Monday, 21 February 2011

If music be the food of love...

Here we go again! A MEME request has arrived from Graham Peacock, author of one of my regular blog reads, diggingalot, which means it would be rude not to respond! Although, I have to say, I was going to leave this particular debate alone for a while, despite having lots to say on the matter and much more than I will be able to here!

However, this does give me an opportunity, as I have been so warmly invited, to spell out a handful of things that seriously bug me! Graham's MEME asks for 'Your best contemporary worship song ever' but let's get some things straight first:
  1. There is NO SUCH THING as Christian Music, CCM or whatever...
  2. There is NO SUCH THING as Worship Music...
  3. There is NO SUCH THING as Sacred Music...
  4. There is NO SUCH THING as Secular Music...
  5. Music itself is NOT Worship - although music can be worshipful...
  6. Music IS often Spiritual - more on this in a future post...
  7. There IS such a thing as a priority to care for the sick, the oppressed, the poor, the downtrodden and the immigrant...
Let's emphasise this with is an important quote in Rob Bell's book Velvet Elvis:
Something can be labeled 'Christian' and not be true or good. It is possible for music to be labeled Christian and be terrible music. Just because it is a Christian book by a Christian author and it was purchased in a Christian bookstore doesn't mean it is all true or good or beautiful. A Christian political group puts me in an awkward position: What if I disagree with them? Am I less of a Christian? What if I am convinced the 'Christian' thing to do is to vote the exact opposite?
'Christian' (the word) is a great noun but a poor adjective.
Another issue with using 'Christian' and 'Worship' as adjectives coupled with the word music has meant that both new commercial opportunities and new genres have arisen over the years. These have led to sub-standard product being peddled to churches and Christians in preference to most mainstream music on the grounds the former is more sanctified. It is not! It is simply not as good as the mainstream equivalent, often a poor quality sound-alike!

I recall Francis Schaeffer said something along the lines of 'you can have good art with good message, bad art with a good message, good art with a bad message and finally bad art with a bad message'. My opinion (yes, opinion!) is the stuff described as 'Christian Music' and 'Worship Music' falls into the latter category. Why don't we see the image of the Creator in so much of the mainstream music / art that is there ready made to utilise in church?

In a service of divine worship music needs to enhance, encourage and engage the congregation. It should not be an opportunity to proselytise, pander to personal preferences or perform for performance's sake. Music must be an integrated element of the liturgy, whatever style the latter follows. Even worse, this type of music is all too often delivered in such an inappropriate, mind numbing, ear bleeding and indecipherable form that still doesn't hide its naffness! Of course, worship does not necessarily take place within a church anyway, it can and, perhaps, should, happen everywhere... that's a debate.

Although I do not think such a thing as 'contemporary worship music' exists I will just mention contemporary hymns. I do concede that songwriter Stuart Townend has created some moving hymnody, (good art, good message), for example, 'How Deep The Father's Love', which is distinctly different from the usual modern churchy fare.

Having said all that, I have made a suggestion above, simply entitled 'You', which is a song that readily engages me in worship. It is by my buddy Rob Halligan, singer / songwriter extrordinaire and also the lead singist in After The Fire. It spells out grandness, it quotes the good book, it employs poetic imagery, it evokes discipleship and even a personal response but not as a simpering request to cuddle up to Jesus. It is just at home in the set list when we play a full on mainstream concert or in a liturgical church service, thereby breaking any divide between the sacred and secular.

I know this only just scratches the surface, my plea is to leave the veil of the Temple riven.



Graham said...

I like this post- thanks (and the music)! And I broadly agree with it- love to see some of this developed more sometime.

I agree: once you label something 'sacred' and another thing 'secular', where does that leave the idea of 'incarnation'.

I have unearthed a lengthy blog post from a musician who fights against the 'Christian music' tag- I may cite it next week sometime.

Graham said...

O....and where can I get that song from?

....also the chords...I am up to 'underpass busker' level now on the guitar (but shaky on barre chords!) and I would like to teach that to a congregation sometime...

Peter Banks said...

Many thanks Graham, glad you like the post... have added links to the download and chord chart now.

You might also be interested to hear the stripped down version on Rob's solo CD here.

Best, PB

Anonymous said...

Right with you on this, Peter.

One of the most impacting statements on me and how I view the world, and this is a world view issue in my opinion is this:

"There is nothing secular except sin." David Pawson 1972.

There is so much that flows from this statement. It was life changing for me.

nevell said...

I like your comment, Peter, that music should be integral with the liturgy. Many churches may avoid liturgy altogether,and have a certain poverty, even though they may view it as freedom. Music and songs (and other arts forms)have the potential to take on this role in a way that is acceptable or accessable to "non liturgy" types.
I have been taking this approach in our church - using my past experience of Anglican worship to try to create music for use around the communion service. It is humbling that 2 songs have been used in services, expressing a) the words of the general confession,and b) Christ's invitation to us to come and eat and drink, People are grateful for songs that express these things more than superficially, and which provide a change from the usual communion songs (we have so few). The idea of employing mainstream songs (maybe an entire liturgy?)is fascinating,although I don't think everyone's ready for that...!

I prefer the loose term "Music in Worship" - seems safe...?

"You" a great choice! I'm still trying to get to the bottom of the lyrics...

Blue Eyed Ennis said...

Like the song You and a very interesting set of comments.
I think that there is a lot of snobbery surrounding music used for liturgy. My tastes in music are eclectic and I wish we weren't so polarised and hung up about using particular set forms at all times. I love Taize, Gregorian chant and classical but I also love pop, rock, folk, etc etc - and silence !!

nevell said...

Ah! Silence! At the breakfast table, very occasionally, bfore the family are up :-)

Brays said...

We wonder what your viewers have to say about these fellows Mister Banksy Boy.

Anonymous said...

Great stuff Peter. All of the 70s/80s years, when I called myself a Chirstian, I was always bugged by the fact that 'Christian musicians' were Christians first and musicians second. Hence the music came a poor second to the lyrics, and Yes / Genesis / Camel / ELP / won by a mile. One of the things that always struck me about your band, After The Fire, was that you were (are?) musicians who happened to be Christians. Hence the music came first. Hence the superb instrumentals - how many 'Christian bands' ever played instrumentals?

I also always loved (and still do, despite no longer calling myself a Christian) the 'ambiguous' lyrics - could be about a woman, could be about god - who knows, apart from the lyricist? "You" by Rob the Hooligan is another example... fantastic song regardless of the person/entity in question.

Rock on.

Neil C

Anonymous said...

Further, in the 70s I knew an Anglican priest who thought (as do I) that the music of Robert Fripp and King Crimson was goose-pimple-amazing, yet his wife said that she 'just knew' it was the work of the devil.

Where do we go from there?

Neil C

Peter Banks said...

Thanks John, great to read that quote again, had a profound effect on me, too.

Greetings Mr Nevell, Tim?! Many thanks for your comments, sorry I didn't respond sooner. It is really encouraging that folk, like your goodself, are 'getting it', albeit as pioneers, linking the best from the old with the inspirational from the new.

If it will be of use I can arrange to send you a DVD of some of the Billericay service, strictly for reference?!

Thanks, again, Philomena, for visiting and commenting... you touch on a really important area that I am exploring at the moment. Briefly this is a notion that the world of church is very culturally contstrained and when anything cultural falls outside those walls it is considered unsuitable, unsound, un-Christian, un-spiritual... and so on.

I think this also explains some of your reasoning Dr Neil, a grand welcome to you here, too! Such a shame that an enlightened priest (particularly Anglican!) was fettered by this very cultural constraint... the church so needs more priests that 'get it', I do meet some at the regular annual pilgrimage to the Greenbelt Festival.

On After The Fire and our stance about music and faith for me, personally, I simply don't see a division betwixt what I do, music, and what I believe in. So rather than necessarily deducing we put music first, our 'integrated' faith encouraged us to have a commitment to excellence musically, regardless of whether we played instrumentals or whether the words we sang validated our faith explicitly.

Hope that makes some sort of sense?! Definitely rockin' on ;-)

And for The Brays contribution, I love it, as you know SDR! Definitely 'good art' and maybe a new category on the message side?!

Cheers everyone!

nevell said...

Don't know why I've been reduced to "Nevell"- yes it's Tim.
I would definitely like to take up your offer, Peter - strictly for reference of course. I wouldn't dare enjoy it! (It's alright; I know what you're getting at, and I won't tell the rest of the crowd!)

To be fair, Mr. Anonymous, there were (and maybe are)some good "Christian Labelled" artists around that ranked with other similar mainstream artists. Norman Barrat, Phil Keagy (OK, he came over), Brynn Haywarth are all awesome musicians, and then you can think of people like Larry Norman and Garth Hewitt, and for the heavy metal fans there was 100% Proof and Petra. None of them were mediocre (well, we all have bad moments..), and I could listen to the first 3 along side the bands you name without shame.
And some contemporary artists who work in the realm of "worship" may produce songs which drive Mr. Banks to despair (or they may write good 'uns)- and at the same time be remarkable musicians - only appreciated if you catch them live at a gig for example. Lothar Kosse, German songwriter is such an example - really mindblowing guitarist, but it might be you can't stand his "worship songs"...

RJ said...

This is spot on, my friend. I need to "clean up" my categories and you help make that possible. Thanks for making sure I saw this. It is very wise.

Lee B. James said...

I can't agree that there is no such thing as Christian music / secular music.

Granted, there is certainly a lot of music which can be appreciated by both Christians and the world - especially a lot of instrumental and classical music.

However, when it comes to songs with lyrics, there are certainly many songs that are exclusive to one or the other; songs which either the world would not appreciate because they're clearly Christian (eg. a song called "Hallelujah, I love Jesus"), or Christians would not be interested in because they're clearly godless (eg. a song called "I f***ing love money").

I really cannot for the life of me imagine non-Christians being able to appreciate any song with explicitly Christian lyrics. Unless they just appreciated the music, while deliberately ignoring the lyrics. But that is hardly "appreciating" a song in the normal sense.

Music written by Christians surely must be considered a distinct category of music, since our lyrics are of the Holy Spirit. And the world hates Christians and our Holy Spirit (John 15:19, 1 John 3:13). Likewise, we have been cut off from the world and have no more fondness for its ways (Gal 6:14, James 4:4). Since the world belongs to Satan, it cannot tolerate us. That is why Jesus said He came to bring division and hostility between the saints and the world (Matt 10:24-29, 2 Tim 3:12).

Though it must be said that the vast majority of "Christian" music today is quite inoffensive to the world, since it does not originate from genuine born-again Christians at all. Real Christians have no business making commercial music, especially not in an age where music can be freely shared online. The very thought of a Christian teaming up with these large secular money-making industries, and being 'marketed' as a piece of 'entertainment' is all quite grotesque.

But one look at these "Christian musicians" and the spirit of antichrist is clearly on display, for anyone who can discern spiritual fruit (1 John 4:1-3).