Today, I was perusing Spotify, looking for tasty musical treats to satisfy my melodic palate. I have a playlist labelled “Hymns and Worship”, and I like to include adaptions of old hymns on this list. The old hymns have incredibly rich theological content but for the contemporary music taste, sometimes they need to be livened up a little bit. (Side note before I get into the meat of this post: my mom arranges and updates hymns as part of her musical magic. Check out her website for some great hymns: www.PraiseNotes.com).
As I was on this musical journey earlier today, I ran into a problem. Obviously, when you are searching for new adaptions of old music, you’re bound to find versions that you just don’t care for. I get that; it’s a consequence of looking for something new. My problem occurred when I once again came to the conclusion that much of what “Christian music” has to offer is a watered down mush that has no distinctive qualities. Every song that I came across started the same way. Maybe you’ll recognize it…a somewhat ethereal synth chord echoes out over the barren landscape of the forming song… tremulous guitar notes start pinging away, like rain drops on a tin roof. A rich baritone male voice starts slowly intoning the words (or, if you’re in the mood, a harmonious female alto) at half the intended tempo. It sounds like a nice song, right? Except when it is the intro for almost every. single. Christian. song. ever.
I was looking for hymns because I love the words and some of the traditional melodies are very powerful. Christian music today seems to do it’s best to divorce thought from experience. The words of the hymns are set in a musical atmosphere that takes precedence over what is actually being said. The focal point of the composition is very transcendental, as if the point is to arise out of your body and meet Jesus in some otherwordly place. It would be interesting to see what cultural forces brought us to the place where the most intellectually prosperous religion produces music that’s precise purpose is to drive out all intellectual thought. You see this in many contemporary worship songs, where phrases are repeated over and over again to the point where they become meaningless drivel (“Jesus, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, ad infinitum.”)
The point in bringing this up in regards to the hymns is that many hymns are not meant to be sung as transcendental anthems (Onward Christian Soldiers, anyone?). It would be great if there was some real quality stuff out there, that produced hymns with the words as the central focus, and without a transcendental flavor to them. Maybe there is some recording artist out there who does a really good job with the hymns. I would love to discover them.
I’ll end with this. While it’s not the style of worship music I’m discussing, the approach to the lyrics is similar. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GhYuA0Cz8ls