MWM: Standards in church music (2)

This is an installment in the periodic Monday Worship Music series which looks at hymns and other topics related to worship music of the church.  Other, related posts may be found here.

No longer feeling that I should “hold forth” personally on the status quo in Christian music, I’ll offer, here, some more of someone else’s critiques of music standards—particularly those that pertain to a past generation’s “pop” church music.  This author, Erik Routley, was a musicologist and English minister, and I recently pulled his book Twentieth-Century Church Music off my shelves.

This is why in “pop” there is a legitimate exaggeration, even caricature, of colour and emotion.  It is vulgar.  Of course it is vulgar!  It is as vulgar as the exaggerated colours of an advertisement for detergent.  It is designed to make an immediate impact and then go its way.  To repeat it, to go on wallowing in it, is like putting up that advertisement for detergent in your drawing-room and keeping it there thirty years.

. . .

It was therefore, surely, a mistake for the Billy Graham crusaders to build into their montage so much music which was the “pop” of two generations ago.  It would have been far more encouraging, and the crusade would have kept, instead of forfeiting, the attention of many more responsible Christians, had this principle been observed, and had it produced a “pop” music of its own which was not designed to be perpetuated.  The great error was in presenting the Christian faith as something whose image in music was the second-rate and second-hand. . . .

“The Old Rugged Cross” may not be in itself bad music—there is really no way of finally judging that it is bad music:  but the use of it today is quite certainly bad, because it so clearly presents the qualities of transient “pop”—exaggerated emotion, over-ripe fervour,  whose repeated use makes the whole process artificial and intellectually corrupt.

. . .

[Another writer notes that a genre of gospel songs] “can still be regarded as the ‘nursery songs of the gospel,’ and could have their place in the home.  But to the committed Christian they are hardly austere enough. . . .  Spiritual growth requires a music heard with voluntary rather than involuntary attention.”     (emph. mine  -bc)

. . .

On the one hand, “pop” is natural, accessible, and gives expression to the feelings of ordinary people who are without culture (secular or religious).  It is a means of making contact with such people.  It is transient, but this need not prevent it from having moments of greatness.  It is emotionally confused, but this does not prevent its speaking now and again with clarity.

Routley’s sometimes-stinging critiques are in my estimation often well founded and well illustrated, but I thought rather weak his suggestion that Billy Graham’s musicians should have inaugurated their own ephemeral “pop.”  What’s to say that that fabricated Graham-Shea sub-genre would have been any less second-rate?  And who really thinks his/her pop music is going to be around for very long, anyway?

[ To be continued next Monday . . . ]


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