“As an educator, composer, curator and practitioner, Robert Busiakiewicz has been working with sacred music for much of his adult career. Busiakiewicz, who holds a master’s of philosophy in music from Cambridge University, has served as music director for St. James Cathedral in Toronto, director of music for University of King’s College, Halifax and consultant on music for the award-winning television show ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, among other roles. In recent years, he tells the Anglican Journal, he has found himself questioning more and more deeply how music gets selected for church. How important is it that liturgical music be enjoyable as well as devotional ? Busiakiewicz gave a lecture series grappling with this and other questions in May  at St. Bartholomew’s Anglican Church in Toronto. This summer, he sat down with the Journal at the Toronto Music Garden, a park inspired by the music of Bach, to discuss some of the themes those lectures explored. This interview has been edited for length and clarity”.
”People have been arguing about church music, for I’d say at least 1,700 years. They’ve been arguing about it in a very, in some cases, aggressive way” (p. 17). “I think any church musician would recognize that there is tension around what music is chosen in church. So when I say culture war, I mean people trying to assert legitimacy and authority over one another” (p. 16). “I see that that tension is within each of us — to try to offer something that we think is the best. But our whole philosophy of the best is bound up in the culture we come from. If you read a lot of Marxist or communist books about aesthetics as I have, they could say that it’s these power imbalances that have determined what you like. ... The most important thing is to be radically welcoming, to embrace all these different cultures and hold them in a creative tension. That’s the mission. But at some point you’re going to have to make a distinction. At some point you’re going to have to say ‘this and not that’” (p. 16-17).
”A lot of the people on the traditionalist side of the argument say the music is actually directed towards God. So they’re sending what they think of as their best, as a kind of sacrifice directed towards the altar — whereas if you put the choir or the band at the front and sing towards the congregation and say, ‘This is about you’, it’s about getting bums on seats. It’s about your pleasure, it’s about attendance” (p. 17).
”Music has a million different functions. But I think it has a truth role to play. We use music like [the decorations in] an illuminated manuscript: to underline what we think is true, or an important thing: ‘We’re going to sing a special song about this’” We don’t sing songs about toilets or gravel. We sing songs about this resurrection story. It can also just be a good bit of storytelling. I mean, the thing to bear in mind is that for most of the life of the church, people couldn’t read. The idea that we learn things from a book is quite modern. But learning things through seeing and hearing — we learn about the scriptures through a painting — we’ve been doing that a lot longer. So music will teach you how to feel. It gives you kind of an emotional literacy. And I don’t think that is necessarily about pleasure. It’s trying to tell you a story. It’s trying to teach you something about your emotions. So when someone says to me, ‘I didn’t enjoy that service’, or ‘I didn’t enjoy that anthem’, I’m like, “That was absolutely not the point of it. The point of that one was to be as painful as possible’. For example, on Good Friday at the veneration of the cross, [I] programmed a piece that was really very dissonant and horrible. And someone said, ‘That was awful’. I said, ‘Yeah, can you imagine the nails going in ? How disgusting. How awful’” (p. 17).