Friday, April 26, 2024

Cross Pollination

The accepted thesis of the day is that church music, sacred music, borrowed from secular music and then somehow or other became entrenched in judgment against secular music.  Even Lutherans still promote the lie that Luther's tunes were borrowed from the tavern.  Indeed, a whole culture has arisen based upon the premise that the cross pollination occurs from the secular to the sacred.  But it is a modern lie and falsehood.  The cross pollination is the other way around and has been with exception for more modern times when we chose to believe what was not true and built a religious musical industry upon that false premise.

If you look at Scripture, you see that music was given to man to be used in worship, that the worship of the people of God informed and shaped the rest of the music in their lives, and that music served a primary role in catechesis and memorization long before the birth of Christ.  You cannot read the record of the Old Testament or make your way through the descriptions of worship or the commands associated with the Temple or understand the Psalms without encountering a musical groundwork and expectation.  Contrary to those who begin with the question what parts should we sing, the history of worship in the Old and New Testament was the presumption of song.  Indeed, the burden lay not with what parts should we sing but what parts might not be sung.

Chant certainly solidified this understanding but it did not create it.  People sang before Gregorian Chant.  Music was not something indifferent but a medium whose primary purpose and goal was to glorify God.  The cross pollination that took place went from the sacred into the secular.  Sure, there were always those who profaned the gift and made it into something ugly or even vulgar.  That is the abuse of sin toward the things of beauty created by God for us and for us to use in the worship of God.  But the exception is not the rule.  The baudy, lewd, erotic, vulgar, and trivial are always the abuses of the gift and its form and function but never the rule.  Sacred music did not rescue the best of the secular but secular always profaned what was good, beautiful, noble, and the highest of our human offering.

In the age of Taylor Swift and a music industry that has become a very big business, we often forget this.  Where sacred music was the heavy hitter as far as the musical industry of the past, it now functions as the poor stepchild.  Worse, the cross pollination has robbed the sacred of its very character and identity and created a mixed genre in which it is nearly impossible to tell by the sound whether it is meant for the holy or the profane.  Contemporary Christian Music has exploited this to make itself into the largest segment of church music dollar wise.  Even liturgical congregations seem drawn to the idea of performance music in the idiomatic style of the day as a fit replacement for the choral, hymnic, and chant music of the past and present.  We have forgotten, however, that this was something new not that long ago.

Music today has become largely profane and not simply in terms of its venue.  The words speak of raw sex without moral inhibition or love and the vulgarities that inhabit the lyrics have made words once unspoken into normal speech.  The rhythms and beat of this music are designed less to communicate the text than to excite emotion and encourage the free surrender to it.  Could it be that as sacred music has diminished both in place and popularity, the secular music has become even more profane?  There is one thing missing today and that is any remnant of the cross pollination of the sacred into the secular.  It has become a one way street going the opposite direction.  This has ended up with the betrayal of what Luther once posited -- that music is the servant of the Word [text].  We have not been made more noble by this musical expression and that is exactly in contrast to the work and purpose of sacred music which does ennoble us as people as well as enshrine beauty as a very important cause.

Listen to the examples below and how, though different, they inspire, encourage, and draw us out of ourselves and into the realm of God's own beauty, majesty, and love.  If we heard more of this, might we be less satisfied by what passes for music in the pop count downs of every other genre?



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