Comments on music style & quality (1)

Speaking from my own heart now, on style . . . following three installments from Erik Routley on contemporary “pop” styles from decades ago. . . .

I might still perk up when song quality is the subject of Christian discussion, but, frankly, I grew weary of assessments of musical style several years ago. ¹

In my corner of Christendom, I was part of the move toward including contemporary music before it was common knowledge that there were “worship wars” going on, and I stayed in those trenches for a decade or more.  I went to conferences, and I consumed music products, and I thought, and I wrote.  I wrote and arranged songs, and I wrote letters and e-mails to others, in dialogue about songs and the worship of the church.  I published a digest on worship (a good deal of material about church music) that ended up going to a mailing list of nearly 200.  I visited churches of other stripes . . . oh, did I visit churches . . . sometimes 2 or 3 in a day.  I created transparencies (later, PowerPoints) and supplemental songbooks.  (A finance/treasurer deacon-friend expressed a little good-natured jealousy, because he perceived I was deacon-ing in ways that mattered more for the kingdom than the things he, the official deacon, was doing.)

Now, my eyes gloss over when people talk enthusiastically about new songs (or older songs, for that matter).  The new songs I’ve seen used haven’t done anything more for the souls, over the long haul, than the good, older songs had.  I mentally and spiritually turn away from any discussions in which believers even begin to hint that one style group might be set over another.  It’s all so terribly “old hat.”  Often, those discussing things like this don’t even know whereof they speak, anyway.

Yeah, there’s that “cultural relevance” thing, but I find no lasting value in the pursuit of contemporary music.  Nor do I find that the tiny number of stalwarts who have steadfastly dug in around true hymns are any more spiritually minded, overall, than the other group.  This latter group is probably more classy and more staid (read:  less likely to have body piercings or tattoos or to wear skinny jeans), but not necessarily more God-minded.  I certainly reserve no first-class berth on the kingdom train for those who were weaned on Stamps-Baxter music or who find 19th-century gospel songs and heaven songs to express soul-longings better than either the “contemporary” type or the “hymn” type.

While I was more actively advocating songs written in our era, I never abandoned a love of the time-tested poetry of hymns.  (Here, “hymns” refers to a large group of songs that excludes gospel songs with a “refrain” or “chorus.”)  I miss the full-hearted, full-harmonied singing of the likes of . . .

O Sacred Head

Lord of All Being, Throned Afar

Father of Mercies

Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee

Father and Friend, Thy Light, Thy Love

Holy, Holy, Holy

Majestic Sweetness

In fact, my weary soul longs for songs like those.  Remember, please, that I love some of the newer songs, and I advocated them for quite a while.  I’ve written more songs myself in a contemporary Christian style than in a hymnic style.  But the above songs are what my soul needs now.  They also happen to be hymns in every sense of the word.  I wouldn’t say that all the musical particulars of all those songs are equal in terms of quality, but they are of similar musical style and form.  And I miss them, because no one sings them, and I miss them.  (Did I mention that I miss them?)

B. Casey, 5/17/15

[To be continued]

A related, recent post

¹ There are other subjects of which I’m just as weary, for different reasons.  Try women’s roles, sermons, fellowship meals, church signs, and the King James version, for starters.


4 thoughts on “Comments on music style & quality (1)

  1. Brian Casey 06/04/2015 / 8:07 pm

    [via Facebook]
    MW Bassford: I’m glad that there is at least one other person on the planet who loves “Father and Friend, Thy Light, Thy Love”. I urged the _PHASS_ editors to include it, but I did not succeed in carrying the point.

    My own convictions on the subject are that hymn style doesn’t matter very much, but hymn content matters a great deal. A hymn has to have enough spiritual substance that the worshiper can use it to form a connection with God. Probably the most humbling conversations I’ve ever had are when somebody comes to me and says, “My son committed suicide, but your hymn helped me to get through it,” or, “My baby died three days after she was born, and it was your hymn that kept me going.” By contrast, most offerings from most genres are like the girl you date but don’t marry. They’re fun but not meaningful.


    • Brian Casey 06/04/2015 / 8:10 pm

      “Father and Friend” is probably still tops for me, and “Lord of All Being,” 2nd or 3rd. A few more comments are coming on the former.

      Loved the “girl you date but don’t marry” quip, too!


  2. godschildrenorg 06/04/2015 / 8:16 pm

    I have grown/been stretched to where I appreciate many kinds of music. However, you listed some of my most favorite songs. We were accused of being “high church” like that was something not acceptable??? I’ve downloaded most of the ACU Alumni Reunion Chorus CDs, thus I have many of those songs on my computer. Sometimes I find these songs on YouTube. On Good Friday in Holland, churches still perform Bach’s Passion of Matthew. Next time we’re in the same area, let’s see if we can put together at least 4 or more who appreciate those beautiful, worshipful songs, and sing, sing, sing!


    • Brian Casey 06/08/2015 / 7:36 am

      In denominational context, I’m pretty sure I know what you mean about not being accepted and being accused of being “high church.” (I don’t really accept “high church” as a package, either!) We of course share a lot of appreciation of the common heritage in the ACU and Harding musical contexts. I had so much Bach for a half-decade, though, that I need more time away from him before intentionally listening to much of his music again. 🙂


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