More on Homogenous Music

It struck me as I was writing my last post that homogeneity happens when people aren't adequately equipped to manage and facilitate change, or when people aren't challenged. The result is comfortable sameness. It can be talented sameness, but sameness nonetheless.

For example, I recently released an album of original music (check it out). If you listen carefully, you'll notice that the music is somewhat homogeneous. The reason this is so is because I did everything on the album. I wrote the songs, recorded them, played all of the instruments, programmed all of the midi stuff, and made final decisions on the creative direction and final 'sound' of each song. I did all of this in relative isolation.

This is not the ideal way to create music. I did it this way because I am stubborn and I wanted to prove to myself that I could. Perhaps the one thing I had going for me is that it took me 8 years to finish the album, so it's as if I collaborated with different people, because I changed a lot over the years.

This brings me to a point, which I will phrase as a question - Is Homogeneity bad? The answer is that it depends. Having a homogeneous group of people can go a long way in advancing a cause, and being on the same page when it comes to relationships is a good thing. Even in music, having some consistency of style can be helpful in moving a musical concept forward since if the band can't agree on a style or a feel to a song, it might never get created or played.

So when I talk about homogeneous worship or songs being homogeneous, what I'm talking about is music that essentially doesn't change tone, or that has a similar underlying tone with little variation in emotion. The result is a weak message, regardless of the message the song is communicating in the lyrics and regardless of the technical chords etc being played. Music is all about communicating a range of emotion. For some reason, this fact seems to be lost on a lot of musicians.

You know you're in over-homogenized territory if all of the slow songs sound the same; all the upbeat songs sound the same; and all of the songs have a similar ring to them - each one reminding you of the other whether fast or slow.

However, this is not a binary good/bad situation. On one hand if you find a winning formula for making or playing music, it can be lucrative - both in the sense that people will like it and in the monetary sense of selling it to the world. But it can also become incredibly disingenuous, even if the band is super talented. Having said that, music is always formulaic to a degree - and I'm not suggesting that we worship leaders start tinkering Frank Zappa style. I just wish that it would be OK if some of us did.

And not every worship song needs to go to to the top 50 of the CCM charts. Some songs can just stay local. And some songs should be recorded. With modern technology being what it is, it's feasible to find someone in the congregation who is crazy about audio tech that can do some basic recording and editing. If you've got a great original worship song, why not record it? Too scary? Ask around for someone who knows a thing or two about recording. Or, if you have pro or semi-pro recording/sound engineers in your church, why not pay them to bring the sounds of your band to life?

Christians tend to love free stuff, and we love it when people volunteer to do stuff for our churches. But when it comes to the worship service, giving some compensation for key people to be able to set aside larger chunks of their time to pour into making the service a wonderful experience is worth considering in this writer's opinion - whether it's paying a sound guy to make the soundboard and sound system sing, paying the worship leader a stipend (or at least providing training on worship band growth and development), paying an artistic director to set the tone of the service and lead a team to set decorative themes etc. The same could be said for churches hiring teaching pastors.

The reason I bring all of this up is that I see a disconnect in the stated values and the actual practice of churches. The stated values are typically along the lines of being Bible-based, with an emphasis on the Sunday gathering and teaching/preaching. But the actual practice is to over-extend pastors into all sorts of crazy avenues they aren't trained for, and to let leadership do their thing without adequate professional development.

OK I'm in murky waters. when I talk about the idea of a Church leader being a professional, I'm not talking about church leaders being better or closer to God because they are professionals. I'm talking about training leaders in the core competencies which they need in order to lead well. In every profession and vocation, there are things one needs to do, and it is in those things that we need training and refreshing from time to time. Preaching can become stagnant or disconnected from the boots on the ground reality of the congregation, the music can become homogenized and boring, Sunday school teachers can lose their creative spark at times. No matter what we do, we should be committed to lifelong learning and becoming better at it, not through the osmosis of just doing it over and over, but by getting 'schooled' on new ways of doing things, fresh practices, best practices etc.

An aside: Many pastors are not trained councilors, and yet they are doing it. And even though they spend a lot of time reading the bible, many pastors are not good communicators. Yet they are required to preach Sunday after Sunday. When I think of the Pastorate, I think of a job description that might read something like this: Do everything in and for the church regardless of whether or not you are good at it. We will complain if you aren't good at it.

It is an insane job. Which brings me to this:  worship is a matter of the heart more than it is a matter of how produced the Sunday service is. Plus, it may be financially impossible for many churches to pay people to play key roles in the Sunday services, including paying separate teachers, musicians and technicians. What's more, live event technology can get crazy expensive without having to add on the cost of paying people to run it.

Volunteerism will therefore always be a huge part of what makes a Sunday service tick. The bridge then might be for churches to provide clear training for their volunteers (if the pastor is not an excellent communicator and clear teacher, I would include specific training on how to preach well). This can at least equip the Church so people aren't flying blind each Sunday. Websites like offer fantastic training packages for less than $100US for the entire church along with a ton of free resources. Professionally training volunteers and staff alike will go a long way to bringing some polish, relevance and Biblical thoughtfulness to services, and that is a good thing. The art is in managing the creative process. No smoke machines or fancy lighting necessary.


Last week we had a guest speaker at Lansing baptist, a missionary stationed in Spain. His theme was...Comfort or Calling? Your article speaks clearly of this dilemma with Christian Music. being raised in the Catholic Church and extremely active in Music Ministry for over 30 years I have seen first hand "comfort" music and "Calling" Music. Unfortunately today I hear more comfort music than ever. The feel good music that does not challenge us to be better be better step out of our comfort zone and allow God to lead us into unknown territory. In essence, to answer God's call. There is nothing comfortable when God calls us. Feel good music that is rosy and happy just leaves us in a place that allows us to remain stagnant and does not allow us to grow in faith. It is too comfortable.

I was around and a teen on the cuspid of contemporary Christian Music. In the 70's the music challenged us to search for a deeper relationship with God. It challenged us to be movers and shakers. It challenged us to make social changes. The best example of this is Joe Wise. His music was poetic and challenging and at the time celebrated God's love for his people. The St. Louis Jesuits delved into the Old Testament Psalms through their music. Praise and Worship at it's best yet challenging and hopeful.
So I agree Ryan that the music we are hearing in Church is Homogeneous and for the most part not well prepared or thought out. We need to educate our music ministers better and encourage them through practical support. Work with your Minister or Priest to understand the theme of the message for that service and choose music prayerfully that will enhance and build on the message. Take time to really learn the music so that it is not a distraction with slip ups, wrong chords, tempo etc. The lsit goes on but I think you get my drift.
So thanks Ryan for sharing your thoughts on this important topic. Music Ministers are not musicians that are there to entertain us. They are there to assist us in giving praise to God deepen our prayer experience.

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