heard about the musical instrument prohibition. Learn something new every day, I guess! Minds me of the prohibition against dancing some Christian sects got into (Footloose, anyone?).

As to what I care or don't care about, mostly I'm a live and let live guy. If THEY can keep their hands off of me, the schools, and the government, they can believe what they like. The second they violate that, all bets are OFF ... and I start getting exceptionally NASTY.
WHOA! I've heard of selective listening, but THAT one takes the taco!

Heaven forefend that any of these guys would attend an opera with Joan Sutherland or Beverly Sills (anyone wanna try to book a dead coloratura soprano?!?) belting out arias or solos from a Christian religious work! [chuckle!]
Art would take at least as big a hit, perhaps bigger.
I hear you, and I'd like to mention that art is not exactly suffering. I want you to take a look at Gage Academy and Georgetown Atelier, two schools in my city that teach realism. The instructors and students have a wide range of religious views, but most of the art isn't overtly religious. Hell take a look at my better half's website. Is his atheism barring him from being an artist?
Did I miss something? Religion may have inspired music, but unless there are lyrics to accompany it--songs, libretto,or just the titles of compositions--music is pure form--is it not? then it becomes the question of the structure of composition and emotion that defines music. Why should that disappear with religion? It seems we already have historical precedents for the secularization of sacred music? Think of the transformation of gospel music into soul music--Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, the various Motown groups, Jackie Wilson, etc. A development which also involves the merging of sacred and secular genres. Not to mention the similarity of religious exaltation to eroticism, e.g. Jackie Wilson's "Your love kees lifting me higher".

Another development to consider is the transformation of conventional religious upbringing into individual esotericism, as occurred with various avant-garde jazz musicians--Coltrane, Sun Ra, etc.

There's much to explore when it comes to the relationship between music--which stands alone independent of the belief systems of it originators--and the other belief commitments historically associated with it.
My point is simply that there is considerable music which has its roots in organized religion that I LIKE ... and that if religion had never been, neither would the works listed in my original post, plus a LOT of others.

But I also keep coming back to Eric Whitacre. He went to the University of Nevada intending to become a rocker. He joined the choral society there mostly because the girls were cute. It turns out that the first work their group tackled was Mozart's Requiem. To put it mildly, the Requiem went upside Eric's head big-time, what I suspect would qualify as an epiphany. He wound up going to Julliard, there to study with David Diamond and John Corigliano, and since 1991, has been creating some of the most astonishing choral music I have heard in the multiple years I have been listening to such.

So ... what if there had been no Mozart Requiem? Certainly there would have been other choral work of his of a non-religious nature and maybe something that had the same inspirational power that drove Eric to change directions the way he did. Maybe yes, maybe no, but again, we're talking about an indeterminate future whose products are equally unknowable. The fact is, Eric owes his initial inspiration to Wolfgang Amadeus and Wolfgang's stimulus was a combination of cash and the Church (regardless of whether Salieri actually commissioned it or not!).

Someone might argue that Eric might have found the spark to change directions elsewhere ... or he might have continued on to become a rocker of some level or other. My greatest concern lies in his works such as "Water Night" and "Sleep" and "A Boy and A Girl," among many others and a few of which are posted in my profile among my songs. This may be a stretch, but those songs exist, albeit indirectly, because of the Church, like it or not, and while I disparage said Church for the too-many faults and fallacies it has promulgated over the years, I am willing to acknowledge its products which inarguably contribute positively to life as it is now.
And even the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame acknowledges that a one of the sources of its existence is gospel music!
I love old time gospel music and a gospel hour is featured at many of the festivals I attend.
A few years ago I was in Laytonville, CA (where the hippies moved) for the Kate Wolf Festival. Sunday morning I was in a tent full of really good people singing and waving their hands. Great harmony and everybody (but me) knew the words. They were so good that I started to get very uncomfortable. Then Utah Phillips got up and led an anti-religion pro-union song and they knew all those words also.
After an unpleasant experience at another festival where the group[ was sincere in their singing an preaching I decided that good gospel singing requires talent, along with a good bit of booze the night before.
I never said that there would be NO great music ... but that great religious music as represented by the works I listed and many others would likely not have been written and that further, those such as Eric Whitacre, who was inspired by Mozart's Requiem to become a choral composer himself, might not have done so had he not the spark supplied by the Church through the person of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

The Church may have no other redeeming quality to it other than this ... but it IS responsible for the sponsoring and commissioning of works of both art and music renown throughout the world, works which I am DAMNED glad that they exist, even if the Church that gave rise to them does not reflect their beauty.

Keep in mind ... the most beautiful lily might grow in a mud puddle you wouldn't look at twice otherwise.




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