CULTURE WARS & How Stravinsky’s composition “Rite of Spring” sparked a musical and physical clash between Russian cultures

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Worship wars over styles of music are nothing new. And, if you look at musical history you will see they are often a cultural clash between different cultural preferences. Understanding that cultures (including age, ethnic and affinity cultures) prefer different styles of music is part of understanding other cultures. Read this interesting article by the classical music critic of the BBC to understand a classic (pun intended) example of cultural and musical clashes that accompanied the debut of Stravinsky’s landmark composition “Rite of Spring.”

Did The Rite of Spring really spark a riot?

by Ivan Hewett, BBC Classical music critic, 5/29/13.

Of all the scandals of the history of art, none is so scandalous as the one that took place on the evening of 29 May 1913 in Paris at the premiere of Stravinsky’s ballet The Rite of Spring.

The Rite descended into a riot, the story goes. Magnified in the retelling, it has acquired the unquestionable certainty that only legend can have. Everyone simply “knows” that there was a riot.

But is it possible to separate fact from fiction?

Was there violence?

Dozens of witnesses left accounts of the evening, but they tend to say different things. According to some, blows were exchanged, objects were thrown at the stage, and at least one person was challenged to a duel…

There had been some noise two weeks earlier at the premiere of Debussy’s ballet, Jeux, and critics had heaped abuse on Vaslav Nijinsky’s choreography. Now Nijinsky had choreographed the Rite of Spring – rumoured to be the last word in Russian primitivism or modernist chic, depending who you believed. So part of the audience may well have been predisposed to be outraged.

“There was an existing tremor in the air against Nijinsky before any curtain went up,” says Stephen Walsh, professor of music at Cardiff University. Others say the trouble began with the start of the overture and its strangled bassoon melody, and other strange sounds never before conjured from an orchestra.

Igor Stravinsky, for his part, said the storm only really broke after the overture, “when the curtain opened on the group of knock-kneed and long-braided Lolitas jumping up and down”…

The brand new Theatre of the Champs Elysees was “awash with diamonds and furs” according to one contemporary report. It seems that the beau monde really did turn out for this premiere – and some will have been keener than others on the avant-garde performance. Jean Cocteau wrote that “the aesthetic crowd… would applaud novelty simply to show their contempt for the people in the boxes”.

But were they divided by class? Buch says there are unlikely to have been any poor or even middle class people in the auditorium.

“My reading of the evidence is that actually the divisions went inside social groups – you have people who are very much alike and they have different opinions on the piece.” One barrier to understanding the quarrel, Buch adds, is that none of those who protested ever left a record explaining the reason for their anger…

The young Stravinsky had taken Paris by storm in previous seasons. His Petrushka, the year before, had been a massive hit. “There is no question at all, he was a star,” says Walsh. But compared with the Rite of Spring, “Petrushka was not such a forbidding score, by any means.”

Stravinsky himself said that when he first played the beginning of the Rite, with its dissonant chords and pulsating rhythm, to Serge Diaghilev, the founder of the Ballets Russes, Diaghilev asked him a “very offending” question: “Will it last a very long time this way?” (Stravinsky replied: “To the end, my dear.”)

So the music was as startling as the strange jerky movements of the choreography. Esteban Buch argues that you cannot separate the impact of one from the other. What upset people, he thinks, was “the very notion of primitive society being shown on stage”.

1913 production of The Rite of Spring

(Dancers portraying Russian primitives)

Fast forward to the last 30 minutes of this BBC2 video for an idea about the commotion this historic composition created

Read more at …

BLENDED WORSHIP & An Analysis of Blended Services from a 20-something Volunteer

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 5/10/15.

In an attempt to bring about cultural (and usually ethnic) unity, churches often try to create Sunday morning services that reflect the cultural diversity of their community.  The Sunday morning service is thus a “unity” service and is blended with many different styles of worship.

As you know from my my books (“ORGANIX,” “Cure for the Common Church” and “The Healthy Church”), I believe that unity is critical!  But, I also believe that Bible teaches that helping a person experience spiritual transformation (i.e. conversion) is even a higher commission!!

Thus, because Sunday morning continues to be the primarily time when non-churchgoers will visit a church, I believe that a Good News church will offer as many Sunday worship encounters (i.e. worship services) in as many different styles as it feasibly can at the times when non-churchgoers are likely to attend.

Below is the true story of a large church, told by a 20-something volunteer, that once had varying styles of worship at varying times and was growing.  But, in the name of uniting multiple cultures (in this case ethnicities) the church created a blended format.

Author: Steph F.
Posted Date: November 7, 2011

Worship Disasters

I can’t say as though I have been privy to a new worship service disaster. However, I have been privy to worship service disasters due to trying to implement too many components in one worship service experience. Our church can tend to try and pack as much into one service as humanly possible. We are “masters” (please not the sarcasm) of attempting to reach as many different people and groups as possible in one worship experience. What ends up happening is we don’t do any style or component that well and there ends up being great confusion and lack of cohesiveness…therefore, congregants walk away feeling more disjointed than unified and clear on the purpose and message.

1. When did the mistakes begin?

Especially with the shift in leadership at (name of church), we have had a stronger emphasis on our congregation reflecting the diversity already present in the immediate surrounding community. Therefore, rather than taking the multi-generational model as outlined in Whitesel’s book, (name of church) usually takes one of two approaches. We either try and encompass and represent several worship styles and experiences within each service (same service for all 3 times) or we decide eventually to church plant another church to more purposefully meet the needs and desires of a specific group or location.

That is not to say that either idea in and of itself is necessarily bad all of the time. However, there have been numerous times in which the blended worship services have been more of a failure than a success. And in regards to church planting, we tend to church plant quite often, which I am not against if it is truly needed. But if the purpose is to simply have a separate church for those already living in the community of (name of church), I think that is unnecessary when the organization of (name of church) can be reformatted to reach multiple groups.

2. What were the primary mistakes, and what should have been done differently?

I like the way Arn summarizes what happens when a church tries to “incorporate more variety into an existing service” (37). “In an effort to provide a service in which everyone finds something they like, you will more likely discover you have created a service in which everyone finds something they don’t like.” That is exactly what happens at (name of church).

Please hear me when I say I know the motives and thinking behind incorporating more variety into our already existing services is pure. I believe that! However, it is now typical to have a service that utilizes videos, contemporary music, hymns, songs in other languages, props, dramatizations, spoken word, question and answer, and several other elements. Each element in and of itself is a great tool in reaching people for Christ.  But each element is not effective in reaching all people groups and may not be nearly as effective in the group they are trying to specifically minster to in light of all of the other elements in that same service.

I believe what should have been (and could be) done is specifying each of the three services to target a specific generational group and worship style. That is actually the way it used to be. The Saturday evening service was more geared towards the younger, very contemporary groups. The early Sunday morning service was more geared towards the older, traditional groups. And the later Sunday morning service was more geared towards the middle, contemporary groups. However, in subsequent years, the leadership of the church has felt each of the three services need to mirror each other. I truly feel we need to go back to three distinct services each with the same message preached, but the style of worship and teaching unique to each service.

3. What was the aftermath?

The aftermath has been a slight decline in attendance…certainly a decline in new attendees and the unchurched attending. And from sitting out among the congregation, an overall dissatisfaction with the worship services. I unfortunately hear more negative at times than I do positive. Mind you, I realize that we (as humans) tend to gravitate and fixate on what we don’t like and quickly forget what we do like. However, there are so many aspects to a service that unfortunately due to the extreme variety, there is always something someone is not going to like. Whereas if there were worship service experience options, I think there would still be complaints to a degree, but that is then more reflective of your choice of worship service over the actual worship components and style.

Again, the motives and purpose in representing and catering to the needs and desires of many in one worship service is admirable. I think it just may be time to reconsider 3-4 unique, individual worship services keeping unity through the same message preached throughout all services, but the worship and teaching styles specific to the needs and desires of the overall group represented.

BLENDED WORSHIP & To Blend or Not To Blend: Here is a better option for small churches

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 11/51/15.

Let me share about blended worship and the evangelistic prowess of blended services (which I prefer to call “unity services” rather than blended – but for this discussion and clarity I will use the latter).

I’ve made clear in my books (“ORGANIX,” “Cure for the Common Church” and “The Healthy Church”) about the lack of evangelistic efficacy of blended services, but often smaller churches (as I mention in “A House Divided”) have trouble having enough people to move to two services.  In this scenario the better option to the blended format is the compartmentalized format.  In this strategy the key will be to compartmentalize your service until you have grown sufficiently to launch two services.

One client had a pre-glow contemporary music component from 10:10-10:30, and then their standard traditional service from 10:30-11:30. This meant those who didn’t like modern worship didn’t have to sit through it. I have also seen this work as an after-glow too (though with a bit more difficulty).  Eventually as growth occurs the two services grow into two worship alternatives.

The reason this is necessitated is that people worship most passionately without alien (to them) music and culture invading. That is because we worship more readily and unhindered when surround with familiarity. Thus separating the two segments (rather than blending them into some sort of muddled goo) allows people to worship more passionately.  Biblically, we see Davidic worship very different than New Testament worship.

Thus, many churches will need to follow this strategy to grow. An area growing with younger families may especially require this. As you know in my book I show you how with about 100 people you can readily go to a second service. This is the ultimate way to dissuade the cultural music wars 🙂  Until then, the compartmentalized format will help smaller churches grow with some degree of cultural anonymity.