Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Variety of Religious Composition

The music we sing, in and out of church, is more varied and interesting than we've been led to believe.

Before earning a doctorate in music composition and becoming a university music professor, I spent many years playing keyboards and singing in CCM and praise and worship bands, and before that, in nightclub and party bands. I worked as a paid minister of music in two churches in greater Los Angeles, and I also composed a number of published songs, one of which was included on a Billboard No. 1 album and Record of the Year. I mention all this to show that I have some working knowledge of contemporary music. I'm an insider who appreciates the genre, while not unaware of its limitations.

To understand what contemporary Christian music is, we need to look at just the music—not the lyrics—through a microscope. Although most people call it CCM or "worship music" or just "worship," it is first and foremost a subgenre of the American popular music that emerged in the mid-1960s and has been pervasive in society ever since. (For the sake of clarity, most musicians don't refer to blues, ragtime, jazz, pure country, swing, gospel, and other earlier popular styles as "pop," although they admire the music and at times draw heavily upon it.) This relatively recent pop music, with its almost infinite branches, includes soft rock, hard rock, country crossover, folk rock, punk rock, alternative, adult contemporary, rhythm and blues, hip-hop, and so forth. It has always been a model for CCM, and a few creative CCM artists have been musical innovators in their own right.

Nearly every pop and CCM song displays three musical traits that do not occur in hymns, traditional choral and organ pieces, or classical symphonic music. These are....

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