I managed to photocopy two excerpts from the New Oxford Book of Carols today, and both are Charles Wesley hymns. One of them is “Lo, he comes with clouds descending” and the other is his most famous song, “Hark! the herald angels sing.”
My friend Don often worries that contemporary Christians have at times forgotten the nature of sacred music and hymnody, in favor of throwaway ephemeral stuff the nature of which cannot be described politely here. In a sense, he is right. In the contemporary urban Philippine scene, religious music across denominational lines is of variable quality. Reviving the classic hymns of older years, with proper four-part harmonies, may be a needed corrective, but there is a gray line between being nostalgically irrelevant and timeless that is often trod by those who advocate such revivals.
Yet there is a place for “Lo, he comes with clouds descending” alongside “Halina, Hesus, halina” and “Emmanuel,” a more poppish Advent/Christmas song which I personally like. Both are necessary for a balanced musical diet. In the end, however, if one wants substance and timelessness, we need to learn how to get rid of our guitars and organs and praise bands and, well, sing plainchant. That I think will be the day when we have musically grown up.
To those in my college class: I hope you could make it tomorrow!