This is the second of five articles:
Current and Future Worship Trends- My Vision
Current and Future Worship Trends- My Vision
In the previous article, I dealt with a brief history of the music of Western civilization and its current use in contemporary worship. Here, I would like to set forth a vision of what music could be in the context of worship.
As stated in the earlier article, the strengths of musical composition from the great masters of the European classical genres have been all but lost in our current-day pop styles. It does exist in the ivory tower universities, studied both historically, as well as serving as a model for current contemporary Classical composition. This composition, however, is still generally created with little or no concern for contemporary culture, or relevance to the common listener. It is usually an exercise in theory and innovation, while lacking in communication.
So we see a divergence in music between what is highly intelligent by design (but lacking relevance) in modern Classical composition, on one hand; and, on the other hand, that which is culturally accepted, excessively emotional (to the point of baseness), lacking in artistic excellence, but having mass appeal.
Again, from the previous article, we saw another divergent set of paradigms. On the one hand, there is art produced by the non-Christian, secular realm, which is usually born out of rebellion to a previously established standard; while on the other hand, art produced by the Christian community is more cautious and reactionary to the culture, accepting what the secular artist has produced only after the ‘shock-value’ has worn off enough to be acceptable in current worship.
I have meditated on why the Christian community seems to always be behind the secular realm by approximately one generation. Perhaps it’s because there is a bigger industry machine among secular artists, which gives them a larger ‘voice’ to establish pop culture. Perhaps the secular artist is constrained by no one but himself, so he feels a freedom to create with reckless abandon, without having to ask himself, “is this pleasing to God”, or “I wonder if the Church will relate to this”. Instead, the secular artist seems to have nothing to lose, so experimentation is higher.
Perhaps, more than anything, however, is that most new art-forms emerge from an attitude of rebellion to a previously established cultural norm. Every generation seeks to identify itself as unique. The best way to do this is through music. If the music is different, and becomes a rallying point to the young generation of listeners, then they have successfully established an identity separate and distinct from their parents, who are now seen as ‘old-fashioned’.
An example of this happened several hundred years ago, with J.S. Bach and his sons J.C. Bach and C.P.E. Bach. J.S. Bach taught all of his large family music in some way; however, his two sons, Johann Christian and Carl Phillipp Emmanuel, went on to become historically known composers. J.S. Bach defined and created what we know today as the Baroque style. His sons, however, became enamored with a new style, which emerged at that time, called Rococo. The two styles were quite different from each other. The Baroque style of J.S. Bach’s music was highly organized and contrapuntal, with multiple melodic lines, juxtaposed against each other, while the Rococo style was significantly simpler, with single melodic lines and some simple accompaniments. The sons criticized their teacher and father for being old-fashioned and unwilling to yield to the new style of the day. History, however, showed that father Bach’s craftsmanship and integrity dwarfed the new style, which now, of course, is also old.
This paradigm of the younger generation ‘taking over’ is common throughout history. Great art doesn’t have to be that way, however.
While Beethoven’s earliest works are indistinguishable from Mozart’s, his respect for what Mozart had established gave him a foundation on which he built something completely unique, pushing music history into a new Romanticism style, not out of rebellion, but rather out of respect for what had come before him. Brahms, similarly, had such a great respect for his predecessor, Beethoven, felt that his own works, by comparison, were inferior to such a great master. Brahms, however, established yet another organic outgrowth of style from what had been established from the foundation Beethoven had built. Examples, of composers who had respect for works of historic importance, are seen to be far more lasting in their historic impact than those who were merely searching for a new cultural style with which to be associated. Even the great J.S. Bach, as a young man, strained to get his hands on the manuscripts of his predecessor, Vivaldi, for study.
Historic embrace, not rebellion, is the seed-bed of high artistic achievement.
It seems today, however, that new styles emerge from an iconoclastic youthful culture, in search of an identity, replete with drug abuse, illicit sex, and an attitude of high anarchy. After the shock value of this explosion of lust, the debris from the shrapnel leaves behind mass death and chaos. Those who somehow escape from total destruction end up searching for something deeper, more meaningful, more traditional. They search for God, church, and family. But, because of its powerful influence, they still love the musical styles from their past. After a generation of time passes, they find themselves in church, wanting to worship God with styles of music they grew up with in their younger years. Hence, we see a 20 year gap from the musical styles of the world, finally filtering into the Church.
The Church, which sees its main objective as reaching the culture, generally doesn’t care about artistic excellence in music, as long as the music and artistic styles of the day reach the most number of people possible with the message of the Gospel.
While following the art of the culture, however, some churches don’t seem to realize that they are dangerously close to simultaneously imbibing the culture’s moral decay, as well.
As the morality and the art of the culture continue to spiral downward, the Church attaching itself to the cultural norms of the day, runs the risk of being pulled downward and out of control, along with the world.
Current statistics seem to show little difference in the morality of the Church versus the morality of the secular culture. As we embrace the art of the culture, it becomes difficult to separate ourselves from the attitudes of that culture, from which the art came. Conscientious churches, aware of this dilemma, will weigh carefully what aspects of current culture they will allow.
So, we see two divergences: 1) A split between what is highly crafted, on one hand, and that which is emotionally charged, but generally tending toward baseness, on the other; and, 2) A split between what is secularly innovative, on one hand, and that which is culturally re-active and careful in Christian worship, on the other.
A New Stage
There is yet a third divergence. It is caused by the advances of technology.
Technology, in all of its blessings, has created many new problems. One of those problems deals with what it means to be a ‘community’. Particularly, in this discussion, in music, what does it mean to be a ‘community’?
The stage that music has stood on has been the same stage since the beginning of artistic expression. But in the last one hundred years, the platform on which it stands has seen some immense changes.
From the Greek Amphitheater to Wagner’s Opera House, there is little significant change. That time period represents approximately 2,000 years. Since the beginning of the Twentieth Century, however, the stage music is played on has gone through a metamorphosis.
In the early part of the Twentieth Century, electricity allowed the microphone to be used on the platform as Big Bands began to replace Symphony Orchestras, and a few vocalists could be heard using microphones, instead of needing a 100-voice choir to do the job. The radio became the modern stage. The wooden acoustical stage was still there, but it was modified with microphones to carry its music to a much wider audience than what would fit in the studio.
More electronic mediums began to be used, as electric guitars and electric pianos started to edge out the Big Band brass instruments. The Recording Industry began to burgeon. Soon Rock and Roll was the art-form, using nearly all electric instruments and vocal microphones. (No need for a stage now, just use a garage.) A traveling stage became the norm, easily set up for view, but all music came through the sound system. The “Sound Re-enforcement” system of the past was no longer just for re-enforcement. Rather, it now housed all aspects of the created sound. Nothing acoustic came from the platform any longer. Even with the ‘bigger than life’ concerts, using light-shows, lasers and fog, the sale of recorded albums was what generated the greatest audience and income. The record player, eight-track tape and CD were the ‘stages’ most frequented to that musical style.
Now, with computer technology, the recording studios and even Major Record Labels are beginning to diminish, as software programs can do everything that a high-end recording studio could do just ten years ago, at only a fraction of the cost. This shift effectively brings a high level of creativity to the individual, with a recording studio in one’s own home. At the same time Internet access, with You-Tube and I-Tunes, brings the capability of sharing this creativity to the world. The modern ‘stage’ today is the Internet, and its performers are the world’s population.
It is amazing that artists and churches still hang on to the stages of the past as their primary platform of communication, when the world is at their fingertips.
Community is the question, however, both for the art of music, as well as the meaning of the Church.
The stage of a hundred years ago enjoyed greater community participation than the stage of today. Players would feel the expression of one another, as they simultaneously made music together, while choir members would bask in the sound created by standing next to one another. A musical concert, completely acoustic in nature, was felt by all who participated in this enclosed room. Everyone impacted everything. Even the audience’s response could shift the event one way or the other. It was a fragile environment, hanging on the string of a solo violin not breaking. When everyone left the room, they carried the same feeling, and knew that they had been part of history.
Today, everything is pre-planned, pre-programmed for mass appeal, to be marketed to the world. Everything can be highly polished and professional. The miracle of modern technology is that a computer can create sounds that orchestras had to rehearse for weeks to produce. What was excellent in a corner in the past, only viewable to a few, is now available to the world.
However, with all of the modern capability for creativity, it is interesting that so much of it sounds the same. Where is the originality and the creativity, with all the genius tools available?
It seems that the easier we have made the process of creativity, the more we take it for granted. How is it that J.S. Bach created, with his small consort, multiple times more music than the most prolific writers of our day?
So, we have this third divergence between art created for the stage of yesterday, which inspired great community and diversity, on one hand; and on the other hand, we have technologically huge resources, which, while giving us the tools of professionalism and potentially high artistic achievement, tend toward isolation and non-diversity.
Perhaps technology will grow to be more inclusive and diverse. There are already trends in this direction. As the Major Record Labels are struggling to survive, individuals are being allowed more freedom of creativity, not falling prey to the Industry Giants’ control of their artistic decisions. Software is becoming easier to use for the common home computer user. Communication over the Internet is becoming easier and more casual. Music recording is now being done simultaneously over the Internet: one player is in L.A., while at the same time recording with another player in New York. This type of development will continue to yield an easier sense of community among technology participants.
To summarize, there are three divergent paradigms that I would like to resolve, for the sake of future musical composition and artistic ministry involvement: 1) The artistic integrity and technique of the Great Masters versus the Contemporary relevant styles of current culture 2) The Sacred ‘guardedness’ of style and procrastination of historic advances, versus Secular careless experimentation, and 3) The sense of community experienced on past ‘stages’, versus the technological advances of our day.
The issues above may seem impossible to reconcile. I believe, however, that they not only can be, but should be reconciled.
We have, today, people on the extremes of these concepts.
On the one hand, we have the university professor, holding the high standards of Classical music, much like a wax museum holds a three-dimensional picture of how things used to be. On the other hand, we have the garage-band guy, wanting some recognition like the people he watches on M-TV or You-Tube videos, but having only enough discipline to learn a few chords on his guitar.
We have ‘Contemporary’ music in modern-day mega-churches that tout being on the forefront of new ‘God-breathed’ styles, while all they are is a carbon-copy of what was produced a generation ago. All the while, the reckless music artists of today are establishing the social norms of our current secular culture (and tomorrow’s Church culture), and are dying of drug-overdose, un-reached by a moral, compassionate Church.
On one hand, we have a sense of community in Church gatherings, as we worship together, while no-one knows about us. At the same time greater communication possibilities are available than ever before, yet everyone seems to be saying the same thing, with no unique artistic voice.
To summarize further, I desire to see the reconciliation of: 1) Past tools of musical excellence and craft with current culturally relevant styles, 2) A Church with a morally guarded social and artistic culture with culturally transforming, trend-setting artistry, and 3) Maintaining and guarding a sense of community, while communicating and influencing on a global level.