Saturday, April 30, 2011

With the power off

"Contemporary Christian artists almost always use instruments in their recordings and concerts. Their music is instrumentally conceived, and without instruments (in traditional a cappella settings) the music doesn't work effectively. Instrumentally accompanied church music provides the singers/congregation with harmonic and rhythmic backgrounds. In such an environment, there is much less need for singers to employ and appreciate harmony. Praise teams to a great extent exist to provide, promote and perpetuate harmony for the congregation. When churches embrace the contemporary sound, they are led to make accommodations — trained singers, sound systems, instrumental accompaniment, vocal and instrumental percussion, and the like. I find it interesting that among instrumental churches of various descriptions that I have visited, I don't hear much real singing by the congregation going on. I have thought on many occasions that if the electrical power were cut off, there would be very little sound of singing by the congregation. The congregation increasingly is playing the role of observer rather than participant."

Arthur Shearin is a director of concert choir and former music department chairman at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas. Quoted in article "Take notes: Church music lacks true harmony, singing experts say" by Tamie Ross in The Christian Chronicle.


Anonymous said...

A very good point made by Mr. Shearin. I do not believe I have heard this kind of explanation from this particular angle before.

I immediately thought of another element which can be tied into this. At various times, I have listened to quite a few people make a comment such as this. Of course it is usually by someone who has been around awhile to know the difference. They will say that most modern music of any kind now sounds so artificial, with little to distinguish one song from another. I believe one reason for this would be that most music that is recorded now is undertaken by a process of "one piece at a time," akin to an assembly line, so to speak. Nowadays, when someone records a song, they will usually sing over a prerecorded track. If there are voices in the background, this is also prerecorded as well. If a mistake is made along the way, technology now allows them to go back and patch it up, even if it is only one or two words. Whereas up until about 40 years ago, about everything was done all at the same time, right on the spot. If a mistake was made, the entire process had to be done all over again. It actually motivated the singer to give it their very best.

I have also heard another comment made. Some will say when you take the latest "cookie cutter" star and put them in a smaller setting without the huge instrumentation, along with the glitz and circus-like atmosphere, they come across as being very flat, to the point to where they sound just like another person off the street.

What I believe has happened is that the human element has slowly been taken out of music. It has been taken away to the point to where now, when some listen to music, either live or recorded, it is actually the effects thrown in they are really wanting, rather than the actual song. And to think, there was a time without the benefit of even micrphones, much less the hoopla we have today. A lot of viable art forms within music have all but vanished, as a result. But there is not much that can be done to reverse the process now, I am afraid. The culture of youth takes precedence now. Sadly,this is where the money is now. Even more sad is how the church houses have embraced it as well.

Anonymous said...

I failed to add the point of how this issue speaks to what the average church service has become. I am afraid so many view it as a performance to be seen, rather than worship. Whatever happened to the reverential tone of worship?

R. L. Vaughn said...

Yes, I also thought it was an unique angle from which Mr. Shearin approached this and that is one reason I posted the quote. With the power off, would we even be able to hear the worship going on?

Anonymous said...

While still considering this thought provoking observation, another point comes to mind.

On many occasions you have heard old time singers and musicians say it was in church where they learned to sing. You could certainly hear the influence, even if they were singing a song of secular nature.

You would be hard pressed to find one of the new breed of musicians who would say it was in church where they learned to sing. It all gets back to the status of being a non-participant, but a spectator.