What is “great music”? The term is often used as though there were fixed universal rules about what it should sound like…

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I thank the Lord that no such rules exist, apart from the fact that music, as with all we do, should come from a heart of faith, and should glorify God in some way.

(EYEPHONE, “Greenhouse”)

If you asked a thousand people on the street what great music is you would probably get at least a hundred different answers.  I recently heard an interview in which the host-probably a senior-gave praise to the crooners of fifty and sixty years ago (Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, etc.). These, he said, were the greats, unmatched by anyone since. Elvis Presley was “not a singer”, he was “just there as a celebrity package to make someone some money”. If such commentators had their way we would all still be listening to Perry Como today.

Currently on Christian radio and in many evangelical churches the term “great music” is applied unconditionally to “contemporary” Christian music-the kind with guitars and drums and handsome guys and beautiful gals with “great voices”. I resent being told that it’s “great music” for the reason that I resent having my tastes dictated to me, and because I don’t agree that it’s great at all. I’ve heard and played a lot of music in my time, and I know what I like and what I don’t like.

Your idea of great music may be very different to mine, as hard as that is to imagine, and what I consider great music would probably be nothing more than a pointless noise to you. I understand that, and I know that my tastes are “out there” to almost everyone. But what about the people who like classical, jazz, drum and bass, metal, rap, opera, electronica, or dare I say it-hymns? Do they all have to jump into the melting pot, the great lowest-common-denominator of the music world, and like what they are told to like?

In churches where the hymns have been trashed (or versions with a back-beat substituted), a one-style one-genre form of worship has taken over, as though everyone has the same musical tastes, and as though we all agree that this is what makes “great music” and great worship. The new regime-the new status quo-intentionally excludes any form of variety, variation, deviation, experimentation or competition.

MAY 2012 to JULY 2013 158

It’s wrong of worship leaders and ministers to take the praise of a few admirers after the service and conclude that everyone loves it that way so that‘s the way it’s going to be. Plenty of Christians sit in church keeping their different ideas quiet for fear of being considered “un-cool” or of causing friction, and plenty of others stay home instead of attending church, partly because they don’t agree with the church’s idea of “great music” and “powerful worship”. Guitars, drums, expensive hair-styles and a back-beat do not necessarily make “powerful worship” any more than a triangle and a kazoo do:  it’s down to other factors such as the spiritual condition of the worship leaders and musicians- are they seeking God in humility, holiness and repentance?

For the life of me I can’t understand why Christians have it in their heads that experimentation in music is sinful and worldly! Surley God is the Creator of imagination, not Satan. And would it not be honoring to God to use that imagination? I don’t mean make the two-chord four measures longer, make the snare louder, and use a lot more heavy breathing in the vocals: I mean how about something really different as an expression of God’s creativity for those of us who have more imagination.

Some people think that in order for music to be acceptable in Christian minds and circles it has to contain wall-to-wall easy-to-understand lyrics based on the gospel or personal testimonies in praise of God. While it’s always good to praise God, if that’s the case our clothes, our cars, our walls and our gardens should be similarly marked with Bible verses. If it’s true, then the Lord made a mistake by making clouds which have no words on them at all, let alone Bible verses, and by making space completely black, and by making waterfalls which fail to speak in plain English and are woefully out of tune. Patterns-on floor tiles for example-should be shunned by the Christian, since they don’t give a clear Biblical message, and flowery shirts and pin-stripe suits should be avoided at all costs because the markings are devoid of Christian phrases.

Whatever you call “great music” is great-for you, and thank the Lord for it, but don’t expect me to smile hypocritically at just any music imposed upon me, or to get emotional about something which I find boring, clichéd and unsatisfying.

Please, if we must be “contemporary”, can’t we get off the rails and begin to be creative, in honor of our amazing Creator?

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