Yesterday I was having a conversation with my father about his latest trip to the middle of the heartland, Center, MO. He was preaching a revival there over the past 4 days. As always, him and my mom come back with tons of stories about the trip and the services. He started to tell me about a guy there that really surprised him. He is 23 years old and seems to be a really solid Christian leader already, and has the possibility to do some amazing things as he continues to grow. One of the things that my dad thought was really cool was his choice of songs during one of the nights where he led worship. He said that out of the 5 songs they sang that night, three of them were straight hymns. Not even the new modified kinds (like My Chains are Gone or The Wonderful Cross). It was the actual “let’s sing all 5 verses of this one” hymns. He thought it was amazing. Even more amazing was the fact that the church, which happened to be filled with college students from HLG, were singing right along knowing the words as if they were around when the song first came out.

Sunday night while meeting with a group of worship leaders we were talking about how it seems that some people are maybe moving away from some of the things that we tend to rely on or hold to in today’s worship culture. And it seems that some of the younger people are leading that charge. There seems to be a shift starting that is moving away from a lot of the production and moving to some more “organic”, “grassroots” type approaches.

Both of these conversations started me to thinking. Sometimes that can be a scary situation, but I don’t think it is THIS time. Anyway, here’s the question(s) of the day. Is there really a worship music shelf life? And what makes the timeless classics so timeless? And if every time we have some sort of revelation we go back to these classics, why do we keep leaving them in the first place?

It seems that people may be asking these questions without actually asking these questions. Or maybe they are asking these questions and I just haven’t heard anything about it yet. For me, it seems like worship music has a shelf life. They can be in a heavy rotation and eventually get to the point where they aren’t as effective because people get tired of hearing them. Or do they? I tend to think that sometimes it’s the musicians and the people playing the music that get to the saturation point of a song before a congregation will. So who’s creating this shelf life? Well, before I take that tangent, I believe I just figured out what question will fuel tomorrow’s post. Anyway… whenever there seems to be some sort of reawakening or shift from the norm, it always appears to be centered around the hymns from the past. Then we find some sort of way to reintroduce them to a new generation of listeners. It had happened before this, but in 2003 there seemed to be another big push when Passion came out with their Hymns Ancient and Modern CD. A lot of the hymn arrangements we sing today came from that CD. A lot of the hymn arrangements that have been made today have been birthed from that CD project. There was a return to the classics. It now seems that another turn is coming, but even in a more…primitive(?) way than before. Groups like Mumford & Sons and some others are making the banjo cool again to the point that people are using them in everything. There aren’t many acoustic/electric banjos out there (or maybe there are now), so they cause you to take more of an unplugged approach to worship. So it seems like we are wrapped in the forming of a new circle yet again.

So why is it that we keep running away from the classics, only to come back to them after we get tired of whatever is out at the time? Could it be that we aren’t satisfied with what we are putting out? Or is it more of going back for inspiration? In the never-ending search for truth, is it possible that we realize that our musical truths have been there all along? Are we using the truths in the words of those old songs to provide us with the energy and foundation to write new songs? I think it should. I hope it is. Whatever it is, it can’t be denied that it seems like we may be in the midst of another worship genre turn. I wonder what that’s going to look like? What will my worship sets look like in 3 years? Well, if I’m still writing in that time, I’ll be posting those set lists.

What do you think about these questions? Do you see this? Has it been this way for awhile and I’m just now seeing/saying something about it?

 

  1. Nick Nelson Said,

    Trends are always cyclical. The fashion industry is an excellent example of this, where every few years styles from a particular decade come back around, but in a new way. Trends in worship music are similar. Using the two examples you cited, it could be argued that the trend for hymns is not based on an organic movement springing up, but rather from two major entities pushing this particular idea/agenda (said entities being the passion hymns cd and mumford and sons).

    Worship music always follows the same pattern: a new style is introduced, career christians in the church resist the new style, the new style is eventually met with reluctant acceptance, and then when enough time has passed the “new” style is used to stifle the growth of newer styles that come up after it.

    There isn’t a radio station for “classic christian” music. There isn’t a christian equivalent of KSHE95, and even in the church itself we dont sing songs that congregations from the 1st (or even the 10th) century sang, nor should we. Growth and change is always rooted in the creation and implementation of new ideas and concepts, and any rehash of the way things used to be is just an attempt to “bring back the good old days.” This applies to worship music as well.

  2. Charlie Said,

    You bring up a lot of items worth discussing. Probably enough topics to write several blog posts about.
    1. What makes a classic, classic?
    2. Why do we always go back to the classics?
    3. Who is deciding what the shelf life relevant worship music in the church? I would raise that question to who decides relevant music period?

    Other questions I would ask that I think answer some of the one’s you posed.
    1. How does old music influence new music?
    2. If everything is a remix (copy, transform, combine) are there in fact remnants of old music in today’s modern music? If so then are there future classics in our midst right now?
    3. Is it the music content, the lyrical content or both that makes “classic” music stick with us for so long?

    I think we need modern interpretation of older music. I also think we need people who are trying to express themselves from scratch. Even though deep down they are expressing previous influence, probably from older music…

    For instance, I had never heard of Buddy Guy, Doyle Bramhal, or Elmore James until I heard Stevie Ray Vaughn bring their music to life for me. Stevie took older music and interpreted it through a rich modern sound with his precision on the fret board. But, after listening to Stevie I went back and started listening to those other guys, and then realized how much they, and others, influenced today’s blues and rock music.

    I don’t think we abandon classics as much as we search for our own identity. We need the classics but we don’t want to be the classics. We need to be something that is unique to ourselves. We have a built in desire to create, our God gave us that gift. So sometimes we want to make something from nothing and for it to be only us who created it. What we realize so often on the way is that we are all created in God’s image and that creation has a common thread that has woven all of it together. In that thread lies millineums of expression that speak to that commonality. Whether it be worship music that speaks to the character of God or a blues song that expresses the pain of heart break. Those things that are core to our humanity will last the test of time and will be expressed forever.

    Even as we search for our individualism it is futile to abandon what makes us persons.

  3. worship180 Said,

    Well said, both of you. I believe that it is the music of the past that allows us to create what we have today. Sometimes I feel like people are saying that the last generation or two wrote music that was so good that there isn’t a need for anything else. I’m like, “Really?”

  4. Michael Chance Said,

    Nick – actually, if you go to a Greek Orthodox service, you’ll hear a lot of 1st to 5th century Christian music. Many Catholic masses have a lot of Gregorian chant, still. The current United Methodist hymnal is full of music from across all the two millenium of Christianity. We’re still singing those old hymns (and even older psalms) because they still reveal the truth of the Gospel and what it means to live a Christian life.

    Like any musical genre, Christian music of any age usually only has a handful of songs that stand up to the test of time. Look at a hymnal from the late 19th century, and you may find only a dozen, at most, that are in today’s. Charles Wesley wrote over 6000 hymns; Isaac Watts wrote over 750; Bach wrote nearly 200 chorales and sacred songs – today, we only regularly hear a handful of the works of these great masters of sacred music. The same will be true of Chris Tomlin, Stuart Townend, Dave Crowder, Rebecca St. James, and the rest of today’s CCM mega-stars.

    What makes a sacred song or hymn a “classic”? A lot of things, but, at it’s core, it has to be fundamentally faithful to the Bible, and to the tenents of the Christian faith that have remained the bedrock that the Church has rested on for the past 2000 years. Then you can add in things like singability, metre, rhythm and rhyme, lyricism, etc.

    There is a movement out there, lead by the younger folk, back to a much deeper, richer worship experience, not just with music, but also with liturgy. I don’t know what shape it’s going to finally take, but I’m looking forward to watching it grow.

  5. Blog Archive » Worship Music Shelf Life and Timeless Classics | Christian Music Jukebox Said,

    […] Google Blog Source- Christian Music There isn’t a radio station for “ classic christian ” music . There isn’t a christian equivalent of KSHE95, and even in the church itself we dont sing songs that congregations from the 1st (or even the 10th) century sang, nor should  … […]

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