This week at school saw the breaking of that weird "grey period" in a semester where you've been churning papers/tests/assignments out and handing them in, but haven't received anything back. It's a bit of a tiring time because you're not sure if you're on the right track with a particular teacher, or if you included enough research in that last paper, etc. etc. Well, happily I did well on this response paper for Church Music Colloquium. We do three of these papers each term, and are supposed to pick a chapter from an assigned book and summarize/respond.
One of this term's books is called The Great Worship Awakening: Singing a New Song in the Postmodern Church. It's by Robb Redman. Here is my response to his chapter entitled "The Contemporary Worship Music Industry." If I had had more room to write (we're supposed to keep it to two pages... mine was *ahem* four) I would have included more of my positive thoughts on this style of worship music. I think it's a valuable mode of worship and does speak to many people that other styles of worship would not; however the PowerPoint "zombie" effect in worship and the lack of concern by contemporary artists for the material that has come before them are, I think, big concerns. Anyways, if you are interested, here's my paper. :)
Redman, Robb. “The Contemporary Worship Music Industry.” In The Great Worship Awakening: Singing a New Song in the Postmodern Church. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, 2002. 47-71.
In this chapter Robb Redman traces the development of Contemporary Worship Music (CWM) and Christian Contemporary Music (CCM) in the Protestant church in the years since the 1970s. He looks at the influence seminal contemporary resource books such as Hymns for the Family of God (1976), the Celebration Hymnal (1992) and the later Wow! Worship series have had on church worship, and their reception in congregations ranging from enthused to lukewarm to openly hostile. Redman also discusses the relatively new concept of the commercial publisher of sacred music, and the struggle of some worship leaders to accept the notion of producing worship materials for a profit. Redman credits the rejection of traditional "culture" Protestantism by the questioning, boundary-pushing youth of the late 1960's and 1970s, as well as the highly individualistic leanings of more recent generations, with the push for more personal, simple, "authentic" worship music. He notes the emergence in churches of the use of gospel choruses and other songs intended to be sung repetitively; Redman further notes that this brevity was favoured because a song's lyrics "often had to fit on a single overhead transparency" (54-55) – the proto-PowerPoint.
Redman describes the "Big Four" producers of CWM – Maranatha! Music, the Vineyard Music Group, WorshipTogether, and Integrity Music. Formed in the late 1990s, the latter found its niche emulating the bands of the grunge movement such as REM and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, producing songs of personal devotion and confession. Redman writes that these four companies focus on recording songs intended for congregational singing and not only for listening. In addition to these, Redman also names several minor labels and independent artists contributing to this repertoire. Further, in CCM music, Redman says, the line between music for worship and for evangelism ("message" music) is blurred, and several CCM artists have recorded worship music for release on their commercial albums. He notes that, in contrast to the intention of much CWM music, CCM music is "artist-oriented" and should be used in worship discerningly, since this music is less suitable for congregational singing. Also, sales of CCM albums are geared to individuals rather than congregations or worship planners, so companies do not produce the sheet music, chord charts and other resources that were a mark of the CWM movement.
Redman defends the commercial nature of CWM – now made very accessible by copyright catalogues such as CCLI – by pointing out that, considering the spotty success of denominational hymnals in past years, the process does not necessarily guarantee (nor indeed preclude) a solid product. However, he does allow that "the growing quantity of CWM has not necessarily produced an increase in quality;" (68) alluding to the influence of "marketability" on producers' choices of new CWM projects. Redman concludes by affirming CWM and CCM's place in helping to "close the gap between the church and the surrounding culture" (71).
Without seeking to quibble about Redman's choice of terms, I find his use of the designation "worship awakening" in this book for CWM and CCM music troublesome. While this music has ostensibly signalled a renewed interest by the current generation in church life (the theological dubiousness of some CCM music aside), the designation Redman uses suggests that music that has come before and/or other current music outside of the sphere of CCM have not and do not contribute to a connected, lively worship experience. He seems to suggest that the theologically laden music of Bach, the folk melodies of Vaughan Williams and the melodious offerings of Fauré have for the past few centuries been contributing to a musical stupor from which CCM has saved us. This is to put aside the offerings of the Iona community and song leaders such as I-to Loh, Patrick Matsikenyiri and Pablo Sosa, who have been doing their work in the church at least as long as the early days of CWM.
In reading this chapter I was reminded that songs such as Karen Lafferty's "Seek Ye First" and Terrye Coehelo's "Father, I Adore You" fall into the CWM category and not long ago were groundbreaking (and for some, suspect) worship songs. It is interesting to note how tastes change and material whose value was previously disputed has become standard in many congregations. It makes me wonder how much of the quarrel over CCM will soon be forgotten, and how long it will be before "We Wanna See Jesus Lifted High" will be considered an "old favourite" in congregations. It is also interesting to reflect on the breakdown of rhetoric in the conveyance of a theological message in worship music; Redman says that CWM was written in response to a desire for more concise, brief worship songs – however, "Seek Ye First" appears positively verbose in comparison with many examples of CCM. Granted, the impact of a song does not always lie in a carefully constructed textual argument; however, it is a trend to be aware of.
I believe Redman too easily glosses over the issue that "some critics of CWM point to the consumerism of American culture and complain that CWM is tainted by its association with the forces of greed and materialism" (67). I do not mean to suggest that a sacred musician making a profit for his or her work is negative in and of itself, or that it is a new phenomenon. Indeed, Laurence Moore as quoted in this chapter shows us that it goes back as far as the 1800s, saying evangelist D.L. Moody "understood... that religion had to become a business in the nineteenth century and that success in religion depended on sound and innovative business practices" (50, from Selling God). However, there is a point at which this goes too far for comfort. Redman, for example, does not seem to find problematic the extreme affluence enjoyed by some performers through their work in CCM (as the greater church struggles with issues of global justice), or the living out of a life mirroring that of a secular rock star (as the church struggles to name and maintain its identity in a rapidly changing postmodern world). As Harold M. Best states in his Music Through the Eyes of Faith, "CCM as an industry is not easily separated from the larger procedural workings of the electronic media. Whatever else it is, CCM is business, promotion, advertising, marketing, technology, technique, populism, and, musically speaking, virtual parallelism to secular pop" (Best, 164).
These issues are also tied up with the plugged-in, tuned out culture against which the church has to struggle in its attempts to build community. Earlier I referred to the "proto-PowerPoint" of songs designed to fit on transparencies; this trend has been magnified by the advent of the electronic screen in worship. I feel that in too many worship services featuring CCM, congregants stare at overhead screens as they would a computer or television, rather than engaging with each other and with worship. Though it is an admirable goal of CWM and some examples of CCM to produce music geared toward congregational singing, the model of CCM works against this goal. For example, the "rock concert" setup of instrumentalists at the front wired for sound, flanked by shiny electric instruments and a row of microphone stands, is anathema to congregational song. This setup makes spectators of the congregation, and deters singing just as much as would an overpowering organ or operatic church choir.
While I value the possibilities offered by CWM and CCM, I find it frustrating when its proponents take on the very roles that they claim to abhor in so-called "traditional" church musicians. I am also uncomfortable with the ignorance displayed in this genre of music to the music that has come before; the songs are not grounded in what Redman himself refers to as the "legacy" of previous church music. I would be very pleased to see more of a dialogue open up between the wisdom of the music of our past and this worthy new mode of praise and worship.
P.S. Dr. Anderson commented that I have an abusive relationship with the semicolon (okay, not in those words.) Anyone have thoughts on that?