The Problem With Our Church’s Music

I am not musical, but I dig music.

Maybe because I am so lacking in talent, I have an especially keen appreciation for it. Lots of different kinds—folk, rap, hip hop, electronic, pop, Eastern, indigenous.

In church Sunday we sang some sorry hymns in a manner that can only be described as uninspired. Which got me thinking.

Instead of singing, or whatever you call what I do, I went into participant observation mode. And I noticed other people not singing. Who knows, maybe our church is filled with closet sociologists.

More and more people are choosing not to attend church, especially young adults. There are many reasons, but I can’t help but think that church music being so mind numbingly predictable, so Western, and so traditional, has to play a part. It’s like we’ve decided to only use one or two letters of the alphabet.

The continuum of groovy, inspiring music stretches across many, many genres and traditions from every region of the world, and yet, our Lutheran church, like most I suspect, routinely draws from the same 1% of the world’s musical variety. We tiptoe on a musical balance beam Sunday after Sunday after Sunday. Which is exasperating for people with eclectic tastes.

So why the utter lack of creativity? Why is the Western traditional church music status quo so engrained when congregations are struggling to entice people to attend? Why isn’t there more risk-taking? More experimenting? Some risk-taking? Some experimenting? Some flavor flav?

A theory. Increasingly, in mainline Protestant denominations (and probably Catholic churches too) the vast majority of members are retirement age. Add to that the fact that the world is chaotic. Familiar music is integral to older member’s sense of church from days long past. To many of them, what I too flippantly call sorry hymns is a musical history that provides them with structure, and as a result, helps them create some semblance of order out of chaos.

But here’s the problem. The exact music older, long-standing church members find most helpful in making sense of the world, younger potential church members often find uninspiring. The incredible predictability and familiarity comforts older longstanding members who are in the last chapters of their lives while it simultaneously alienates younger more diverse people who do not share the same musical history and who have more eclectic musical tastes.

A decree. Every church leader should watch at least one NPR Tiny Desk concert as a part of their work week.

But maybe resistance is futile. Maybe churches will cling to the exact same church music as they spiral down without daring to ask whether the familiarity is playing a part in their decline?

All I know is if this post gets picked up by any of the traditional church music stalwarts at my church, I am likely to be tarred and feathered at a service early in the next calendar year. So if the humble blog goes dark, you’ll know why.

 

Cultural Globalization At Its Best

Thanks National Public Radio for the A-WA introduction. A-WA mixes Yemenite and Arabic traditions with reggae and hip-hop. I dig the parallels with East Indian Bollywood soundtracks. After the “Hana Mash Hu Al Yaman” vid, give their Tiny Desk concert a whirl. The English language subtitles are nice, but as they say, music is the universal language.

 

Post Malone

Dude makes music. Haven’t I aged out of hippity hop by now? Hell no. If I make it to 66, 76, 86, or 96, I will still be rocking the hippity when I’m bench pressing the 45lb. bar.

For the uninitiated, give these three tracks a whirl:

White Iverson

“When I started ballin’ I was young
You gon’ think about me when I’m gone
I need that money like the ring I never won, I won

Saucin’, saucin’, I’m saucin’ on you
I’m swaggin’, I’m swaggin’, I’m swaggin’ oh ooh
I’m ballin’, I’m ballin’, Iverson on you
Watch out, watch out, watch out, yeah
That’s my shot, that’s my shot, that’s my shot, yeah
Spendin’, I’m spendin’ all my fuckin’ pay”

And of course. . .

“Fuck practice, this shit just happens, know y’all can’t stand it
I have it, I’ll never pass it, I work my magic”

I’m working on a parallel track. White Bird.

Congratulations!

“My mama called, seen you on TV, son
Said shit done changed ever since we was on
I dreamed it all ever since I was young
They said I wouldn’t be nothing
Now they always say congratulations
Worked so hard, forgot how to vacation
They ain’t never had the dedication”

Forgot how to vacation. Reminds me of me.

Up There

“I wanna go up there and I don’t ever wanna come down
I wanna see what’s up there, actin’ like I got it all figured out
I wanna go up there and I don’t ever wanna come down
I wanna see what’s up there, must be better than the hell on the ground”

The Trump administration getting to him too.