Why does the Christian music industry produce such tripe?

Discussion in 'Free-For-All Archives' started by MikeS, Nov 23, 2003.

  1. MikeS

    MikeS
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    I posted this in mioque's film thread, but then decided to post it as a different thread rather than possibly "hijack" that one. I expect I'll step on a lot of toes here, but I think the same criticism he leveled at the film industry applies to most current Christian (most assuredly including Catholic) worship music. Here's somebody who agrees with me:

    Singing the Lord’s Songs
    Dissatisfaction with the state of contemporary church music is now very widespread, which may or may not mean that some remedy is at hand....Surely Michael Howard is right about the “appalling clothing of mediocrity.” It is not just the neglect of Mozart, Haydn, and Dvorak, or even Gregorian chant. And few of our local places of worship can or should try to match the “fantastic churches” of Prague. Among Protestants and Catholics, the last several decades have witnessed a wholesale debauch of musical sensibilities and the squandering of magnificent traditions. A price I pay for hanging out so much with evangelical Protestants and speaking at pro–life events is that I am exposed to the most barbarous of musical kitsch in both Catholic and Protestant camps. Why do such good people indulge such bad music? At a recent pro–life rally in the midwest there was no less than ten minutes of a group of young people with high decibel electronic guitars screaming over and over again, “I love you Jeeesus!” That was it. And the mainly middle–aged crowd went wild. A rock concert without talent or imagination.

    It is not simply a matter of doing what is popular. In the traditions that have been squandered, there is much that is popular, in the best sense of that term. I was recently given a CD, Sing Lustily and With Good Courage, which includes “gallery hymns” of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries by Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band (CD–SDL–383). Here are magnificent renderings of “Who would true valour see” (John Bunyan), “Lo, He comes with clouds descending” (Charles Wesley), “The God of Abraham praise” (Thomas Olivers), and a dozen others that stir and form the souls of the gathered faithful glorifying God. The debased noises of unbridled subjectivism that are typical of what today is called entertainment worship are spiritual poison. We’re not talking mere aesthetics here. There is nothing mere about the beautiful. The three transcendentals—the good, the true, and the beautiful—are inextricably entangled. The degradation of one degrades the others.

    “I love you Jeeesus!” Or at another meeting, an orgy of self–praise, “We Are Here and We are Ali–i–i–i–ve!” Well, good for you. Such junk is an embarrassment to Christianity. One wonders what a sensible outsider stumbling into such a gathering might think. He would likely beat a hasty exit, and I wouldn’t blame him. I would have, too, except I was scheduled to speak after the noise subsided. I saw in Christianity Today where one such group of sentimental bedlam was described as having “a joy that is contagious.” Contagious as in smallpox. The joy is painfully forced. “Look how joyful we are!” If this is joy, give me melancholy. Don’t tell me these people are sincere. The praise of God has nothing to do with being drenched by the agitated effusions of their sincerity. Sincerity is no excuse for tackiness. The world would be more beautiful and the Church more inviting were half the music directors in Christendom fired tomorrow. At least half. Christianity has over the centuries produced a musical heritage without parallel in human history. It is a great pity, for which some are criminally responsible, that most Christians are unaware of it. The circumstance described by Michael Howard in 1974 has dramatically deteriorated since then, and there is no end in sight.

    There now, I feel better having got that off my chest. And please don’t tell me that this comment is too negative, that it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. It is not I who extinguished the candles of our musical legacy. Anyway, as I have had occasion to say before, sometimes it’s helpful to curse the darkness. It keeps us from getting used to it.
    Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, First Things Magazine, Oct. 2000.
     
  2. mioque

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    "I am exposed to the most barbarous of musical kitsch in both Catholic and Protestant camps. Why do such good people indulge such bad music?"
    This could have been said by me.
    Look I'm prejudiced, I like Gregorian choirmusic, I like Mozarts religious work and I love Bach (but that's not unusual, love of "die Mattheus Passion" is part of the Dutch national character).
    But I'm part of that branch of Christianity that is very sound doctrinally speaking, but to my taste is not nearly as solid when it comes to that other sound. Despite the rich tradition of Negro Spirituals that is very baptist, Johannes de Heer is apparently the best I can hope for.
    I want Giuseppe Verdi and what I get is the Christian equivalent of Britney whatshername. :rolleyes:
     
  3. Elk

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    Dear Mike,
    I completely understand where you are coming from.
    One thing that I would like to say, is that many years ago, I had private clarinet instructions with a professional studio musician. He told me that in his career,...what they would do in the studio with a vocalist for example, is find the notes that he/she sang well, and would create songs that were catered to that singer. Consequently, many songs that come out as popular are constructed that way. But the downfall is that because the songs are unique to that voice, the songs are popular because they are unique and not too many people can sing them or sing along.
    I say all that to say, that what I miss so, so very much are just plain pretty songs, simple songs, that one can sing along with.
    As for me, I noticed that much that comes out over the Christian radio are songs that one has a hard time hearing or at least all the song, it seems like one can only catch a phrase or two and the rest is drowned out by drums or other instruments. Then there is the voice that has reached such a perfection and highstandard, that it is all about bellowing out or belting out a song with a voice that turns all angles and twills or whatever one calls that. But for me some of it is not pretty. (I miss pretty. Or, should I say, I miss gentle?) But I would call that what I hear now competitive. In a way, I believe that the Christian world of song has become very competitive, and as a result we lost the pretty, simple songs, where we can go about day to day with a song in our heart, because the songs that we hear now are just to complicated to remember or sing along with.
    But having said all that, I surely do know that there are a lot of exceptions and some pretty good vocalists and bands coming forth. I also like a number of songs that I hear coming out as well. But if I look at it as a whole, I do feel in my heart that I hear just a lot of noise.

    I truly am nostalgic for songs of times gone by. Ones that everyone knows, like Amazing Grace, and the host of songs that go along with ones that people can get in their heart and sing along with.

    I believe in the 1970's for example, people who went into the Christian music industry knew that they would not be making much money in comparison to the secular market. They went in that small market for the Lord.
    It is different today, I believe.

    So, to sum it up, I so desire songs that one can get deep in their heart, not too hard to sing, can remember all the words, and can remember with others when they want to sing, and everyone is familiar with the words. I love that.

    Just speaking from my heart.
     
  4. A_Christian

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    Christian songs and music simply mimic the popular music of the times-----unfortunately, most of it is just tripe, if it really can be considered music at all. Rap for example is
    a beat at best.

    Every area of society seems content with 3rd and 4th best, and anything goes----what you end up with is a general slide into crap...

    My uncle-in-law calls it 7-11 music. Your repeat
    the same 7 words 11 times... Churches need to have a harmonious balance between new and old
    and they may soon find that what congregations really want is variety. They also need to nurture
    standards-----all noise isn't music and campfire
    songs are just that....
     
  5. MikeS

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    What I don't understand is, if we Christians have this incredible message (and I think we do!) then why doesn't our art (e.g. film, music) convey it? It didn't used to be this way! Think Michelangelo, Raphael, Palestrina, Mozart, Bach, etc, etc. And for every master there were a great many others producing quality works that stand the test of time. And all with one-tenth our population or less.

    Is it that our faith is really just tepid bathwater? Is it that we have forgotten how to make great art? Is it that we have become so of-this-world that we can't break free? Is it that we have become artistic cowards? Why are we Christians producing even worse art than the corrupt culture around us?

    If somebody knows of a time in history when more Christians produced fewers works worthy of the glory and praise of Christ and the sanctification of the faithful then I'd like to know about it. I think future generations will see these as the Second Dark Ages and shake their heads in amazement.
     
  6. LarryN

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    This may be a gross over-simplification, but one HUGE reason is that we've chosen to be second-rate. Rather than sending our best-and-brightest would-be filmmakers to the USC Film School to learn the cutting-edge techniques, we train them with antiquated equipment in some obscure Bible College. Or rather than sending our most promising musicians to Juilliard, we rely on old Mrs. Jones, the semi-tone-deaf church organist, to teach them.

    In our well-meaning efforts to separate ourselves from the world, we've also succeeded in separating ourselves from many practical lessons we could take from that world and put to use in building God's Kingdom.

    I hope this doesn't come across as a mean-spirited post, but sometimes the truth about ourselves hurts.
     
  7. pinoybaptist

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    Which is why our people sing Acapella. Just learn to sing the parts (Alto, Bass, Tenor, Soprano) if we can, if not, then just sing with the heart as the musical instrument.

    Off key, on key, does the Lord mind as long as He gets the glory ?
     
  8. Jude

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    What's wrong with 'art' in general these days? Where ARE the Mozarts, Beethoven's and Bach's? Of music in the 'classical' genre, I think that perhaps Ralph Vaughan Williams was the last (dying around '58 or so). I would disagree only in part with the above article, in that their are some contemporary artists making beautiful music, such as Michael Card, Fernando Ortega and a group called Eden's Bridge. The Taize 'movement' is also producing some beautiful music. But they are surely in the minority. Most of the music, most of the writing that comes out of the so-called Christian world is not worth the investment of time or treasure.

    We live in a culture that is deteriorating in many ways-not only in music and art, but architecture, morals, government, and logic, (read Ravi Zacharias' work)which is interesting since we've become so 'advanced' and 'sophisticated'. We don't know what 'beauty' is. We don't know what 'truth' is. We don't know (or want to)how to debate or articulate or own world-views; we simply aren't able to 'see' our own inconsistencies. Our culture is built on 'sand', not on the 'rock' of truth and beauty and logic. The Church should be leading the way in the renewal of the culture, of learning/academia, and art, but it is not.

    Perhaps what many of us are longing for in another Renaissance?
     
  9. Mike McK

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    This all reminds me of a great quote I heard on "King of the Hill" the other night.

    Hank Hill was having an argument with a Christian rock musician his son had become obsessed with.

    The singer explained that this was just his way of spreading "the good news" and that Hank didn't like it because it was new.

    Hank looked at him and said, "But you don't understand - you're not making Christianity better, you're making rock and roll worse".


    I agree completely. This is precisely the sort of thing Francis Schaeffer wrote about before he died.

    Many years ago, the greatest art came from the church because we were committed to changing the world around us.

    Now, we have walled ourselves off in a Christian ghetto to the point that the church is largely irelevant to the world and where "art" and "the church" seem like a contradiction.

    When the best art we can produce is Thomas Kincade prints, the best music is some nineteen year old American Idol wannabe and the best film we can make is "Left Behind" (Kirk Cameron? What, was Jason Bateman not available?) something is terribly, terribly wrong.

    The chuch has abandoned the arts. So I don't think it's any big mystery that the state of the arts in the church should be in such sorry shape.

    Really, it's the law of diminishing returns.

    For all intents and purposes, CCM is "church music" now. Your average CCM'er has been brought up in the church and was probably not influenced at all by either the classics of the faith or the classics of pop music, so he really has no foundation to build on.

    He was brought up on mediocre music so, naturally, he's going to produce mediocre music, even more so.

    As the next generation comes up and copies him, the same thing and so on and so on.

    The best thing that could happen to the church is to see a rebellion against Nashville and corporate interests guiding Christian music, such as the uprising that lead thousands of artists to head for places such as Austin and Key West.

    These mainstream artistsformed their own community, their own record labels and allowed themselves the freedom to make music the way they heard it in their heads, unencumbered by genre, labels or the threat of poor record sales. I guess it takes a lot of pressure off an artist when he knows he's not going to sell any records or see airplay.

    The result of all of this is vibrant innovative music and the creation of a whole new genre (Americana).

    I'm not optimistic about the future of the arts in the church because I just don't believe that anyone, other than perhaps the people in this thread care about it but it can change if we as the church allow it to.
     
  10. SpiritualMadMan

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    The Question: Why does the Christian music industry produce such tripe?

    Because people buy it? Both monetarily and theologically?

    People settle for exuberant times of 'praise' thinking they've worshiped because they worked up a sweat.

    People accept entertainment instead of an encounter with a Holy God.

    Most CCM is mere entertainment. Most of the current crop of Praise and Worship tunes is CCM.

    Worse it is accepted as 'Worship' without any Spiritual Discernment of the message of the lyrics or the direction it takes the worshiper in.

    I am not concerned about style so much as 'direction of heart' of the composition.

    Some people can Praise to a Rock beat. Some can't. Some people can meditate on God with the 'Olde Hymns'.

    There are some I love and enjoy singing. When I can do so well. But, I can't stand music of any kind that denigrates Jesus. Or, is sung like a funeral dirge.

    The 'Olde Hymns' are too majestic and too full of life to be requited to a totally sad and somber service of unwilling conscripts.

    No, give me a hymn sung like the life it portrays and I will willingly and gladly participate.

    And, that is why the music keeps coming out. There are no reasonable alternatives. Songs that speak to todays generation.

    Anyone one who is given a choice of hearing a song lead by a stuffy old coot who is half dead physically and probably half dead spiritually or songs that you hear everyday on Christian Radio...

    Well, even though I like the Olde Hymns... I'll choose life. [​IMG]
     
  11. MikeS

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    I appreciate everyone's comments in this thread. Let me offer one additional thought. It's been suggested that Christian music is bad because the Christian community has walled itself off from the outside world. Well, Catholic music in the last 30-40 years did exactly the opposite, trying to appeal to the outside world and incorporate the outside world. And, the results were just about identical in both cases! Hmmm...
     
  12. Jude

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    Actually, I think that the RC's begant the movement toward 'contemporary' liturgical/worship music. And, I don't think they tried to 'market' it at all. BTW, the RCC IS actually growing. That said, they have 'dumb-downed' their liturgy, a great loss, IMHO.
     
  13. InTheNameOfLove

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    I personally don't care how lacking in musicality it is, (big step for me)if it worships Christ, that's all that matters. Concentrating to much on the music itself gets away from the heart of worship.
     
  14. Roy

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    Baptist churches used to stress the necessity of a Divine calling on one's life in order for that individual to be involved in a ministry, such as song-writing. Some of today's Christian music may have been produced by individuals who are simply fishing for something that will strike a harmonious chord with a number of people, and will sell real well in stores.

    I have about given up on Southern Gospel because it wears me out to listen to it. Much of it sounds like words that were taken from a Sunday school quarterly and put to music. In some places the words are long and drawn out in order to fit within a certain frame. In other parts of the song the words are sang in a rapid-fire manner, just to get them all in before the music runs out. And a large percentage of those songs end with a long, loud final note. Not being a music man, I can't describe it any better than this.

    Roy
     
  15. MikeS

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    Well, I would only respond that bad music gets in the way of worship more thoroughly than just about anything else I can think of. It's hard to worship God when you're cringing in embarrassment, gritting your teeth in annoyance, and thinking very un-Christian thoughts about the music ministers. Bad music is a stinkbomb in worship. IMO.
     
  16. mioque

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    "Bad music is a stinkbomb in worship."
    Seconded.
     
  17. SpiritualMadMan

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    A hearty Third... Motion is carried! :D

    Of course, what counts as bad is subjective in many respects. Subject to background, culture, and musical tastes.

    However, to a musician, especially a 'cross-bred' who can enjoy 'good' music...

    If the instruments are out of tune, if the tempo is choppy, or changes in places it doesn't musically make sense... Well you get my drift?

    What really irks me is Music Ministers or Song Leaders who thinks they are there to show off their 3 octave operatic trained voice.

    Which I don't have.

    Which leaves me so caught up in keeping up... I couldn't possibly worship no matter how much I wanted to!

    I don't care how melodious, how musically correct, or how fitting a song is... If the general congregation can't relax and 'enter-in', it's BAD MUSIC.

    If you're that good then Praise God 'Facing the Wall' as Don Potter would say it.

    But, if you go into a Contemporary setting and play Olde Hymns drearily... Then that's bad music.

    If I as a Hosanna Style Leader went into a 'Quiet' church and did songs like 'Stand Up And Give Him the Praise' or 'Lift Him Up'... That would be bad music.

    Unless I was giving a 'concert' and sharing with them where *I* was at. But, even I would have to admit that, that would not 'minister' to many 'quiet' types.

    Music that inspires God's People to meditate on Him and Praise His Holy Name... That's good music.

    No matter the genre.
     
  18. Jude

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  19. ephesian

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    "Baptist churches used to stress the necessity of a Divine calling on one's life in order for that individual to be involved in a ministry, such as song-writing. Some of today's Christian music may have been produced by individuals who are simply fishing for something that will strike a harmonious chord with a number of people, and will sell real well in stores."

    Couldn't agree more... [​IMG]
     

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