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 The decline of Secular AND Christian music

Music has been discussed from time to time on this forum, and many of you know that while having issues with the Christian Music [b]Industry[/b] (and it IS an "industry")... I do love a variety of musical styles that some believers consider evil.

I have posted below a chapter from the book "Seeds of Change", written by Kerry Livgren, who was the creative force behind the 70's/80's rock band KANSAS. Kerry became a born again believer in the early 80's and has gone on to front several Christian bands since. He is a prolific song writer and instrumentalist.

Anyway... I thought this writing of his tackled many of the things I have myself noticed in music, both secular and christian. This really sums up where I am coming from.

It's lengthy, but those who are interested in this whole issue will find it interesting.

Since what I have posted below is available for free on his website ( www.kerrylivgren.com ), I do not believe I am breaking any copyright laws by posting it here.

Anyway... looking forward to hearing any comments y'all might have!

Krispy

[b]From the book "Seeds Of Change"
by Kerry Livgren[/b]

[i]I am often asked to comment or voice my opinion about contemporary music, both secular and sacred. I usually decline because an honest response to the question would require a great deal of labor on my part to bring it about, and I'm not sure that my opinions are any more valid than those of others. Yet, I am continually asked, so I will attempt to formulate my thoughts in this abbreviated version.

One of the problems in answering such a question is that "contemporary music" covers such an incredibly broad spectrum that it is difficult to know exactly what part of that spectrum I am to comment on. Besides, exactly what are the boundaries of "contemporary" anyway? Five years, two years, ten years, a hundred? One thing I know; the fickleness of American popular music listeners is astounding. Today, a piece of music can cease to be contemporary in a matter of months! It turns stale like a piece of bread. We have divided recent eras of popular music into decades or less, as if any possible social or artistic relevance in a song could not reach beyond that short span of time.

It must be a symptom of our shallow throw-away culture. Things are no longer built to last. Everything, not just music, seems destined for a transitory life, as if designed only for maximum profit, soon to be replaced by the "next big thing." It is as if planned obsolescence has invaded the realm of human expression. Longevity is only relevant as it relates to commercial viability. Quality or creativity seem not, in and of themselves, to be sufficient reasons to justify the existence of a piece of music. They have been eclipsed by something called "image," and marketability, now a necessity for the artist (if "artist" is the appropriate word).

The motivation behind much of the music being produced today is, to my mind, somewhat less than pure. The artist who is trying to be totally original and creative has more than an uphill battle on his hands. There are the necessary (?) legal entanglements to contend with. The artist must not only attempt to convince a record company to distribute and promote his or her music, but is also constricted by the ever-narrowing parameters of radio formatting. If you don't fit the mold, you're out in the cold. Creative or not, if one steps outside the boundaries of one of these commercial formats, it can be the kiss of death.

One could argue that this is nothing new and has always been the case. Audiences supposedly rioted when they first heard Stravinskys' Rite of Spring because it sounded so unlike anything they had ever heard. People seem to prefer to be mindlessly entertained than to be challenged. But even if that has always been true, I maintain that our artistic environment today is getting worse and not better. There is no atmosphere today which can cultivate a Stravinsky. People are obsessed with music at an almost unprecedented level, but the quality of what they are obsessed with is, in my opinion, in a general decline.

Allan Bloom spoke at length (and quite eloquently) on this point in his book, The Closing of the American Mind. Commenting on our culture's obsession with music, he writes: "It is available twenty-four hours a day, everywhere. There is the stereo in the home, in the car; there are concerts; there are music videos, with special channels exclusively devoted to them, on the air nonstop; there are the Walkmans so that no place--not public transportation, not the library--prevents students from communing with the Muse . . . ."

This is profound and true. Music is all around us. But the disturbing irony is that so many can be obsessed with so little. One doesn't often hear Bach, Duke Ellington, or Aaron Copland blasting out of a boom box. Don't misunderstand me; I know it's beginning to sound as if I don't like rock or any kind of modern music, or that I think we should remain in the past. That's ridiculous--I grew up on rock and roll, and for most of my life that's what I have written and played. My lamentations are for what I think is a lack of real creativity and the absence of an atmosphere that would encourage and reward it. Incidentally, I am not saying this from the standpoint of an artist who believes he is above that criticism. I constantly struggle to escape the ordinary in my own work, and only occasionally succeed.

Over the years I have accumulated a rather large collection of recordings which covers the whole spectrum of musical styles. Lately I have found that there is rarely time to sit down and simply listen to music, but in one of those rare moments, I pulled a record off the shelf that I have not listened to for probably ten years. It was an early album by a little known British group, Gentle Giant. I happened to notice the liner notes on the album which read: "It is our goal to expand the frontiers of contemporary popular music at the risk of being very unpopular. We have recorded each composition with the one thought--that it should be unique, adventurous and fascinating. It has taken every shred of our combined musical and technical knowledge to achieve this."

I think they fulfilled their prophecy of their own obscurity, but what a credo! They stated most succinctly the exact attitude which I think is missing from so much of today's contemporary music. There is no virtue in intentionally seeking to be unpopular, nor does commercial success automatically mean that a piece of music was conceived for that purpose. The best possible scenario is one in which the highest creative endeavors are accessible to the broadest possible audience.

Bloom makes a point in his book with which I completely disagree. He maintains that the musical soil is rich, and that "There is no dearth of the new and the startling." To the contrary, I find a tremendous dearth of the new, although I grant that some things I hear are indeed startling. I would have to take the position of Ecclesiastes--that there is nothing new under the sun. Virtually everything on the airwaves is so completely formularized that it sounds like it came off an assembly line. I don't really think that there is a total absence of creative musicians on the face of the earth. They surely exist in garages and basements, and might be heard on the most obscure private record labels, but obscurity is the key word here.

Ironically, there are some real virtuoso players out there, but the confines of the styles in which they are trapped can make them stupefyingly boring. Guitarists are particularly guilty of saturating the market with their machine gun arpeggios and ever more flamboyant and postured chromatic explosions. How much more impressed are we supposed to get? The whole genre seems to be designed to draw attention to the player rather than the music. Even the college radio stations with their "alternative music" suffer from a dreadful sameness. Most of the groups I hear on these stations seem to believe that providing an alternative consists of either imitating the bands of the sixties or being as cacophonous and obnoxious as possible.

There was indeed, an explosion of creativity in the sixties and early seventies upon which we are still coasting. Many of the popular musicians of that decade literally defined how some instruments are played thirty years later. There is not a contemporary rock guitarist, for example, who does not owe a huge debt to Hendrix, Clapton, and a few others. During that brief period, scores of new bands emerged, almost all of which had a distinctively individual and identifiable style. Musicians were doing many things that had never been done before. It was a very open and creative decade. We are now in an imitative period. I am amazed at the apparently unending number of heavy metal groups, for example, that are strapped with such rigid parameters in both their music and their appearance. Where are the individuals?

One of the things that frightens me most about saying things like this is that I sound just like our dads sounded when we were teenagers! Growing up in the sixties, most of us heard our parents expound on the unequaled greatness of Benny Goodman or Glenn Miller, and how this "modern" music sounded like noise, had no melody, and would not stand the test of time. The generational boundaries were clear then, but interestingly, they seem to be getting less distinct today. I have seen many families with teenagers in which both the parents and kids were listening to the same groups. In some cases, the kids were reaching farther back than the parents were. That rarely would have been the case in the sixties or even the seventies. I never would have bought a Count Basie or Frankie Carle album when I was sixteen (although I appreciate them now, and I'm starting to really dig Glenn Miller).

As a member of a band that reached its peak of popularity in the late seventies and early eighties, I find it gratifying, but also peculiar to be receiving a significant amount of fan mail from people 25 years younger than me. On the most recent Kansas tour that I was on, our audiences ranged from early teens to late middle age. Something has certainly changed. The only theory I have for this is as follows: As modern music becomes more formularized, derivative, and shallow, listeners are crossing cultural and generational boundaries to find music of spiritual and creative substance. Witness the recent interest in various types of "ethnic" music. I find myself listening to it a lot because it seems so untainted and fresh--free from the corporate mold.

Christian music suffers from the same malady. Though we as Christians have a mandate to be skillful and creative, and Scripture affirms that we should sing unto the Lord a new song, we rarely hear anything truly new. The atmosphere of Christian radio is so limited as to be almost stifling. Not only is it as highly formatted as its secular counterpart, but in most cases, the artist must conform to some sort of spiritual criteria--someone's definition of what makes his or her music acceptable Christian music. It's a strange irony indeed that finds lyrics with the most profound truth coupled with the most unchallenging sort of muzak.

I have noted the church lowering its standard in other ways regarding art and music. The practice of singing to tape tracks rather than live musicians has invaded the church and become so prevalent as to become almost the norm. Though I understand why this is done, I can't get over the feeling that it is not an improvement, but a great step down into mediocrity. I find it particularly repulsive in the context of a concert. I leave these events feeling like I've been to half a concert. I have no problem using things like sequencers and overdubbing for recording, but something precious is lost when a "live" performance is not alive. It deprives the musician of his place and the audience of the joy and spontaneity of human expression. I have even seen a "performance" on Christian television in which the music was on tape and the vocals were lip synced. Is this supposed to inspire?

Recently I have been listening to a recording of a composition by Ralph Vaughn Williams entitled "Ring Out Ye Crystal Spheres." (a part of "Hodie") I decided as I was listening that this piece embodies everything I find missing in contemporary popular music, Christian or secular. It is majestic, mysterious, uplifting, serenely beautiful, transcendent, moving, brimming over with power, inspiring, inspired, skillfully crafted, done to the glory of God, and totally fulfilling (I like it!). "But Kerry," you say, "I feel the same way about rap music." That's a difficult argument to counter. There truly is no accounting for taste, but it does not lessen my conviction that we are in the direst need of the above-mentioned qualities in our contemporary art, literature and music. They are sadly lacking. In fact, our culture has so re-defined art that the word has become meaningless.

"Art" no longer represents the highest thoughts and aspirations of man. You can now walk down the main streets in America and find the pornographic theatres labeled as "Art Cinemas." "Art" no longer requires transcendent and inspired human skills to produce, and the word decadent falls hopelessly short of describing its moral status. It now includes the most repulsive sort of filth imaginable, all protected under the umbrella of free speech and artistic expression, and for society to set some standard as to what is acceptable, or to even describe a recordings' contents with a label brings cries of "Fascist censorship! Don't impose your morality on me!'' It would be interesting if the same standards that they want removed from their art were to be removed from the food they eat.

I can't help it, but something in me tells me that paint splattered on a canvas with a hose is not on a par with Rembrandt or Leonardo, rap and Thrash are not an improvement on Tchiakovsky or Debussy, and a crucifix in a jar of urine falls a little short of Michelangelo. If our art and our music are the pulse of our culture, then civilization is sliding down, and if we haven't hit bottom, how much lower can we go?[/i]

 2006/11/1 14:35









 Re: The decline of Secular AND Christian music

This is a good article.

I was a big fan of Kansas when I was into rock music. Kerry livgren is a brilliant song writer. He actually has a new CD, well I don't know how new it is, but I've heard it. My dad actually went to his house in Kansas. He said he has an awesome home studio. I have lots of family living in Kansas.

He's right. Music has taken a downward spiral. Instead of exploring the frontiers of music and taking it to a new level, it's become a colaberation of hypnotic, three cord and four cord progression. The beat and cord progression are the only thing important. The voices are over dubbed until they sound almost unnatural.There is no excellence in mastering a instrument anymore. Mix it with lots of distortion and let it fly. Whatever happened to the guitarists like Randy Rhoads who mixed his type of music with a classical twist. His ripping arpeggios and staccato style guitar playing was the revolution in his days.

Personally, not much of todays contemporary music has any spiritual satisfaction for me. The old hymns really hit the spot.

J-bird

I think there is a reason for this though. Satan is a musical being and he has alot of influence in the musical realm.

 2006/11/1 20:38
Compton
Member



Joined: 2005/2/24
Posts: 2732


 Re:

Overall it's hard to disagree with Kerry Livgren on this topic. Like many people, I have several personal theories as to why culture just doesn't matter anymore in church...one possible explanation is that we evangelicals are just too end-times dispensational to be concerned about leaving great art behind for the next generation.

However, For what it's worth, it might interest some people to know there is a small but steady growth in the interest of Choral music these days. More and more new contemporary composers are making really wonderful contributions to sacred music and more choral groups then ever are being formed to sing this music.

But be warned...these are not evangelical composers. Normally I might not mention them here, but Kerry's article was more about good art, rather then theology.

In any case I think even Kerry Livgren would have to admit these composers are making fine art...although it's not pop music. If Kerry likes Vaugn Williams then he just might like one of these living composers.

The British composer and choral conductor [url=http://www.amazon.com/Rutter-Requiem-Susan-Dorey/dp/B00008OP1S/sr=1-5/qid=1162453899/ref=sr_1_5/102-1179971-3725766?ie=UTF8&s=music]John Rutter[/url] is being heard more and more these days. His Requiem is my favorite...one listen to Pie Jesus on this inexpensive CD and you'll believe that deeply moving and beautiful worship music isn't a thing of the past afterall.

The American composer [url=http://www.amazon.com/Lauridsen-Northwest-Journey-Morten/dp/B00004YNF7/sr=1-7/qid=1162454158/ref=sr_1_7/102-1179971-3725766?ie=UTF8&s=music]Morten Lauridsen[/url] writes both sacred and secular choral music. If you want to hear one of the most heart stirring flowing melodies that could ever fall on your ears, listen to 'O Magnum Mysterium" on the CD I bookmarked. Ears are wonderful gifts from God!

The Estonian orthodox composer [url=http://www.amazon.com/Best-Arvo-Part/dp/B0001ZMBU6/sr=8-3/qid=1162453585/ref=pd_bbs_sr_3/102-1179971-3725766?ie=UTF8&s=music]Arvo Part[/url] is an internationally recognized master who has become known for meditative minimalism. It's worth noting that he suffered severe censorship from the Soviet Union a few decades ago when he made his Christian faith public.

These guys aren't exactly radio friendly...but they are heart and soul friendly...and the best part is they aren't dead yet!

MC


_________________
Mike Compton

 2006/11/2 3:17Profile









 Re:

Quote:
"Christian music suffers from the same malady. Though we as Christians have a mandate to be skillful and creative, and Scripture affirms that we should sing unto the Lord a new song, we rarely hear anything truly new"



Nor is it being sung/played unto the Lord.

Lets be honest about the "seeker seeking" ways and make it the beginning point of any rectification to our "worship" service. I ceased attending "gigs" on Sunday morn nor will I allow myself to be manipulated by "self serving" lyrics regardless of the melody with which they are accompanied.
The church has let in the "little foxes" that have spoiled the vine.

I believe the writer has missed the whole point because of his love for music. I love music, too. I play the modern organ. I own three of them plus keyboards.
Rule of thumb for understanding: If the music sounds rotten, its rotten, regardless of how well it is played or supposedly understood. If music and the players of it is a hinderance to worship where does the problem lay? Is it with the hearer who is inhibited by the noise of distortion and/or confusing melody and non-directional lyrics? or the players who have no anointing, deluded into believing they have?

Music is creative and it creates an atmosphere. Ponder that aspect of it.

:-orm

 2006/11/2 8:10









 Re:

There is a Christian band that I was turned onto recently that I really like... and they are actually very artistic, tho maybe a bit too heavy for the tastes of some here.

They are called Narnia, and they are from Sweden. They play what is called "Melodic Metal", and their music is heavily influenced by classic music. They are first rate musicians, and the best part is... they dont hide the fact that they are Christians. Their lyrics are very bold. Even so, because of their outstanding musicianship, they are a very well respected band in Europe.

I've managed to get my hands on all 6 of their CD's, and I love all of them.

If you're interested, their website is:

http://www.narniaworld.com/

Krispy

 2006/11/2 8:33









 Re:

Quote:
They are called Narnia, and they are from Sweden. They play what is called "Melodic Metal", and their music is heavily influenced by classic music



That's too bad. I would hope for the best influence..... Unless its just for secular entertainment they play.


:-o

 2006/11/2 8:44









 Re:

Quote:
That's too bad. I would hope for the best influence..... Unless its just for secular entertainment they play.



I was talking about their musical style... their art form. Thats kinda what this thread is about. We all want to be so spiritual sounding that we cant even discuss something like this without trying to over spiritualize. C'mon man, dont be so quick to judge. Read the rest of my post about them.

Krispy

 2006/11/2 10:05
PaulWest
Member



Joined: 2006/6/28
Posts: 3405
Dallas, Texas

 Re:

Hey, what do you guys think about playing "blues" in church? I've heard different things from different people. I've heard one worship leader say that God is the creator of [i]all[/i] music, and we need to take back the stuff the devil has stolen and perverted and use it for God's glory.

But I have hard time coming to terms with this style of music in the house of God. I am a guitarist, and I know some blues licks. But, somehow, it just doesn't feel right to "jam" out in church like it used to when I was younger in the Lord. I get heavily convicted now, and refuse to play this kind of music for the sake of conscience.

What do you think? Mind, you, I am a Pentecostal believer - so, it is not so much the electric instruments (I love doing the old hymns with guitar, bass, and drums). What is convicting me is the [i]style[/i] of music, the spirit of the blues. The smokehouse, juke-joint spirit. It just feels wrong to me. Anyone else care to share their convictions on certain styles?

(edit) I think the real issue is that blues, in itself, is very soulish. When it is played well, it has the ability to touch and bring a feeling of "high" without the Lord's presence. This is dangerous...and may lead to a dependancy on a soulish painkiller. After all, isn't this how the blues came into being? Heartbroken people finding consolation through a godless musical outlet that has its roots in infidelity and alcohol? Should we allow this heathenistic form of "soul therapy" into the congregation of God, to evoke the presence of God?

Brother Paul


_________________
Paul Frederick West

 2006/11/2 10:23Profile









 Re:

Half of the Psalms and all of the book of Lamentations would make great blues songs... songs of whoa and heartache. God had no problem putting songs that dealt with individual and national suffering in His poetic books. So I think God expects us to not be afraid to express what we're feeling or going thru in the form of art. Kinda hard to sing a Psalm about everyone wanting to kill David to the tune of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen".

Having said that... in a worship setting I'm not sure that it would be appropriate. I think worship should be unto the Lord. I dont agree that worship should uplift us, I believe it should uplift God. So I'm not a huge fan of music that gets people excited and pumped up in a worship setting. It's about God... not us. Thus said, I dont think in worship we should sing songs or do things that focus on us.

But in our everyday life... away from "the temple" I believe God wants us to be honest with ourselves and with Him. Sometimes we get the blues. Sometimes we get frustrated. Sometimes we face fears. Singing a song of lament (like the book of [b]Lament[/b]ations) is very appropriate. In a setting where music is being performed I think a slow blues number decrying our fallen state is a very effective way of getting others to be honest as well. Get rid of the "Sunday-go-to-meeting smiles" and be real that we do face adversity in this life. God has given certain people a creative and artistic gift... and they should use it. If they dont, they are wasting the gift God gave them.

By the way... listening to music for pure enjoyment is [b]OK[/b]! Music shouldnt just be for worship. Listen to classical, if thats what you like. Listen to jazz... and enjoy it for the art that it is! It's ok! Sometimes people on this forum try to come off as being super spiritual and condemning anything that doesnt lead them into the throne room of God. Well, thats a good thing... but how about just enjoying the abundant life Christ has given us too? Enjoy nature... enjoy music... enjoy an art museum... go see Bartle's musical if you live in Chicago... read a good novel... you wont burn in hell.

Krispy

 2006/11/2 11:51









 Re:

Some of us have to be careful with certain things. Music is a big weakness for me. There is a great temptation for me to grab a Bob Marley CD and let the rythm take me away, or grab a Pink Floyd CD, or a Beatles CD and get lost in the music. I can get high off music the way some people get high on drugs. It appeals to the flesh.

Anyone who is a musician or just loves music will understand what I'm talking about. I want to be careful not to feed the flesh. that 'old man' would love to rear it's ugly head.

J-bird

 2006/11/2 20:44





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