aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

Would you like fries with that hymn?

The opening worship at our ministerial candidacy retreat featured a number of songs, mostly by Hillsong. They were sung with great devotion by most of the participants. This is the kind of music they listen to on "Christian radio," which they sing in "contemporary worship" services. They are greatly moved by these songs. Since it is obvious that those who sing them are, in fact, using them to express their worship of God, I concede that there must be something there.

Similarly, those who think McDonald's is the epitome of fine dining are obviously enjoying the products they are consuming, but I hope I may be forgiven if I express a contrary view. And the stuff being sung in many churches these days (e.g., stuff by Hillsong) is liturgical fast food: cheap, mass-produced, and unappetizing, but also consumed in vast quantities by those hungry for God.

Non disputandum de gustibus? Well, consider this.

Musically, every Hillsong piece we sang was constructed like a pop music piece. Typically, there are two verses (with or without refrain), followed by a contrasting third section, and then a return to the original melody. Nothing wrong with that formula; however, the actual tunes we sang were in a very restricted vocal range and the melodies were sort of mumbly, as if the composer just put his hand down in a basic chord position and twiddled his fingers a little bit. In the contrasting third section, the composer shifted his hand to the same chord in a slightly higher position and twiddled his fingers slightly differently -- sort of mirroring what was done a third below. That was it. And every song, regardless of lyrics, was constructed the same and sounded the same.

It was very dull, musically. In fact, the main interest was sustained by odd timing and the keyboard accompaniment. A year or so ago, someone requested a Hillsong number for something we were doing. I didn't know the song, but I found it on YouTube. The melody and chord structure were simple, and I found I could fake it on the keyboard, but something wasn't quite right. So I hunted down the sheet music (at great trouble and expense) and discovered that what I couldn't fake on just hearing the song was the instrumental arrangement: the dull little tune with its limited range was backed by an accompaniment in a slightly different time signature, and the vocals began on an unstressed beat. This created what little energy the song had. Just playing the melody and chords without the business underneath left it a lifeless husk.

In addition to being musically dull, the lyrics were distinctly uninspired. Lots of repeated phrases piled up. I'd say, "strung together," but that would imply that they were somehow related, with one leading to the next, and that would require the text to be able to be construed as poetry, to be read as a coherent statement. The lyrics written by Hillsong were more like an ad jingle. Indeed, the only really good lyrics were those which were lifted whole from other hymns. We sang, "My hope is built on nothing less." The older song's lyrics carried the song; when we switched to the refrain written by Hillsong, we were back in jingle-land.

You might think that I'm just complaining because I don't like the P&W (Praise & Worship) genre (or are they calling it CCM [Contemporary Christian Music] now?). Well, I don't, much, but it isn't just prejudice. I'm all for new hymns, I'm fine with re-writing standards, and I groove on pop/rock stuff. So, I ought to be solidly in the camp of Hillsong, et al. It's just that the stuff I keep meeting up with in these worship services isn't very good.

I've discovered what good quality food is; I don't eat at McDonald's any more. I wish I could introduce those gorging on the songs churned out by Hillsong and its ilk to better fare.

  • Time Warp

    I’ve been researching old tunes to match the lyrics of “The Wife of Usher’s Well,” an old British ballad about a woman whose three sons who were lost…

  • The Eccentric and the Weirdo

    Many years ago, I read an essay in TIME magazine by Pico Iyer called, “The Eccentric and the Weirdo.” This followed upon some outrage committed by…

  • The diagnosis is the easy part

    A world dominated by China will be an uglier world. To keep China from bullying other nations, the US and our friends and allies need to decide where…

  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.