Why I left the Conservative Music Movement

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Larry Nelson's picture

 

From the article:

"Truth is what we should be striving for. We are to pursue truth rather than some idealized period in the past. Yes, we should remember the past. Yes we should study the past. Yes, it is good to observe the traditions of the past and learn the songs of the past but the past should not be our ultimate focus because there is no perfect past where all the leaders and musicians had it all figured out. The past is flawed. Trying to conserve the past means accepting the errors of the past. “Give Me That Old Time Religion” is not just a bad song; it is also very bad theology."

------------------

Ecclesiastes seems to concur:

"Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this." (Ecclesiastes 7:10 ESV)

DLCreed's picture

Perhaps I'm a bit out of the loop anymore, but is this really still a thing in the broader fundamentalist/evangelical world?  Isn't the author a bit of a "Johnny-come-lately"?  Some how in my mind I had thought this was no longer being actively debated or if so, only at the fringes of fundamentalism along with wire-rim glasses and the bus ministry.  There's just so many other doubtful disputations which can be used to re-direct our attentions away from the really important!

Ron Bean's picture

Someone once defined a hyper Calvinist as someone who is more enthusiastic about the adjectives than he is about the nouns. 

While Christian seems to be an easily defined adjective for music, I'm finding that adjectives like contemporary, conservative, traditional, etc. are not as easily defined. I'm also finding that individual soul liberty in music is not usually tolerated.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Pastor Joe Roof's picture

I think that Fundamentalism started going downhill when it forsook the singing of "Ship Ahoy" in special music, and the nail in the coffin was when the churches stopped singing "There's a Welcome Here" to make their visitors feel special.

I am not sure we can ever recover.

Biggrin

 

Jim's picture

Pastor Joe Roof wrote:

I think that Fundamentalism started going downhill when it forsook the singing of "Ship Ahoy" in special music, and the nail in the coffin was when the churches stopped singing "There's a Welcome Here" to make their visitors feel special.

I am not sure we can ever recover.

Biggrin

 

A good cookie

GregH's picture

When singing "Ship Ahoy," one should pause at that point of the song at the beginning of the chorus. They should then cup their hands to their mouth and hoarsely call "Ship Ahoy?" twice.

Ed Vasicek's picture

Hey, I like Ship Ahoy!   I also like Chips Ahoy.  But Ship Ahoy is healthier.

Seriously, Ship Ahoy can still bring a tear to my eye, especially at a funeral.

But I do think DLCreed is right for the most part:

Perhaps I'm a bit out of the loop anymore, but is this really still a thing in the broader fundamentalist/evangelical world?  Isn't the author a bit of a "Johnny-come-lately"? 

There are still some hold-outs out there, though.  But they tend to be kinder than they used to be.  As an old Larry Norman fan in the 1970's, I have, in more recent years, concluded that some of us are making  whatever style of music an idol.  And I am also among those who think we need more variety in general.  The article recently posted about the value of the old songs and how the new choruses cannot compare had some merit to it.

In my opinion, a lot of this came about when we taught past generations to only listen to Christian music instead of only decent music (which, admittedly, can sometimes be hard to find in popular genres). I confess to being an advocate of Christian music only (although classical or instrumental of all sorts was fine with me). I think I erred.  We have been putting too much of an entertainment burden on Christian music, a burden it was not meant to bear, IMO.

"The Midrash Detective"

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

There is no 'conservative music movement'... conservative is what was there already.

Greg Linscott's picture

Jim wrote:

A good cookie

 

Jim,

This is so illustrative of the problems in conversations like this. Chips Ahoy! is a commercialized, pre-packaged, mass produced product- the fruit of hype and marketing. Laden with preservatives, it lacks the true flavor, texture, and authenticity of a fresh, home-baked cookie. Then, you have the problem of associations. Nabisco markets Mallomars, a product that appears to be large and substantial, but when bitten into is little but fluff and sugar. The parent company has merged with RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company, further tainting the company's already stained reputation. Your reference of Chips Ahoy! as a "good" cookie shows the appalling lack of discernment present within Christianity today. It's time for people to rediscover the beauty of real butter, fresh eggs, flour, brown sugar, and Nestle Toll House morsels. If we continue to settle for these boxed counterfeits as "real chocolate chip cookies," we truly deserve whatever it is we have coming--which is probably some tall glass of yuppified soy-milk to accompany our stack of cardboard Chips Ahoy!
 

Greg Linscott
Marshall, MN

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Greg,

Recognizing that your post is tongue-in-cheek, I still want to comment a little more seriously.

I will certainly agree that Chips Ahoy! will compare poorly with a homemade cookie baked by someone who knows what they are doing.  However, having sampled many home-baked chocolate-chip cookies over the years (I just had to sacrifice myself for research purposes), I can tell you that Chips Ahoy! cookies are indeed better than at least half of the homemade cookies I've tried.  I think that's the secret to its mass-market appeal -- it's better than a lot of what's out there, and it's certainly significantly easier than baking your own.  Done right, the homemade product will win every time, but sadly, not enough people care enough about their home baking to put more than just a little effort into it.

To put this in musical terms, nothing will grate on your ears like Bach or Handel (or even great hymns of the faith) played poorly (not even poor compositions done well).  If the choice is between that and something more modern played well-enough to be usable, I think I would choose the more modern as well.  Of course, not all good music from the past is difficult, and not all is great, but I'm afraid the amount of musical training today not only doesn't bode well for playing difficult but great music from the past, it doesn't train people how to even appreciate what music might be better.  There is certainly good music being made today, and the OP author is right that some avoid it just because it is "contemporary."  We ought to recognize that and learn to distinguish between schlock and quality, and by using other criteria than "it's traditional!," and by also recognizing that not all of what is mass-produced is bad just because it is mass-produced or has gotten "popular."
 

Dave Barnhart

Jay's picture

Pastor Joe Roof wrote:

I think that Fundamentalism started going downhill when it forsook the singing of "Ship Ahoy" in special music...

Biggrin

Apostasy starts with singing "Ship Ahoy" instead of "Anchors Aweigh".  At least I'm sure that's what my Navy family members would tell me, but I'm partial to the Marine Hymn myself. Wink

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

DavidO's picture

I won't wade into this beyond saying that Howlett's definition of conservative is deficient.  It isn't some sentimental nostalgia for some nonexistent good old days.  I will concede however that the latter is what has often been passed off as conservatism in fundamentalist circles.

But enjoy your effigy.

Bert Perry's picture

But first a diversion.  My mom's first job out of college was for Keebler, and she got to watch as wonderful test cookies (real butter, real eggs, and the like) were changed to make them go well into a bag.  She could not bring herself to eat them because she remembered what the first version of those cookies was.  

And regarding the author's premiss, I think you'll find it more often than you'd think.  If you listen to the older families in a lot of churches that are going to more modern music, you will hear these arguments.

Now I will agree 100% with David O that the author's definition of conservative music is deficient.  That said, it's being used and should be confronted when it is found.  As for my part, I am 100% on board with the argument that we ought to look at older music because the lesser quality stuff is mostly forgotten.  I'm 100% on board with the argument that we ought to look at older music because it connects us with those who came before us in Christ.  I'm 100% on board with the argument that we ought to listen to and use older music because our forebears tended to understand the tools of poetry and music better than we, and because the theology of the lyrics tends to be deeper.  (if you doubt this, compare "breathe" with the shortest of the Psalms)

But if one tells me one should use music simply because it is older, that is the genetic fallacy and ought to be discarded posthaste.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

RickyHorton's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

I'm 100% on board with the argument that we ought to listen to and use older music because our forebears tended to understand the tools of poetry and music better than we, and because the theology of the lyrics tends to be deeper.  (if you doubt this, compare "breathe" with the shortest of the Psalms)

But if one tells me one should use music simply because it is older, that is the genetic fallacy and ought to be discarded posthaste.  

Based on your descriptions of the poetry and theology of older music, it appears you give no options but to listen to older music.  Is that what you mean to do??? 

Bert Perry's picture

Ricky-it might seem that way, but if we view musical quality as a distribution along the lines of a bell curve, we would infer that we are looking at the "best" end of the historic bell curve with old music, and that the mean of that curve was probably "better" than what we have today.  However, that does not mean that the "tail" of modern music does not have some gems as well.  

I would say that the person who wants to do music ought to listen to the old stuff to get a feel for it, whether or not he uses it, and conversely ought to take a look at the new stuff to see if there is anything worth listening to.  Make sense?

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

RickyHorton's picture

I understand what you are saying.  I'm not so sure that it would be much of a "curve" though if you used all old music.  In other words, when we look back, you and I will generally only see the best of what came out of the past.  If we use those and compare it to all of today's music, it may end up looking like a bell curve.  However, if you took all past music and all of today's music, would it look more like a line....or maybe a small hump??

dgszweda's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

Ricky-it might seem that way, but if we view musical quality as a distribution along the lines of a bell curve, we would infer that we are looking at the "best" end of the historic bell curve with old music, and that the mean of that curve was probably "better" than what we have today.  However, that does not mean that the "tail" of modern music does not have some gems as well.  

But this is also what Greg is getting at.  Old music does not hold a more treasured space when it comes to quality.  Quality may be generated now and it may be generated later.  I think he is arguing for the fact that a lot of fundamentalism views the 1700's as the high mark for music.  When that may be or may not be the case.  Much of the music that we say was a high mark was not viewed that way during that time period.

Bert Perry's picture

dgszweda wrote:

 

Bert Perry wrote:

 

Ricky-it might seem that way, but if we view musical quality as a distribution along the lines of a bell curve, we would infer that we are looking at the "best" end of the historic bell curve with old music, and that the mean of that curve was probably "better" than what we have today.  However, that does not mean that the "tail" of modern music does not have some gems as well.  

 

 

But this is also what Greg is getting at.  Old music does not hold a more treasured space when it comes to quality.  Quality may be generated now and it may be generated later.  I think he is arguing for the fact that a lot of fundamentalism views the 1700's as the high mark for music.  When that may be or may not be the case.  Much of the music that we say was a high mark was not viewed that way during that time period.

Speaking as someone who does love the stuff from the 1600s and 1700s, I can say unequivocally that there are very clear differences between that and the music of the 1800s, especially for the tenors and basses.  The earlier stuff tends to do a more interesting harmony, while the later music tends to be FFFF CCCC on the bass line--BORING.  (you want to know why men don't sing in many churches, look at the tenor and bass lines of a lot of stuff since 1850.  Oy!)  In the same way, the theological topics of the older hymns are much more God-centered, while the newer ones tend to more emotional content (e.g. "In the Garden"...try to imagine a group of Marines singing it)

And yes, the poetry is also different--the rhyme scheme is more complex in the older music.  The differences between the mid-Reformation music and modern music are even more stark; the emotional drive of camp meeting songs becomes even stronger, the conventions of poetry are downplayed (much of it is outright doggerel), and harmonies are often simply not given--the tune designed for a female voice.

Again, that doesn't mean there isn't good new stuff out there.  It simply means that the genre are different, and if we posit that music and poetry are important parts of conveying the message (a lesson I'm hard pressed to ignore from Psalms 149 and 150), we would then posit that there will be a difference in how these (rough) genre will be received.  We would assume the same from the message being conveyed, no?

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

GregH's picture

I am not a cookie expert though I made several thousand cookies from the the recipe on the back of Toll House chocolate chips as a boy. So I will refrain from talking much about the general thrust of this thread Smile

On the other hand, for the record, I do not at all agree with the idea that music has degraded over time. Far from it. That is especially true from a harmonic perspective. The discovery and development of the use of harmony over the past 400 years is sort of similar to the development of the car. Saying the harmony of the 1600's is better than today's harmony is sort of like saying a Model T is better than a 2014 Acura. In a word, it is an untenable position. I would not use the hymnal to prove that point because the hymnal is full of some of the worst writing of the first half of the 20th Century. But if you compare the great writing of the 20th Century to the 1600's (not just modern classical but also pop such as Broadway), there is no comparison in terms of harmony.

Music is like many other things. We have discovered things about music over time. That is why there was no harmony at all until a few hundred years ago and then, it was rudimentary compared to today. Whether someone wants to argue that form or melody has improved is a harder argument because there is a lot of subjectivity there. But no, it is absolutely wrong to claim that we are in some kind of bell curve where the bulk of the great music has already been written.

Bert Perry's picture

Greg, if we exclude the hymnal, haven't we wandered off the topic of discussion, that is, church music?  

It should also be pointed out that my hypothesis does not depend on a degradation of music over the ages, but rather on the observable differences.  To use your picture, Beethoven is more emotionally driven, as a rule, than Mozart.  Rachmaninoff, Sibelius, and Ricard Strauss are also more emotionally driven than their predecessors.   Harmony has largely disappeared from pop music and CCM.  Broadway?  Well, let's just say that all too often, it replaces poetic subtlety with a sledgehammer with a few blessed exceptions.

And we ought to pay attention to this. 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

dgszweda's picture

In addition, instrumentation has gotten significantly better.  Even in modern interpretations of older classics.  In some cases, some of the classical music was nearly impossible to play or didn't sound nearly as well in the 1700's as it does in modern times.  I am a trumpet player, so I am mainly speaking from that point.  But I can tell you the trumpet sounds significantly better and it is better played than it was in the 1700's.  Much music in the past was written around limitations in the ability of instruments.

I would also say that the theology from the 1800 hymnals wasn't any better than today.  There was some very bad theology in hymnals from the past, just as there are some bad songs from today.  But that doesn't mean there aren't some gems.  I think many people forget that what they see today is everything.  Some of this will last and some of it won't.  We benefit today from some of the older stuff, because the stuff that was good lasted in many cases.  But there was plenty of junk in the 1700's and 1800's as well.  We just don't see it, because it has passed away.

GregH's picture

Bert, I am not sure what your musical background is but many of the things you say about music are sort of astounding. Maybe for starters you could say exactly how you have determined that harmony has disappeared from pop music. What is good harmony to you?

Bert Perry's picture

GregH wrote:

Bert, I am not sure what your musical background is but many of the things you say about music are sort of astounding. Maybe for starters you could say exactly how you have determined that harmony has disappeared from pop music. What is good harmony to you?

I'm talking about the harmony existing at all--you know, two people singing different notes that may or may not complement each other, like Van Halen's "Diver Down" album or old Motown like the Temptations or the Jackson Five.  You'll see some of it on Broadway, in folk and bluegrass, and to a lesser degree country (though a lot less than 40 years ago, e.g. Oak Ridge Boys), but precious little in pop or CCM today.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Bert Perry's picture

One word: Stradivarius.  Metal instruments benefit from better metallurgy, but wooden ones ripen with age.  I used to live next door to a woman whose cello was made around 1750, so Strad or not, vintage instruments fill the string sections of orchestras.  Same basic principle with the piano.  As long as the glue holds, old wood rocks.

One big exception to the rule on metal instruments improving in the 20th century; pipe organs from the first half of the 20th century are atrocious.  Thankfully that is over.  Sadly, not too many new ones going in.  (I had an interview question once--disk drive company--where I was asked about how to improve the air ducts for a pipe organ.  Got the job, it was great.  I don't think my answer would have worked, though.)

Electric?  New, yes, but a mixed bag, musically.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

GregH's picture

So when you say harmony, you really mean vocal harmonization or people singing in parts. 

FYI, harmony means something else to those who study music. When I said what I did about harmony, I was not talking about part singing; I was talking about harmony.

You obviously do not play pianos. Pianists do not want to play old pianos. They want to play modern pianos. For a reason... Modern pianos are awesome and old pianos are horrible. Rarely do you even see pianos in circulation that are more than 100 years old and concert level pianists do not play them except maybe for a novelty. And that goes double for the precursors to pianos such as harpsichords. 

Joel Shaffer's picture

Bert, 

I feel you really broad brush CCM or Pop music when you say that harmony has largely disappeared.  You just have to look in certain places to find it.  For instance a significant part of CCM is black gospel music.    Black gospel really isn't black gospel unless it has 3 part harmony.   Also, there is always someone on the pop charts that utilizes rich harmonies.  Right now, it is the pop group Fun.  Check out their songs for harmony.  They are reminiscent of the harmonies from the classic Rock group Queen.     

By the way, I can't really compare one of the Psalms with "Breathe"  because Breathe happens to be one of the worst lyrically and Theologically composed worship songs ever and the majority of conservative evangelicals wouldn't even think that using that song in their church.  Breathe is an easy strawman to destroy......

In our multi-ethnic church plant, just about every song we sing has 3 part harmony and the majority of songs we sing are more contemporary worship and praise. 

dgszweda's picture

 

Bert Perry wrote:

One word: Stradivarius.  

You picked one item.  Trumpets before really 1910 could not play chromatic scales.  Notes were solely changed by lip. There were no valves.  Valves didn't really come on the scene until late 1800's and weren't really written for until later in the early 1900's.  That goes for a lot of the brass instruments.  The tonal quality of most of the brass instruments is far superior to earlier instruments.  The techniques that are used today far surpass the capability of players in the 1600-1700's.  For example, jazz players developed a technique called circular breathing.  This was carried over to classical music as well and has offered some compelling techniques.  One example is Wynton Marsalis playing "Flight of the Bumblebee", something that wasn't written for trumpet.  He plays the entire piece without taking a break for a breath.  It is really unique and sounds awesome.  I had heard that Kenny G can hold some very high notes for more than 45 minutes without taking a break.  There are other classical pieces that were never written for things like the trumpet because 1) the instrument was not capable, and 2) techniques hadn't been developed.  So what you see in Jazz is some very challenging pieces that were written to take advantage of some of these techniques.  I am not aware of any professional trumpet player who does not study and regularly perform jazz, regardless of whether their profession is as a classical musician or not.  It enhances their ability to understand music theory, and even if they are a classical musician, some elements cannot be played as well without a good understanding of some jazz styles and techniques.

There was no such thing as a saxophone until I believe 1850's.  The oboe was vastly improved in the later part of the 1800's.  Percussion have gotten a lot better.  As Greg mentions same goes for piano.  The pieces that you here now from Mozart and Bach, did not sound like that originally.  I have heard some of these pieces played the way they were written with instruments that represented those periods, and I am not sure everyone here would be so quick to call them better than how they are played today.

Mark_Smith's picture

a little off topic, but you seem knowledgeable. I have always loved Mozart's horn concerti. There aren't that many, but the music is a joy to listen to. I have always wondered if what is played today by french horn players is what Mozart actually wrote, because as you say, valves are a recent invention. Do you know anything about this>

John E.'s picture

Even though I make my living (not much of a living) as a music writer/critic for a few websites – mostly “pop” music sites with an Americana/roots music site thrown in for good measure, and, I’m using “pop” in its broadest sense – I think I agree with Bert’s assertion about the state of current pop music. At least on the surface.

 

Please forgive my coming oversimplifications. Regardless, I think my point will stand – I hope.

 

As the music industry became “the man,” especially in the 70s, and music was commoditized on a level not seen since Billie Holiday took her vocal hammer to Tin Pan Alley, the music industry began to fracture and the seeds of the many sub-genres and sub-sub-genres were sown, largely by the New York Club scene of the early 70s (New York Dolls, Patti Smith, and the Ramones – to list three). The Clash picked up the torch of the anti-music establishment ethos and begin to fold in world music, for lack of a better word – not “world” music that you find in Fair Trade Stores. Listen to London Calling, ignore the politics, if need be, and listen to the richness of the integrated musical styles. But, with the rise of American consumerism of the 80s, the alternate music scene went underground and has mostly stayed there with a few notable exceptions over the last three decades. Bands like the Minutemen, Hüsker Dü, and Sonic Youth took the punk ethos of the New York Club scene, kept The Clash’s musical experimentation and richness, and added their own DIY ethic that was connected to the music of CCR. In fact, interesting note, the reason why the “grunge” bands of the early 90s wore flannel shirts was because bands like the Minutemen mimicked CCR’s dress and desire to honor the working man. For the record, the bands that jump to most people’s minds when grunge is mentioned are not the best examples of the genre. Those are the bands that A&R people decided to help make rich.

 

My point in that abbreviated pop music history lesson was to state that there has been and continues to be an underground stream of artistically challenging, sonically interesting, and lyrically compelling pop music. Now, it has to be found. It’s not packaged and sold by Rolling Stone, MTV, and Clear Channel. For example, Rolling Stone used to be connected to the artists, but as the music industry began printing its own money, the editors of Rolling Stone followed the larger houses, faster cars, and better party invitations (I was just at a party with some fairly well-known indie musicians, including a Grammy winner, and the “wild” rock and roll party consisted of sweet tea, meat balls, and brilliant musicians jamming together, mostly old hymns, interestingly enough. Rolling Stone editors don’t want to be at that party. No sex? No drugs? Boring, right?). I agree with Bert’s assertion that today’s pop music is largely an inferior product divorced from true musicianship and artistry. And, that the industry, even the supposedly independent publishing part, is committed to producing, marketing, and selling an inferior product. There are reasons for that, but I think most of understand those reasons; hint – the reasons run parallel to why many people will eat at the Olive Garden while “Mom and Pop” Italian eateries with delicious, lovingly and hand-crafted Italian food struggle to survive in the suburbs. But, possibly unlike Bert, I don’t know, I also assert that for those willing to look, excellent pop music can be found, just like excellent Italian food can be found. But that brings me to CCM, or whatever it’s called now.

 

I am not a fan of the vast majority of what I hear on Christian radio. It’s turrible, to quote Sir Charles Barkley. I turned on a Pandora Christian station as I started writing this, and every music critic bone inside me is weeping. Christian radio, and there are exceptions, follows the trends of Top-40 radio. The trends of Top-40 radio, since the 70s, have not, for the most part, been any good. My church does sing some theologically rich contemporary songs, but I don’t really think of those songs as pop music. And, my wife and I picked a church that understands that there are things more important than how familiar a song is because it gets played on Air 1 a lot. And, once again, most of what gets played on Air 1 is turrible. It is. It mimics the turrible stuff played on Clear Channel’s Top 40 stations. If a currently living songwriter writes an excellent worship song, or hymn, or whatever you want to tag it as, I’ll joyfully sing it, and I do. But, my experience has been that in order to have a aesthetically rich music in a Creator God honoring way, churches probably need to sing mostly the “old stuff.” Maybe there is an underground Christian pop scene that I’m unfamiliar with. I don’t know. Even much of the supposed Christian roots music (one is currently playing, complete with banjo, on Pandora and it made me inadvertently roll my snobby eyes) is not worth the label “roots music.”

 

As far as style – 1. “How Firm a Foundation” is probably not best served by the instruments/style that I prefer. 2. If a church plays music in the style I prefer, that specific Body is going to lack any diversity. It’s easier for me to worship to “It Is Well” (I love that song, by the way) performed and sung in a traditional style, than it is for most people to worship to the type of music I like.

 

If God were to move me and my family, we would, all things being equal, probably not attend a church that sings predominantly contemporary music. We would choose a church that only sang old hymns to a piano accompaniment if it came down to it (assuming that the church’s statement of faith and practice was consistent with what we believe the Bible teaches).

 

In conclusion, and back to Bert, the vast majority of today’s pop music, Christian or otherwise, is not worthy of worship to our God, especially considering that God, through talented men and women in the past, has gifted us with aesthetically excellent and theologically rich songs to sing to His glory.

 

P.S. I get that several of my fellow Sharper Iron members will be puzzled, at best, and disgusted and condemnatory, at worst, by my job; but, I have zero desire to defend myself online. Next time you’re in the DC area, look me up, and we can discuss it over coffee.

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