Sunday, July 06, 2003

Sunday morning quote

From Richard Smith's essay in The Oxford American music issue, "Amazing Grace," on The Blind Boys of Alabama:
"Amazing Grace" is usually the celebration of a happy soul on salvation's shore; sung to the tune of "Rising Sun" it was transformed into the testimony of a human tossed up from sin and misery.

I realized in that moment why I am left cold by most religious music, especially "praise songs." I don't question the praise singers' faith or sincerity, but so many of their numbers are bouquets to God, thank-you notes to the Holy Spirit, infomercials for Heaven. The Blind Boys praise the Lord, yet bear burning witness to past trials. Praise singers celebrate their spiritual wealth; the Blind Boys want to get your soul out of debt. (p. 60)

It has been noted that in African-American music traditions the verse beginning "Through many dangers, toils, and snares I have already come" is the highlight of the song, in fact the last verse, whereas in white churches the last, and most triumphant, verse is "When we've been there ten thousand years, Bright shining as the sun. . . ."

(I would disagree with Richard Smith that "I am left cold by most religious music." However, I do agree with his description of "praise songs.")

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