Sunday, September 16, 2007

Repetative Mind-numbing Praise Music

Driving home from church early this afternoon, I had the radio tuned to a local Christian station. I heard a woman using seductive coloration in her voice to sing a song my church has done several times during our worship. Without thinking about the song's words, I decided I do not like 1) women singing Christian music in a fashion that mimics sex-dripping pop songs; and 2) the use of complex pop solo songs in corporate worship (no one person in my church could recreate those complex vocal over-stylizations, let alone all of us recreating them together).

Then I went home and looked up the lyrics. This song, Breathe, so ably typifies some other general problems I have with modern pop-mimic "church" music, namely 3) the repetitive nature, dulling and lulling worshippers into a mindless state so as to fail to consider the words which we are supposed to be professing corporately to God; and 4) the self-focused, vice God-focused, nature of praise music, commonly personified by the zealous use of personal pronouns.

Here it is:
"This is the air I breathe/This is the air I breathe/Your holy presence living in me

"This is my daily bread/This is my daily bread/Your very word spoken to me

"And I, I'm desperate for you/And I, I'm lost without you

"This is the air I breathe/This is the air I breathe/Your holy presence living in me

"This is my daily bread/This is my daily bread/Your very word spoken to me

"And I, I'm desperate for you/And I, I'm lost without you

"And I, I'm desperate for you,/And I, I'm lost without you,/I'm lost without you,/I'm so lost without you.

"I'm so lost without you.

"I'm so lost without you,

"This is the air I breathe/This is the air I breathe/Your holy presence living in me

"This is my daily bread/This is my daily bread/Your very word spoken to me

"And I, I'm desperate for you/And I, I'm lost without you."

To make my point seem more compelling than perhaps it is, I have put personal pronouns in RED, and GREEN was going to be repeat lyrics, but there were too many, so I put original lyrics in that color. With this exercise it occured to me that a personal pronoun appears in every line of the song (while God, the object of worship, was not so fortunate). Doulia, or Latria of the self?, one could ponder...

7 comments:

Devin Rose said...

I know where you're coming from. One other problem I have with Christian pop music, much of which I actually like, is that the lyrics are very watered down so as not to offend any particular denomination, at the expense of depth of meaning.

I have often wondered when listening to a song: What does this Christian singer believe? What did they mean when they sang these vague lyrics?

That is one benefit I have found to Catholic worship music: It is usually very Catholic in lyrics and therefore deeper in meaning. Many Protestants would feel uncomfortable with the lyrics because they speak so clearly of the Catholic faith.

Thos said...

Devin,

Excellent point. My wife observed of "Breathe" that I could essentially sing the song to her with the same effect. A lover and God in many of these songs share the same attributes, which ultimately says very little about God and only a little bit about love.

I'm not sure why my church uses such songs. We have a carefully vetted hymnal that conforms with our confessional standards. Seems like a good practice that should be followed exclusively.

I've been a guest at Catholic churches and been surprised at the singing of Protestant hymns (specifically, and ironically, some from the pen of Luther). I assume those have been vetted for doctrinal conformity with the Catholic Church's teaching.

Peace in Christ,
Thos.

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Ehh - My experience has been a bit different than Devin's. In a perfect world, the music in any given Catholic Church would be thoroughly Catholic but I know in many (if not the vast majority) you will notice little difference in their hymns than in Protestant ecclesial communities.

You're right Thos - not too long ago in my own parish we sang "A Mighty Fortress" not that there's anything doctrinally wrong with it, just the irony of the situation was a bit uncomfortable.

Traditionally, Catholics do not sing congregational hymns - that is a Protestant tradition. The tradition has been widely adopted though.

We have a schola at my parish that tries to supplement the current crap the normal choir sings with real music - i.e. Gregorian & Byzantine chants (not that this is the only type of 'real music' but it certainly is proper to the mass whereas the others aren't).

What I'm trying to say I guess is this: the kind of dumbing down, feminization, vanilization (to borrow from your words) whatever else you want to call it- is not exclusively a Protestant issue.

The biggest difference though is that the Catholic Church has a magisterium that is actively working to correct these (and other issues) so it's not merely a matter of a well intentioned parishioner trying to convince some Church leadership but rather a collective effort to get certain parishes to comply with regulations already in place.

Principium unitatis said...

Thos,

I was raised Pentecostal, and was going to a charismatic church when I first moved to St. Louis (1994). My very last service at the charismatic church, a lady got up in the front and sang 'Holy, Holy, Holy' but swaying her body and with a gravelly voice like we were in a bar. As we left that day, I turned to my wife and I said, "I'm never coming back here." The complete contradiction between the content of the words, and the form of the delivery, was so striking it made me sick.

Now I worship at the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica, where I get stuff like this.

(I know; I'm totally spoiled, but what can I say? - plus we have Archbishop Burke.) :-)

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Thos said...

GFF,

Your experience matches what I've seen in my few visits to Catholic churches. That hymn singing is a Protestant tradition helps explain why no one seemed to be singing when they were supposed to in Mass (or at least, didn't look happy about it!).

All,

It is lamentable that there is no control from "on high" OR from within on the music that has become widely used within the PCA. Much of it is written by people with doctrinal positions widely different from our own (and it shows). I've seen several instances in churches we've been members of where maybe one to four people pushed hard to make their pro-pop-music agenda take hold. The session of elders or the worship committee (or whomever else has the power to say "no") often lays down for dead for fear of saying "no". This is one aspect of what I dub the "Problem of Nice" which rears its ugly in so much of church life.

Peace in Christ,
Thos.

Thos said...

Now this is an interesting factoid on the history of Contemporary Christian Music. Take it for what it's worth: http://www.av1611.org/crock/crockex3.html.

Devin Rose said...

One clarification: By Catholic music I did not mean music we sing in our parish during Mass, which unfortunately varies widely in doctrinal conformity and just plain musical quality, as you have experienced, but rather contemporary Catholic musician's music, like Matt Maher.