St. Mumford Sings A Tune
Lots of folks are excited about the new Mumford & Sons album. I tried to get into that band a while back, but I thought the music was boring. Then again, in my dotage, I’ve lost my taste for pop music. My TAC colleague Jordan Bloom, who actually plays in a rock band, has a more considered critical take on the band’s music, comparing it to washed-out contemporary Protestant pop. Excerpt:
Many contemporary Christian musicians have discovered a similar formula. Consider how differently Christian rock functions from church music in the past. Megastars today supply a corpus of interchangeable–with both secular pop and other church music–worship songs. Bach thought he was exploring the mind of God. There was once a sense of aspiration or striving, through which God was glorified; this stuff is so incredibly lazy it almost seems idolatrous. My favorite example is the promiscuous key changes that arrangers sometimes insert for a cheap thrill that, in more expressive congregations, gets people to raise their hands. I think that’s a pretty good synecdoche for the music as a whole. There’s a risk that it rests entirely on a set of musical and lyrical techniques that are nothing but levers to elicit a certain feeling or response. It’s all heart and no head.
As a listener I can only speak for myself, but I find that more challenging music can better communicate the sense of wonder and awe appropriate to a religious setting. If I want to sing a bunch of stale, bland pop songs, I’ll have a campfire, not go to church. That probably puts me in the minority, but there must be others. And I worry about the cumulative impact of always choosing the lowest common denominator of music as a medium of worship. It drives people like me to get their kicks elsewhere, and it sets your average churchgoer into a pattern of expecting emotional feedback from worship, which isn’t the point.
I agree with JB’s take on worship music, but I don’t know enough about Mumford & Sons to judge the comparison. You tell me if he’s on target or not.