You know it’s the holiday season when stories about school districts banning religious music flood the media. The latest clueless culprit is the South Orange/Maplewood Board of Education in New Jersey, which voted earlier this fall to ban music with “a religious orientation or focus on religious holidays.” The policy has been in place for more than a decade. But the real community problems started when the board said the ban extended to instrumental renditions of Christmas carols or other songs referring to religious holidays or symbols. Now the brass choir will be restricted to songs like “Winter Wonderland,” and “Frosty the Snowman.”
Maplewood resident Shirlee Gross said, “Thanks to media coverage, we have become the laughingstock of the country.” Laughingstock is right. Rather than Christmas carols, Nicholas Santoro, the chair of the Fine Arts department, suggested “Music centered on peace?” All of these school bureaucrats are missing the point. Despite the constant drumbeat we hear about “separation of church and state,” which doesn’t exist in the U.S. Constitution, there is no legal problem with singing “religious” music or exposing kids to art with religious themes. The material simply has to be termed educational. By banning “religious music” the school board is doing all it can to ensure their students get a mediocre musical education. The media should make that point loud and strong.
Many Christmas carols are recognized to be some of the finest popular music ever written and most of the great Western choral art music has Christian language. Cutting out religious music also cuts out the greatest choral masterworks of Bach, Handel, Sch?tz, Mozart, and more.
The point is not necessarily the content but the educational and artistic value of the piece. A thorough knowledge of these works is required in college music programs, not because music schools have suddenly turned into seminaries, but because they are among the greatest works of art ever created by composers. These works are also essential for producing literate knowledge of musical elements and techniques like counterpoint, harmony, and sight singing. The aspiring college voice student must have some of these masterworks in their repertoire. A student ignorant of them would be embarrassed on audition day.
If bureaucrats were consistent, they’d have to censor almost all Renaissance art from art history and humanities classes. The Catholic church was the big patron back then, so we’ll have to get rid of Michelangelo, Cellini, Raphael, Leonardo and many more. Milton and Shakespeare will have to be censored. Dante would be a definite no-no.
The fact is every student needs a solid understanding of biblical themes and texts, without which one cannot understand much of Western civilization–whether it’s history, literature, poetry, visual arts, music, or even law. The media should bring these education bureaucrats to shame over their appalling ignorance. It’s the bureaucrats who should be banned, not the music.