Bob Kauflin on Effective and Ineffective Music

Why some tunes are better than others . . . Video at TGC

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Bert Perry's picture

It's absolutely true that the tune matters--and one parallel here is that it matters if the singers and musicians are in tune.  Part of his schtick in the video is that he goes wildly off key.  Or, as my piano-playing daughters (and their father) would say, please get the church's pianos tuned at least annually, preferably at least twice a year.  It really makes a difference.  And if one of the singers really needs a bucket to hold a tune, please let him (her) know that there might be a better ministry for them.

(yes, Scripture says "make a joyful noise", but I think there is a point for not making needless offense.....I'm guessing the priests chose the Temple singers and musicians in part based on this)

I've also had fun (and grimaced) as some songs are simply not there musically--you could put Horowitz on piano and Heifetz on violin, and it would still be awful.  In "honor" of that, I parodied "In my heart there is a melody" as "In this song there is no melody" after hearing a song (?) sung in church where there was no discernable melody.  It was strange, and thankfully I can protect the guilty by not remembering the name or composer of the "song".

And then you've got the prior question of whether one really ought to be memorizing the words.  I can point to any number of pop songs where the music is extremely well done, but where one really, really does not want to remember the words.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

So, music does have a voice, ------ unless you are talking about the voice of rock music with religious lyrics attached. Then there is no voice because it is suddenly amoral.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

RickyHorton's picture

This was an excerpt from a Desiring God 2008 Conference session.  I've listened to the entire session several times.  Go to to listen.  It is an excellent resource for anyone involved in the music ministry of a church. 

Chip, the sun coming out makes me happy (like some music).  The rain makes me sad (like some music).  Are the sun and rain moral?  It's emotions, and emotions require some sort of context (words in the case of music) in order to get into the realm of moral/immoral.  Of course, this is isn't anything that hasn't been said here before.  Music is an incredible tool in helping convey the meaning of the words...just a tool, nothing more.

Greg Long's picture

Chip Van Emmerik wrote:

So, music does have a voice, ------ unless you are talking about the voice of rock music with religious lyrics attached. Then there is no voice because it is suddenly amoral.

C'mon, Chip, you're mixing too completely different concepts. The concept of music being moral or immoral is not the same as the concept of music being appropriate or inappropriate to the lyrics, the intended emotion, etc.

I was actually the one who submitted this filing. I thought it was interesting, as Kauflin and Sovereign Grace music are the target of many conservative-music-only types. I thought it was helpful to note that even these types recognize such concepts as whether music is "fitting" or "appropriate," without having to believe that certain kinds of styles, beats, or instruments are by very nature sinful.

Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Bert Perry's picture

.....I think we need to take a look at Psalms 149 and 150, which clearly describe percussive instruments like cymbals used in Temple music.  For these instruments to make sense, you've got to have a discernable beat--now whether it was a rock-n-roll beat, bluesy, or whatever, would be hard to infer all these centuries later, but it would seem that it did have a beat.

Given that most of the arguments against modern music more or less center around the "animal" nature of that beat, I would then infer that such arguments are at best genetic fallacies (guilt by association with heavy metal groupies and such) and thus have no merit, logically or rhetorically.

We are left, as the speaker affirms and Greg repeats, with whether the genre chosen reflects the message.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Darren Mc's picture

That second alternative tune to "Come Thou Fount" sounds a lot like the hymn rewrites a lot of fundamentalists were using from the mid 90s to the mid 00s. 

No wisdom, no understanding, and no counsel will prevail against the LORD. Proverbs 21:30

kirkedoyle's picture

I've seen this video before, and it is well done.  From a lyrical and melodic standpoint much of what is coming out of SGM is some of the best hymn-writing we have seen in quite some time.  I think that it rivals and often surpasses Courtney, Anderson/Habegger, and other more commonly known conservative arrangers.  I've discussed the music issue at length with many different viewpoints and while I would agree that (at times) some people did a really crummy job of arguing against certain musical styles/instruments, there is still some caution that must be shown.  To me, it's more the common association that certain musical styles have.  If I say "Sex, drugs, and..." and the first thing you think of is a musical style, I really question whether that style should be used to glorify God.  I think this is why Bluegrass is seeing a bit of a rise in popularity within conservative music.  Bluegrass doesn't have the common association with several negative issues that some argued against in decades past.  50 years from now, it's possible that certain styles that I would shy away from today, might be more acceptable in my eyes.  I know that this is a bit of a case-by-case way of looking at the issue, but to me, it's the most appropriate.  I've heard the Pettit and Galkin groups referred to as "The Great Sanctifier" when it comes to SGM music... that made me laugh...

Bert Perry's picture

Regarding Kirk's comment, I've got to smile about bluegrass.  Now don't get me wrong; I love bluegrass and listened to some today.  That said, a great portion of it is about moonshining ("revenuer took my gin, hope he don't come back again....took my sweetie with him too, 'cause she'd had a little drink or two"), and the great foray of bluegrass style into popular music is the Grateful Dead.....where let's just say you might not pass a marijuana intoxication test the day after attending one of their concerts, if you catch my drift.

But back on topic, it's worth noting that artists of all stripes, and with all kinds of music, have always been known as somewhat bohemian in nature.  You can't get to know the classical composers without understanding the intrigues of the courts of kinds, princes, barons and the like.  Country music has always had performers thanking Jesus just thanking their live-in girlfriends, jazz is a word for fornication, and the like.  

More or less, if we practice guilt by association (genetic fallacy), we'll find ourselves without any music at all.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

kirkedoyle's picture

I think you prove my point, right?  There are certainly the associations that you mention, but they are not "common".  That's where some personal conviction comes in.  I'm not advocating for avoiding the names of the days of the week because of what they were associated with centuries ago, but if it is common I think it deserves careful consideration.  btw - I'm thankful for a place where this type of subject can be reasoned through with some form of civility!  

Bert Perry's picture

Kirk, just the opposite.  My take is that if we use "personal conviction" as an aegis for "guilt by association", we will end up using "personal conviction" to turn our churches into morgues.  Biblically speaking, the fact of the matter is that Temple music (Psalm 150) appears to have included percussive instruments like cymbals and tambourines (timbrels), not to mention dancing along the lines of David's rejoicing at the entrance of the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem.  

Now while I've no clue how to dance as did David, and I would tend to agree that most CCM is dreck, I've got to admit the reality that Temple music would have had a beat at times, and therefore might have resembled rock-n-roll or even rap more than we might like to admit.  Or, put differently, CCM is not dreck because of any supposed association with the Rolling Stones.  it is dreck because it lacks the musical sensibilities of Richard, Jagger et al in the same way they lack the moral sensibilities of the same people.  (and thankfully so on that latter part)

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.