In Australia, live Christmas Church music is heard in so many guises, it's impossible to count them, but recently I've noticed that only English "Church muzak" arrangements, usually recorded in secular studios and sung by secular singers, are broadcast in Australian shopping malls. Live Church choirs in Australian shopping malls are rare. Why?
The Aussie retail giants are well aware that the large non-English ethnic Churches of Australia ( e.g. Greek Orthodox, Tamil Catholic, Maronite, Tongan, to name a few) would be hugely offended if their sacred music were grossly mangled into recorded muzak versions, and devalued by repetitive background broadcasting in a non-liturgical shopping environment. Just imagine their reaction if it were!
This week, at least twelve (a sufficiently apostolic number) of my Church music friends have bemoaned the awful Christmas mall "Church" muzak they were subjected to as they shopped. They all say (and I agree) that this weirdly secularised, corrupted junk music gives non-Christians a totally false impression of real Church music. As well as this, in the last few days a Twitter chorus of annoyance has arisen from justifiably angry shoppers who don't like being bombarded with "stupid Christian music." No wonder! One angry Ipswich, Qld. resident (possibly pre-primed by incessant fake "Christian" mall muzak) even resorted to hosing down his neighbouring Church choir to shut them up! - see article at http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2012/juneweb-only/multiracial-church-music.html
On the positive side, a crowd of brave Church members from Parramatta, sickened by the horrible schmaltzy versions of their music infecting the mall, staged an unmiked, unrecorded live Flash Mob Christmas Eve carol chorus at Westfield Mall in Parramatta - and were heartily clapped.
See them on this link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QtrFpHGUT9o Australians are not slow to recognise and appreciate real Church music (it doesn't need to be perfectly sung, just in tune, in time, heartfelt and enthusiastic) when they hear it.
But despite the best in-house efforts of Church choirs, the fake "Christmas" muzak plague makes it look as if the English-speaking Churches of Australia have thrown their Church music to the retail wolves. Or have they just neglected to blow the whistle on mall muzak?
Three possible reasons for Church apathy on this issue occur to me:
1. English-speaking Church leaders responsible for Church music never visit malls at Christmas time.
2. English Church music is unfashionably colonial, so unmercifully trashing it in malls, while honouring ethnic music, is seen as non-dicriminatory and perfectly OK.
3. Many Church leaders believe that English "Church" muzak, no matter how degraded, is a helpful advertisement for the Church, and that its benefits outweigh its disadvantages.
In this fraught postcolonial scenario, some English-speaking Australian Churches have even tried to ethnic-ize their liturgies by adding unsynchronised African drumbeats to English carols. Please desist, this doesn't work.