Thoughts brought on by Beethoven's "Consecration of the House" on the radio this morning.
A while back, I started using the phrase "in the Atlantian style" to refer to my original compositions that were based on modern folk music, especially if the work had a war theme. I meant it as a sort of fig leaf, a way to document the song to common SCA practice, but to also acknowledge that it had no period antecedent.
Also a while back, I was known to rant a bit about our music at church. The church I am in now plays very different music from the one I grew up in. I grew up in the Roman Catholic Church in the late 80s and early 90s, with all those Jesuit-written hymns published in 1975 that (to me) seem to be clearly in the style of John Denver. (I'm guessing that after Vatician II in the 50s, they just didn't know where to go and we crazy Americans decided to go with "popular music.") My new church plays a lot of music written in the 1930s. It's very "modern," in the way e.e. cummings was writing consciously "modern" poetry at the time. It knows the musical rules and consciously breaks them to see what happens. The result isn't so easy to sing and doesn't resonate as much - with me, at least, but anecdotally, with other members of the congregation as well.
There is a reason popular music - music meant for "the populace" - has a certain sound. You hear it in hymns, Disney songs, show tunes, Christmas carols, and folk music. You hear it, in Dorian mode, in ballads. There are structures and motifs and cadences that appear over and over and resonate with us. They push our emotional buttons; but then, we're in a place (a house of worship, a theater, a circle by the fire) where we want our emotional buttons pushed.
We don't "do" religion in the SCA, but we have a secular religion we call "The Dream." It's a different Dream for different people, but it usually has certain features like bravery, courage, honor, grace, courtesy and sacrifice. And our modernly-composed songs, "in the Atlantian style" (or the Eastern style or the AEthelmarc style or what have you), are no more or less than our hymns to this Dream. They hit these themes that are important to us, and use the conventions of popular music to push all the right buttons. It's powerful. I think you might be able to approach that power with period music, but I doubt you can equal it. There are patterns and cadences that are so very, very folkie and so very, very effective that just aren't in medieval music - at least, not commonly.
This is not at all to say that I'm going to stop working with period music and start exclusively composing "in the Atlantian style." It's just finally clicked for me why, when we've grown so much more medieval and Renaissance in our dress, our kit, and our food that our music remains stubbornly modern. There is a solid emotional reason for it to do so. Our myth-makers, our singers of tales, will continue to draw on the techniques that they know will best resonate with their (modern) audiences.