Monday, 8 February 2010

Why modern worship songs are crap...

Last weekend had a fascinating conversation with another musician about Worship Music:
Yeah...worship songs are "shipped in" to many churches... every now and again they get a new delivery. All the way from California or Australia (and Sussex!). Like crates of CocaCola being delivered. Now Cola is nice to drink once in a while, theoretically I've got nothing against it... but what about local ale... or beautifully matured wine from the local vineyard, real food that we all cook together, here and now? Where are the songs of THAT church? THAT town? THEIR hearts? How good would it be for people to find THEIR song, not the x-factor, big screen, 'every song sounds the same' song.


Graham Richards said...

Hear, hear! Glad I'm not the only one who thinks this. It's hard when I feel I am the only one feeling at odds with "sound bite" culture of many churches' worship today.

I'm not all for ancient hymns, but the theological and spiritual depth of the lyrics in many hymns is huge, compared to the "Angel, angel, angel" blandness of modern worship songs.

Few people have the skill of writing meaningful worship songs that take real theological/spiritual truth and earth it in human experience. Graham Bell of the Iona community is one such gifted writer. Take a line such as "Feel for the women who've been abused" in "A Touching Place". That is earthing the gospel into our human experience and we need loads more songs like that today.

Graham said...

He's on the ball...he shoots...he scores!

Amen -hallelujah!

Sally said...

Excellent, well said, where are our song writers and poets???

stillers said...

Top banana. Out with the beige, bland and marketable and in with the earthy and honest. . . . . a dear aussie mate of mine often refers to much of the modern so called worship stuff as little more than 'spiritual masterbation' - I tend to agree. Lets all feels good for five minutes without engaging in human relationship and messy spirituality. There's got to be a different way.

Archdruid Eileen said...

Importing songs goes back a long way, though. The Beaker saint Thomas Hardy describes the instrument-seller going from village to village, flogging his own tunes. But with something like, say, "While Shepherds Watched" every band then made it their own.
Not a terribly good composer myself. I'm afraid the best I've ever managed is "I've got to clean the Armadillo" for a Noah-themed activity. Tony Christie would weep.

Helegant said...

There is a little dance we do. An unfamiliar song is sung. People mourn the loss of their much-loved favourites. The two needn't go together but they often do. The person who introduces the new song says, "Worship isn't about you, it's about God". Which is true. But... why shouldn't people be allowed to worship God in ways that they enjoy? And why is a 'new song' somehow more intrinsically valuable to God because people have to suffer by singing it? I'm not arguing for stasis, but for taking the best of our history with us as we travel, and maybe collecting some new nuggets on the way.

MadPriest said...

For most of Christian history there were two sources for "worship songs," - music that came from "professional" composers who were closely linked to and controlled, through patronage, by the church authorities, and music that came from the folk tradition of local cultures. The latter disappeared from mainline churches with the replacement of local bands of musicians with the ubiquitous organ. But it still continued to be a force in some independent American protestant denominations and black churches.

At first glance it may seem that modern worship songs come from the folk tradition, but they do not. They are professional compositions controlled by the gatekeepers of worship music and can be very lucrative for composers and publishers.

The nearest we have come to rediscovering the folk tradition in English churches was in the turntablism of The Nine O'clock Service and similar ventures.

Liz Hinds said...

it seems so natural and obvious when you say it like that but we could find ourselves singing an awful lot of even crapper songs. As it is so many of the modern songs don't have a natural rhythm or flow, as if the composer felt the need to be different.

P.S. I love the sound of 'I've got to clean the armadillo', Archdruid Eileen. It will be in my head all day now!

stillers said...

What worries me is where the valuable work of the artist as a story teller, a conveyor of truths, a questioner, seeker, worshiper and doubter becomes a commodity and the role becomes lost. The rest of us need the voice of the arts to help lead us, not a marketing plan to seduce us.

Maybe a lot got lost along the way when people began to read for them selves and had to rely less on the arts to take on board the stories, truths and expressions to God. Ironically now more folk can read the bible for themselves the more modern worship songs so often seem to be self obsessed rather than biblically founded.

Peter Banks said...

I have been resisting the urge to post an entry about this subject for a while, partly because I didn't have a fully articulated statement and also because I have been accused of it simply being my opinion... so thanks for the brilliant and encouraging response.

For Graham R great to be in mutual support and, yes, I am familiar with Revd Bell's work, both as musician/composer and author.

To Graham P, thanks, both for your comment and blog entry last week!

Ah, Sally, great minds, eh?! Also thanks for the post and excellent examples on your blog.

Thanks, too, Sean, great to have your thoughts, both sets of them! I may well have heard your Aussie mate in full flow at Greenbelt 3 or 4 years ago on Pop MacWorship?

Archdruid Eileen, thanks for the extra education and can't wait for the album of your Bible themed epics (repeat until blessed?)!

Thanks Helegant, you raise some additional points that warrant further discussion. I particularly like your blog entry dated 29th Jan 2010 'Searching for meaning in Worship' and recommend others to read it.

Along with Liz I share the concerns for the future and also am hooked on the Armadillo song already!

Thank you one and all.


Peter Banks said...

And, of course, not forgetting MadPriest...

Commenting to you separately because, along with many others, thinking and praying for you at this time. Anyway, I do thank you for your insightful comment.

One of my attempts to re-dress the balance musically has been to use mainstream songs in a service of worship yet played totally acoustically. This is not to make it feeble, but to be clearly different and distinguish it from the dreadful musical genre now known as worship music.

When all the working musicians were elbowed out of playing for Sunday services in preference to organs (and more staid/sober organists) something of the life went out of church (and its music) along with the men.... so tempting!

Thanks JH, TLBWY

Graham Richards said...

But are modern people really reading the Bible and grappling with the awkward and often uncomfortable truths it contains? I see very few churches offering members regular opportunities to get together and struggle through biblical passages.

Instead, all we get too often is this sound bite faith, where someone gives their interpretation of a passage from the front, then we can all go off home for our Sunday lunch.

The worship songs simply reinforce this with endless repetitions of lines like "Jesus you are so wonderful, we love, we love you".

I want to go to church to be challenged; to be made to feel uncomfortable about how my life as a Christian in the world is or isn't going.

It's all got too easy today to be a Christian. I was taught (by an evangelical curate) to always question things and keep questioning. I'm sick of this meaningless "wimpery" that is passed off as Christian truth and life.

Bishop Roger Sainsbury coined the phrase: "This is that theology". i.e. This situation we're facing is that which the Bible talks about in... It is this "earthing" of biblical truth that makes us effective and gives us a true prophetic role in society. Not "Oh Jesus isn't it lovely that we're here today to worship you, we love, we love you, we love you... (Repeat 15 more times)"

Archdruid Eileen said...

Just so you all know...

(To the tune of... well yes, obviously)

When the day is dawning
On a dull and rainy morning
On the Ark with Noah
And the pythons and a forty-foot boa
And a pair of llamas
And a hungry goat
has eaten my pyjamas
Now I'm sleeping in my coat.

I've got to feed the armadillo
Clean the hippos' cage with Brillo
Now I'm feeling rather ill. Oh,
it's the smell that gets to me.
Now I've fed the armadillo
I've got to give the budgie some Trill. Oh,
I really hate that armadillo.
I wish I'd never gone to sea.

David Rowe said...

I seems to me that great worship songs are the fruit of times in church history where we see revivals and 'moves of God' (I won't try and define that here).

The current industry of so called worship music was significantly helped along by the charismatic move of the 70s and 80s - where songs were written in response to, and as part of what God was doing.

The problem comes when we continue to generate songs from our own strength - and where the songs cease to be God inspired. Regardless of whether they are written by professionals or not.

Also many of today's so called worship songs are nothing of the kind - many are soulish and have ourselves as the subject matter - whereas true worship is spiritual and focused on God. The subject of the song is what is being worshiped.

Any good home grown worship songs in the UK at the moment? Try searching for Kingdom Faith on iTunes. Guys like Chad Marriott and Matt Hellyer may not be household names in the church, but they have some great songs.

Peter Banks said...

Greetings David and thanks for your contribution... I do think we can generate songs from our own strength once we have given ourselves over to the discipline of practice and learning. Of course, skill and gift help - for a follower of Jesus the same sort of discipleship applies for optimum effect!

Will certainly check out the guys you mention.


Ordinandy said...

thanks for this post - nice to know I'm not the only one (as others have said)...

For really top class praise & worship lyrical content, you'd not go far wrong to explore Dr Chris Tilling's reverential series "Winds of Woship":

Andrew Hague said...

It seems to me that so many modern worship songs are written to be blasted out at rock festival volumes and that's the way I always seem to hear them. So there is no point in the congregation actually singing and generally they don't, or they do so half-heartedly. Anyway, who wants to spend an hour singing/listening to sub radio 2 bland rubbish? Not me for one. I assume that the style of these songs is supposed to make people who are not used to church, but are used to rock events (where you join in mindlessly with the sentimental ballads) feel at home. It's not worship, that's for sure, because the mushy music and theology prohibit the use of the mind. And it's not just the lyrics that are problematic. Just try writing anything that actually means anything to these tunes. But so-called 'worship' is where the big money is to be made. And that is why it thrives, even though it is actually not fit for purpose.