Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A Recent Thought About Church Music

By Hadleyblogger Bobby

While my voice teacher was between students and visited friends, the student who precedes me (who is 21 or more years older than I am) and I discussed the trends in church music, and she grew concerned after the new music leader in her church is pushing the pop. She thought it was the denomination, but as I learned in a visit to a church to the south of my home in the Midlands of South Carolina, that is not the problem.

"It's not the (major denominations) behind the push towards pop-rock music. Rather, it is the influence of younger music leaders, their attachment to pop-rock music, and the payoffs of the major church music publishers, especially since most of the major (to Protestant) publishers are secular giants (Britain's EMI Group plc, Germany's Bertelsmann AG -- whose music publishing arm is slated to be sold to France's Vivendi, and Warner Music Group, led by Edgar Bronfman, Jr, the heirs to the family which ran Seagram's liquor). For Catholics, the major offenders are GIA Publications (Chicago) and Oregon Catholic Press. In most cases, however, it is the idea of younger music leaders who have never heard Bach, Handel, or Haydn, pushing their congregations into dumbing down the music.

Today's church music leaders who are in favour of the pop-rock are well-supported with the powerful marketing forces of EMI, Bertelsmann, WMG, GIA, or OCP, which are well financed, and with the more Protestant-based publishers, the huge marketing machine of the three which are supported by cash and support to encourage playing their songs, since church will have to pay the publishers to play their songs, and add their influence everywhere.

EMI, the largest publisher, pushes church leaders to play the latest Chris Tomlin rock piece, which is backed by their huge departments, including sales of Tomlin's latest album at major retailers such as Wal-Mart, Target, Sears Holding (Sears Gold and Kmart), Best Buy, Sam Goody, and also the same of downloads of Mr. Tomlin's music at sites endorsed by EMI. The major pop-rock supporters release "Worship Together" albums and magazines to tell church leaders how to play the latest rock song via chords (no sheet music) and give no respect to those by the sheet singers.

The leaders then push for choirs to sing karaoke to modern rock soundtracks.

On the night as I walked back from our Precept study, I watched as kids practiced their Christmas musical. It was downright disgusting and my teacher would have blown the whistle for poor vocal quality on the students. The voices were amplified and they used karaoke accompaniment.

The issue is further detailed in an article from seven years ago, "The Triumph of the Praise Songs," written by college professor Michael Hamilton.

But in all of the research, it is clear that the push for more "contemporary" rock songs in church is not by a denomination; rather, it is the worship leaders, who have been influenced by the rock songs from attending conferences provided by the major record labels, behind the betrayal of the hymnal, the oratorio, and aria. One year, my voice teacher (not my present voice teacher) and I were awaiting the start of a lesson (it was at an Episcopal church's choir room, as she was a member of the church), and one of the rock artists was practicing the "modern worship" tunes for a future service for teens.

The kids are influenced by the modern work; in churches, modern rock services outdraw organs, two to one. I ask if the MTV generation, fresh off winning an election with MTV influence (through The Daily Show and the Colbert Report), also is winning the worship music war with MTV-style pop/rock in churches, pushed by the major publishers because the more they play the pop-rock songs, the better it puts the bottom line of the publishers, especially the bottom line of the companies which produce such publications.

Leadership trained by MTV has created the vacuum which is hurting those in church who wish to sing the majestic works of the great composers.


  1. Bobby: Interesting. Doctors aren't the only one influenced to prescribe a certain thing by way of company influence.

    I'm not a musician.

    Is it "easier" to learn the new music? Is it less "time-consuming"? I'm wondering if music directors have legitimate time issues (though I assume for some it is their JOB-meaning they are paid for it) or if laziness or ignorance (or even fear of the "Old music") is behind some of this.

    Recently, there was an article in the Archiocesan newspaper where liturgists and music directors were complaining that they may have to learn new Mass music soon. I would think that any composer would jump at the chance for the opportunity to be the one to compose new music for a Mass. Yet, all I read were complaints

    I think that most church/sacred music today is saccharine garbage largely devoid of anything theological or doctrinal.

  2. Cathy,

    Yes, There are many seminars each year placed by the major label publishers (GIA, Oregon, EMI, Warner, Bertelsmann, Kona) to get people to use their music because of financial status.

    Prior to their purchase by Kona Acquisition in a Leveraged Buyout, Integrity Music, a leader in the worship music movement (but has lost much of its share as EMI has taken over because of the modern rock movement replacing the more folk and pop formats), was a public company. In one Integrity report I received as a shareholder from 2002 until its 2004 LBO, the report stated one of the major worship leaders was an executive at the publisher, making over $90,000 and earning stock benefits as he also was the executive at the publisher, which also produces albums. Of course he has to use his own songs at the church which he heads, but he sold his product to other churches, knowing that he gets a huge cut of the royalties.

    I looked at the programme of one such "worship conference" and saw these things:

    "(M)uch of what is taught in traditional choral settings is counter-intuitive to ('worship vocalists') mission. When we identify the sound and posture we are looking for, many of our traditional approaches to vocal technique go by the wayside."

    In essence, go rock/pop/country. They don't want singers with proper technique and singers who can sing well.

    Among things the conference teaches include "Create a vocal sound that encourages participation," "Avoid choral singing traps that work against worship" (now that's why I can't sing in choir! I have classical training and they say these are traps!), and "Energise your timid singers."

    It sounds "easier" to learn because they have just guitar chords to play, and they supply a disc and the artists just follow it. Also, the new music can be "catchy" on the radio with the words flying off thet screen on a big screen.

    It can be less time-consuming because it is the same words repeated over, as the old "7-Eleven" joke would state. There is one very popular song which is a few words repeated so many times, that joke holds true. How easy is it to learn if you just need to learn a few words and repeat it numberous amoung of times?

    To me, it is the ignorance or even fear of the "Old music", especially by the younger generation, behind it too. How many kids do you see singing "Panis angelicus," "Crucifix," or even "The Majesty and Glory of Your Name" (a song from the 1970's, but even 1979 is declared "too old" for today's generation of worship music) when they can dance to the latest pop tune from the hottest band on the radio?

    And yes, theological content is missing because some worship leaders want the songs on secular radio and that's it. One popular band is such and kids love singing their songs in church.


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