The Corner

They Spoke in Various Tongues

Today, much of the Christian world celebrates Pentecost, the feast commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus’ disciples. I’m sure many tradition-minded congregations today heard one or another of the splendid Renaissance or Baroque settings of the text Loquebantur variis linguis — “They spoke in various tongues.” But at Marble Collegiate Church here in Manhattan, they made the same point about the church’s universality in a rather inventive way — by having music of many different styles and periods. The preludes were by Buxtehude, a fellow named Zachau, and J.S. Bach; the postlude was by Duruflé. There were traditional English hymns, an American folk hymn, a rousing spiritual rendered by a gospel choir accompanied by piano and drums, a Renaissance anthem by Thomas Tallis, and a contemporary worship piece composed in 1997.  The use of such wildly clashing styles in the same service can be a prescription for liturgical disaster — something less than organic, more like a mere stunt. But when all the pieces are performed reverently and with excellence, they can indeed serve as a demonstration of the glorious diversity within a global community of faith. At Marble Collegiate today, they did a splendid job; their distinguished forebear, the late Rev. Norman Vincent Peale, would have been proud indeed. (Or, to raise Adlai Stevenson’s seriously overquoted mauvais mot before anyone else does, Rev. Peale would have found it appealing, not appalling.)

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