Thursday, February 19, 2015
Why contemporary music?
Where there's so-called "contemporary worship" in Christian churches, Christian contemporary music isn't far behind. Called CCM in the music business, there are many perfectly fair criticisms that can be laid at the feet of that genre.
Much CCM sounds copy-cat, one worship song a U2 ripoff, another more of an Eagles sensibility, then you hear a hip hop shout-out to the Gospel that has an uncomfortable similarity to Vanilla Ice. And so on.
There are groups that have crafted their own unique sound (I think the Newsboys are unmistakably pop, but clearly their own, and Natalie Grant is no more an echo than any other female soloist recording, to pick two recent acts hosted here in Newark), and there are those who used CCM as a stepping stone, like Katy Perry, to broader recording success.
What many who prefer a more traditional sound don't understand is that CCM is not a monolith. You may, if you attend worship long enough at any one place, hear "Now Is the Time For Worship" or "Shout to the Lord" almost anywhere, but in one worship center you'll hear it with a more hard rock edge, and at another auditorium, rented or owned by the congregation coming together, you might hear that same song in a more acoustic or even folk sound.
You can call it imitation, or you might hear it as diversity, but there's a branch of CCM to almost every taste.
While my own preferences lean to the more traditional, seasoned by solos and ensembles praising the Lord in different genres (I'd love to have bluegrass service some fine day), what I like to remind folks, especially folks within the churches who reach across to criticize their contemporary style worship and music brothers and sisters, is simply this: most of what you love was once contemporary music.
Isaac Watts was considered low and vulgar when his hymnal came out . . . you know, "Joy to the World"? Even today's classics like "In the Garden" and "Old Rugged Cross" were first heard a century ago as too close to popular music styles, a hint of the bar or tavern more than Bach and Buxtehude more properly played on the pipe organ.
"Poor Wayfaring Stranger" and "Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley" come from folk roots that grow from American soil, and a more recent (historically speaking) layer of church tradition. And even that old Bach was heard with some skepticism by the old guard in his day.
True, much of today's contemporary music will be forgotten in another generation. But pick up a hymnal from the 1840s and be amazed at how few words ring a bell. The format is familiar, but the rhythms and tunes didn't all stick around. A few, but not many. History sifts and selects, and our today is tomorrow's dust bin.
I have my suspicions about which of today's tunes will last into another century. "Blessings" by Laura Story is one, "Revelation" by Mac Powell of Third Day is another. But I not only may be wrong, I may be one of those people asking, some decades hence, "why aren't you still using that song in worship?" as the younger worship leaders quietly shake their heads.
Plus there's context: would "How Great Thou Art" just be another forgotten song, a Swedish tune and obscure poem joined to make one of those hymns you thumb past, if it wasn't for the singing of George Beverly Shea at the conclusion of another powerful Billy Graham sermon? You might say now you can't imagine your faith without that hymn in your spiritual hip pocket, but there's a reason it came to the awareness of so many. And why it's now so often part of memorial services and celebrations.
The constant is music itself. A capella, with a jazz combo, or even if a poorly tuned upright piano played with hesitation is all you have – the music, and the voices lifted in song as prayers are lifted to the presence of God. The melodies that weave our physical experience together into something inexpressible, but singable, and the harmonies that hint of what God's great intention for creation truly is.
Music, of one sort or another, will always be part of worship.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him your favorite worship song at email@example.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.
Monday, February 16, 2015
Notes From My Knapsack 2-19-15
A Body in the Well (pt. 2)
"What is going on with Mister Mirk?" asked William Gavit.
Sarah Gavit almost jumped into the fireplace; she had been married to the man for almost thirty years, but was still not used to how quietly he could move through a creaky timber frame house. She put it down to his youth spent at sea, in the waters around Long Island Sound, but it was disconcerting even so.
Rising up from the kettle by the hearth, she turned and answered "It's no story I know yet, but will be his to tell when he returns. Someone west of the village had a mishap, and they sent a runner to bring him there."
William rubbed his clean-shaven chin, a chin cleaner shaven than it had been since Hezekiah Mirk came to town, as many would say now about his skills as a cutler and barber. "I thought I heard a clamor in the street clambering onto our porch. So he's gone already?"
"Yes, with the boy who raised the outcry, all out of breath. Hurried off without me offering him even a bite of cornmeal mush and maple syrup."
Gavit smiled at his wife. "That is indeed unlike you."
He kissed her cheek as she turned back to her cast-iron kettles, and walked on out onto the porch of his home and tavern, an occasional creak marking his passage, no matter how light-footed the big man might be.
This home was not even as old as the village, less than ten years, but William knew it needed work, if not replacing. Brother Case and old Warner were looking to build in brick, but these fresh cut planks and beams were some of the first and proudest work of the original mill for the community, over on Clear Run, and he liked it right down to the creaking. It reminded him of how much what he had here was the work of his hands, unlike back in Massachusetts where so much was borrowed or leased or owed upon.
With the sun's light now rising clear of Orchard Hill to the east, the porch was downright warm, not that Gavit had any plan to sit and bask in the glow. His guests had left for the road, his boarder was away on business he'd hear of soon enough, and it was time to sit the children down in the big front room, once Sarah was done with the dishes, and begin lessons. Their older children were already apprenticed around the village, but the youngest three had their tables and telling to master. A schoolhouse was in place, catty-cornered across the public square, but Gavit was of no mind to wait until a new teacher made it to town in the spring.
He glanced over to his right, and saw the heavy canvas bundle rolled out at the porch's southern end, Mister Mirk's files and rasps and other tools laid out and gleaming in the sun. Once William had asked his boarder about securing his tools, to which Hezekiah Mirk had answered with a wry smile "And whom would steal these, and to what end? All know they are mine, only I know their use in full, and to sell them no one would have coin or specie to trade."
When Gavit nodded slowly at this, Mirk added "As well, each has an H and a K struck into their tang or handles. Only a fool would steal these."
"True," Gavit replied, "but there are more fools arriving in the west country every day."
Then, Mirk had shrugged and went back to his work of sharpening other men's blades. Now, Gavit thought about rolling up and tying up the bundle of tools, but after these last few weeks, he still didn't feel he knew his boarder well enough to handle his tools without permission, whatever his intention.
Leaving them in place, he went back inside and called his children down from the loft. Time enough to take the measure of this still-newcomer to their village.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him what you'd like to learn about Granville history at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.