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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.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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