Posts tagged ‘Church Music’

July 25, 2012

Kylie, the Salvos and the Guitar

Recently The Guardian newspaper had an article on their website posing the question, “Is Guitar Music on the way out?”  It was a collection of thoughts from various contributors – nothing remarkable about it, but the very fact that the question is being asked has big implications for the church.

For a long time the church has used music to communicate its message and to stir the faith of her people.  In my 26 years as a Christian I have sung songs pretty much every Sunday and plenty of times during the week.  I have loved it, and look forward to doing it for the next 26 plus years.

I have sung hymns written 300 years ago to an organ and I have sung contemporary songs written in the 21st century to a modern band playing with very healthy volume.  I’m happy to leave the hymns behind.

In terms of my own tastes, I am a child of my era.  I was born in 1973.  I have loved music ever since I was a child.  I have a theory that music was perfected in 1987.  In the lead up, Dire Straits produced Brothers in Arms in 1985.  The stage was now set.  In 1987 we then had in a single year the 3 greatest albums of all time.  There were the 2 greatest pieces of an Australian music, Kick by INXS and Diesel and Dust by Midnight Oil.  Then there was the most wonderful album ever, the reason that music was invented, The Joshua Tree by U2.  And if that was not enough before the year was out possibly the all time best ever song was released when Guns n Roses gave us Sweet Child O Mine.  When music is that good, there is only one direction that it can head.  And didn’t it head there fast!

Having been so fortunate to be alive and a teenager when music was soaring to such great heights you can imagine my alarm when in 1988 Kylie Minogue’s version of The Loco-Motion spent 7 weeks at number one.  Excuse me?????  It didn’t even have real drums in it – it was just synthesiser music!!  Where were we just 12 months ago????

The big question at that point was would popular music embrace the synthesiser and gradually shun the drumkit?  Or would synthesiser music be recognised for the plague that it is?

It seems that I am on the losing side of this argument.  Synthesiser music now reigns supreme on the music charts.  Guitar music is still around but is on the way out.  If that wasn’t enough, singing has been partly replaced by talking.  They call it rap.  Guitar and drum music will always retain a niche, but that’s all.  Jazz music – dominant in the 1930’s – retains a niche, but that’s all.  I think that’s where the rock music that I love will end up.

Amongst the contemporary church the guitars and drums are far from endangered.  They dominate!  What about the synthesiser?  Most contemporary churches that have a full band have a keyboard, but the guitars and drums tend to drive the music.  It suits me just fine, but we are asking for trouble when we expect people to listen to dance music all week, and then guitar music on a Sunday.  That’s a scenario that is going to end badly for the “contemporary” church.

At one extreme there is the possibility that the contemporary church will go the way of the Salvation Army.  When they started out in London in 1865 they used cutting edge music – the brass band.  Despite coming out of a Wesleyan / Methodist background, with a rich tradition of hymns, they used their own music and it was a hymn free zone.  They often put Christian lyrics to tunes that ordinary people sung in pubs.  And today…they still use brass bands.  Is the brass band as cutting edge today as it was in 1865?  Um, not quite.  I would think that their founder, William Booth, would be stunned if he saw what they were doing.

To avoid going the same way the contemporary church has to embrace dance music.  Personally, I can’t say that I am looking forward to it.  But lest we end up being the only ones with guitars and drums in 50 years it has to happen.  To avoid that future I am happy to phase out the guitars at church.

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April 11, 2012

Has Church music morphed into prayer?

One of the most obvious things about the modern church is that music has a very high priority in our services. I’ve noticed over my 25 years of being a Christian that the music used in church is changing, not just in style but in purpose.

A couple of centuries ago church music was not just used to inspire people but also to teach theology.  The teaching emphasis made sense granted that many people in the church were illiterate.  Their were no mid week bible study groups, no Christian bookshops down the road, no Christian input outside of what happened between the processional and the recessional on a Sunday morning.

In this era there are huge resources available to a congregation that is not only literate but online as well.  So whilst the teaching aspect of music in church is still useful the imperative to do it is not as strong.

Church music seems to have morphed into prayer.  Teaching is now primarily done through the sermon and mid week programs such as home groups.  We used to sing about God, but now we sing to God. One example of this is a song we used to sing in the late 80’s at my Anglican Church.  The original music for this song was written in 1882 and the words of Psalm 46 were put to it in 1912. The first verse sang “God is our strength and refuge…”. Today instead of singing ‘God is our….” we sing songs that begin ‘You are my…..’.  One of Hillsong’s first big “hits” in the early 90’s was ‘You are my rock, you are my Lord’.

I’m sure that there are examples that go the other way as well. However, I think that  this has been become the trend.  Overall church music, especially in the Pentecostal circles which I’m a part of, it has turned into a time where the congregation directly talks to God.  People are meant to engage with God and enjoy a prayer time that is not just accompanied by music but is meaningful, reflective and inspiring.

So – is this change a good thing or not?

Both approaches have strengths and weaknesses.  It’s never a bad idea to learn theology to music.  The great thing about modern church music where the congregation sings to God is that it forces the attendee to have some time with God that is not focussed on their personal needs.  Our prayer times can often be where we present God with a shopping list of things we want.  When we sing at church we have to address God for maybe 20 minutes where our focus is on Him, His glory and His love.  Our shopping list does not come into it.  That’s a good thing.

Corporate prayer to music where we focus on God’s greatness is powerful.  It gives you perspective.  The things that you were worried about when you were walking through the car park 30 minutes ago are no longer as important because your attention has been drawn to the greatness of God and you are professing your love for him.

Do you think I have described the change correctly?

What are the pros and cons of the change?

John

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