On the way to work the other day, somewhere between Charlie Hall and Hillsong, a sudden thought raced through the already caffeine-laden recesses of my brain – of all these songs sung by all these churches and loved by all these people, which of them will we still be singing ten or twenty years from now?
Easy answer … I don’t know. Who does? Probably not even the songwriters themselves.
More difficult answer … it depends. Just by looking at what has stood the test of time in both secular and sacred music, though, we can find some clues as to what gives music staying power in a congregational setting.
That setting is vital to the question. Flip through the radio and catch the chorus of Katrina and the Waves’ Walking on Sunshine and you are transported back to junior year in high school and the incredulous thought that the song was once popular (GASP!). But, that’s a very individualistic experience, nothing like the corporate worship setting in which the span of ages, preferences and memories can take a seemingly fine song and overlay it with such meaning that the song becomes a distraction more than a pathway to worship.
So I started creating a mental list of what transforms a worship song from something hot at the moment – and dare I say trendy – to something that will remain part of the church repertoire for years to come.
But first, a disclaimer. I’m not a musician in the true sense of the word. I like playing my guitar. I’ve dabbled in piano. I’ve survived nine years of playing the flute in middle and high school bands. But, I don’t know how to write a song. I don’t know music history. I haven’t studied music trends. All the same, I love music of all styles and forms. I have noticed there are songs both secular and sacred that become classic in one sense or another. And, if I point out that a particular favorite song is not one I suspect will still be sung when you start collecting Social Security (if it’s still around, but I digress), it’s not that I am bashing the artist. In some cases, I can think of examples from artists I love. I think it was listening to one such song that probably inspired this whole train of thought. So, the musings that follow are simply that … musings from an untrained mind.
And, because I don’t want to make these posts impossibly long, I’ll break it up into several parts.
Today’s topic … style, which I am not sure is exactly the word for what I am aiming at here.
For a worship song to have staying power, it must translate to a variety of styles.
Think about Amazing Grace.
I’ve heard it done a cappella. I’ve heard it done in a bluesy style. I’ve heard it sung with just guitar accompaniment. I’ve sung it with piano and organ in my church. Know what? It’s still a beautiful song no matter the style in which it is performed – even if it is the cacophony that some call bagpipes.
Let’s take a negative example from secular music. I was in high school in the mid- to late-80s. Anyone remember how awful popular music was? Flock of Seagulls? Culture Club? I’m getting ill just thinking about it. There’s no way you can take I Ran (So Far Away) and translate it into a different style and have it work. It just doesn’t.
I think Brian Miller’s blog recently alluded to this idea of style in a related fashion when he wrote about dumping organs and pianos for guitars and congas to appear relevant. We may be taking slightly different angles to get to a similar conclusion – worship songs trace their sustainability to a transcendence of style … and much more.
But, that will be the subject of future posts.
On another note (no pun intended), here’s the song of the week, Brenton Brown’s Everlasting God. Stylistically simple. Translatable to other instrumentation, in my humble opinion. Still don’t know if it will be one that will be around for awhile, but I like it all the same.
Note: New video link was added when I was preparing this post to be included in the updated version of the website.