How Old Can a Chorus Be and Still Be Called "Contemporary?"

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Aged baby boomers introduce choruses from the 1990’s as contemporary choruses. Are they right? The term is quite relative. Compared to the hymns of Isaac Watts, for example, they are contemporary. But only relatively so, IMO.

Others use the term as a code word for “rock” or “light rock,” which, at one time, was a taboo word in much of the evangelical world at large (esp. Baptists).

So when you hear the term, how do you interpret it?

Your comments make polls more interesting, so please feel free to opine.

How Old Can Choruses Be and Still Be Called "Contemporary?"

Must be no more than 5 years old.
0% (0 votes)
No more than 10 years old
0% (0 votes)
No more than 20 years old (or written after 1999)
22% (2 votes)
No more than 30 years old
11% (1 vote)
No time limit, merely refers to rock/light rock choruses
44% (4 votes)
22% (2 votes)
Total votes: 9


It's not the age it's the style:

  1. Theologically light, banal, repetitive lyrics
  2. Music 'worship' team acts like a rock band
  3. Music discourages rather than encouraging congregational singing
  4. Emotional lyrics accompanied by handwaving
  5. Casual dress by 'worship' team who act like rock-star wannabes

I don’t think anything we sing at our church could be called a “chorus,” but that aside, the word ‘contemporary’ has a definition.

Webster, for example…

con·​tem·​po·​rary kən-ˈtem-pə-ˌrer-ē -ˌre-rē

a: marked by characteristics of the present period : MODERN, CURRENT
contemporary American literature
contemporary standards
: happening, existing, living, or coming into being during the same period of time
The book is based on contemporary accounts of the war.

So the word has a time reference. But “present period” can be pretty broad. To me, an “old hymn” would have to be 17th century or older. But a “new hymn” seems like 21st century or later.

The inconsistency there is probably because hymnody has been around a really long time, so “periods” of hymnody can span centuries. But also we use “new” more often in reference to very recent things.

Looking at Darrell’s analysis, about half that list goes back to maybe the late 80s? More of it 90s and later?

But if you go back far enough, casual dress was the only dress for most people. Only the rich had anything like ‘formal’ clothing.

Also, as for “banal, light, and repetitive,” at our church we sing mostly newish music but it’s all theologically rich (even dense) and 90% of it is hymn structured. Where it becomes more contemporary is that it often has harmonies nobody used in the 19th century or much of the 20th. It’s a bit more rhythmically complex at times. And arrangements often include things like optional bridges and tags. Presto, “contemporary.”

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

I think most contemporary choruses (meaning last 20 years) are shallow, but some, like those by Getty or Sovereign Grace, have substance to them and not overly repititious.

If you have an old hymnal, like Inspiring Hymns, thumb through it and note all the shallow songs that generally have not survived (except “In the Garden” seems to survive nonetheless). Shallow and substantial come in all styles. The repetitive thing, though, seems a new phenomenon in many of the new choruses, I will concur. But not the deep ones.

I tend to think the our personal age might have a lot to do with what is contemporary. If a song became popular in our youth or more so adulthood (be we 90 or 20), we consider it contemporary. If it was written before we can remember, it is not. In that sense, “contemporary” can float in its usage.

"The Midrash Detective"

When faced with questions like this, I always think “Would Frank Garlock do that?” If the answer is “no,” then I would not do that thing.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

I would define it as "of a style that is currently widely used to make new music."

When faced with questions like this, I always think "Would Frank Garlock do that?". If the answer is "yes", then.....

Just kidding....

Seriously, to work with Darrell's list, I'd see that as more descriptive of one body of work than as a definition of the genre as a whole. Let's be blunt here; at any rock concert in the secular world, the crowd is signing along with the lyrics. So to argue that modern styles are opposed to congregational singing is false. It's also false to argue that the lyrics are necessarily shallow; to be sure, too much is, but that's not part of the definition of the genre.

Regarding the notion that those leading praise are rockstar wannabees, I guess that's why I generally wear a dress shirt and often a tweed coat when I'm on stage, channeling my inner Huey Lewis or Buddy Holly. (I leave the fishnet pantyhose, elevator shoes, and spiked leather outfit to the bassist of course) Seriously, yes, the genre is different from the music pastor standing at the pulpit with suit & tie, but it's really not trying to imitate Madonna, Kiss, or Van Halen.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.