Friday, November 18, 2011

Living in the Dark Ages of Sound

Enlightenment thinkers made up the label "Dark Ages" to dismiss the European era of Christendom as backwards, superstitious, and unintelligent. The reality is that moderns believe just as many, if not more, cunningly devised fables, and our ignorance can be seen and heard in the cultural artifacts we produce. More dreadfully, our ignorance can be seen and heard in the worship we offer to God.

Two blog posts I read this morning brought this to my attention again, and I commend them both for your consideration. In the first, David de Bruyn considers Richard Weaver's statement, "Unformed expression is ever tending toward ignorance." Without good form in our music, prayers, and preaching, we slouch toward darkness. He concludes:

Beware the people who insist you choose between form and freedom. Good form is freedom. Good form enables freedom. Good form frees us to express ordinate affection. (Read it all here.)

The second post is by Peter Leithart, entitled "How the Church Lost Her Soundscape."  He observes, "Musically, evangelicals are all charismatics now." So he asks, "What ideas, standards, and forces shape liturgical music? And, what does the church’s musical culture say about the church and its future?"


He criticizes the ignorance of contemporary pop music:

Contemporary music arose just as general music education collapsed in our schools. As Ken Myers points out, the church did nothing to fill the gap, apparently content to let advertisers, disk jockeys, the Stones, Steve Jobs, and Madonna provide musical training for Christians, especially young ones. It is no surprise that contemporary worship music takes its cues from commercial pop. No surprise, but surely a concern. Pop music is a relatively new cultural phenomenon with its own set of commercially driven values—accessibility, immediacy, instant gratification, freedom, sex. It has its own, extremely limited, range of musical and emotional possibilities. For all its variety, pop music is dismally monophonic. Transgression is encouraged, so long as it doesn’t get too close to the music. Lady Gaga wears her meat dresses and Rihanna feigns sex on stage, but when the music starts they are both as frothy as Justin Bieber. There can be no Stravinsky of pop music. 

Leithart concludes with this sobering observation:

I can hardly imagine a more worrisome sign of worldliness, or clearer evidence of the church’s identity crisis, than our eager renunciation of our own soundscape and our determination instead to reproduce the world’s.

I hope for a new reformation which will drive out the dark ages of sound we now inhabit.

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