Friday, May 13, 2011
Who owns the music?
Even though I often marvel at the great ability of the hymn writers of old and their heirs in the modern age, I do not think of hymns as belonging to the individual who wrote them. I am sure that copyrights stand and all that stuff but, at the very same time, I consider the hymns as owned by the Church more so than owned by their individual authors and composers. Perhaps this is one of the great differences between CCM or Christian Pop and hymnody -- the songs are owned by the writer and the singer even when they are used in the context of worship. They tend to be first of all performance music in contrast to the hymns of the Church which are participatory. Oh, sure, I am not an idiot and know that some (maybe many) congregations sing with the singers, but the point is the singers and their back up bands own the stage even when people are singing with them. This is far different from the hymns of the Church which are 99% participatory.
Therein lies much of what I consider to be the problem with CCM or Christian Pop: it is owned by the singers and song writers, identified as theirs in the minds of the people who listen to them, and this is solidified by their similarity to secular music on the radio, CD sales rack, and download service. The truth is that most folks who open their hymnals do not even pay any attention to the names of the authors or composers. Only a small number of musicians and clergy actually think about the author or composer. Even when these modern day folks own the copyright, the music is, at least in the mind of the people, owned by the Church --- in a way far different from CCM or Christian Pop.
Now I am sure that there are folks who will dispute this but, even in our Lutheran Service Book, the two contemporary hymns on "the Lamb" are seen very differently. One is owed by Twila Paris and everyone who thinks of that song thinks of her and identifies it with her (except those who are bronze agers like me). The other was written by a wonderfully talented and gifted individual by the name of Gerald Coleman (whom I am privileged to know and whose Bronxville choirs were hosted a couple of times while I was at my former parish). Yet even though I know this guy and love "his" hymn, I do not think of it as "his" at all. It is a song of the Church and owned by the Church and her people (no matter what the copyright says).
Everyone who reads this knows I am NOT a fan of CCM or Christian Pop. Personally, I wish people would listen to the great hymns of the faith all day long like I do. But what you might NOT know is that I DO use Twila's song every now and then and that our hymnody reaches deep in the past, uses the best of the recent past, and even many brand new hymns that have not made it into any current hymnals. I believe in using all the inherent diversity of the Church's song but, in the minds of me and most folks, CCM or Christian Pop does not belong to the Church.... which is one more reason why I feel uncomfortable with the way this music is used in so many (even Lutheran) congregations today. The music, as well as the setting, seems to remind us that this song belongs not to the Lord or to His Church but to one or several individuals. We can listen in and even chime in when invited but it is a private domain. Call me cranky, but that is how I see it.