What's YOUR Take on Modern Hymns?
Most of my entire time as a worship leader has placed me at the forefront of the traditional hymns vs. contemporary Christian music battleground. I now have a pastor who is totally pushing for "modern hymns" -- those exemplified by Stuart Townsend, the Getty's, etc. He keeps extolling the virtues of the "richness and depth" of these modern hymns.
Unfortunately, the older generation, who love traditional hymns, love them in part due to their familiarity with them. When we have played songs like, How Deep the Father's Love and In Christ Alone, the older crowd asks why we didn't play any hymns this week. Conversely, these "mod-hymns" don't really do much for the K-Love generation.
PLEASE don't comment about how worship is for God and NOT to please the congregation. I know and agree with that totally. I would appreciate it if you could give comments as to your take on the mod-hymns in a worship service. We do a mixture of traditional hymns (in a more contemporary style) and a huge variety of contemporary Christian music.
I guess my beef is that my pastor is implying that ALL contemporary Christian music is too shallow. BTW-- he says that the opinions expressed above are HIS opinions, not that of the congregation. I truly like some of the modern hymns, but it is a very small niche genre. One that has merit, but not at the exclusion of the others.
"Hymn" means different things to different people. If his definition of "hymn" is a churchy song with depth and richness, I could easily argue that several Chris Tomlin, David Crowder, Hillsong, etc. songs are "hymns". I agree with him that we need to be singing songs that have depth, but it sounds like he's probably lumping every song writer of a certain genre in the "shallow" pool, which you shouldn't do if your goal truly is to find deep and rich songs.
While the purpose of the modern hymn from the writer's perspective is debatable, the role they fill in the church isn't. They combine the more edgy modern instrumentation (and sometimes stanza arrangement) with lyrics more likely to be found several decades ago. The good ones straddle the line very, very well. The modern hymns sure are cool, and I really like doing them, but they do present a few challenges.
First, it is very easy to turn a modern hymn into vanilla. The group I play with defaults to vanilla on a regular basis (Muzak with less feel, anyone?), but especially so on modern hymns. One of they keys to making this sub-genre work well is to be absolutely uncompromising on the instrumentation and not round the edges off of the vocals. A great example of this is the dynamics at play in "In Christ Alone". The instrumental bits in between convey the message of the song incredibly well with this "grieved-yet-hopeful" chord progression and lead line. Combined with the rise and fall feeling throughout, it makes for a very powerful tune. Take those out, and it walks/talks/smells like everyone involved is asleep at the wheel. Completely disengaging.
Secondly, they do occupy a slim niche. "Power hymns", as I like to call them, tend to sound and feel best when mixed in with a diverse crowd. If the hymns of yester-century can be credited with familiarity (wasn't that the whole point?), the worship music of today can be credited with beautiful diversity. Some writers tend to stick to certain formulae (nearly every Chris Tomlin tune can be done with 4 on the floor, if need be), but the vast array of musical textures being born out of CCM is mindbogglingly awesome. Mod-hymns do not typically share that trait. While the pounding rhythms can be great fun (newer version of Jesus Paid it All), they work best when used sparingly.
As for the shallowness of today's music...I won't even bother going there. That argument shows incredibly slim perspective and a slippery grasp on musical reality.
Last edited by hitchface; 06-20-2011 at 11:52 PM.
We are focusing on musical style or 'richness' of lyrics, but I think the direction of the worship (is it God centered or me centered) has a lot to do with this. Many (not all) of the old hymns boast a great focus on God - who He is, what He has done, etc. They strive in the richness of their lyrics to say it in different, poetic ways, but I would argue its their focus that has helped make them so sticky and familiar. While current music may or not be shallow, its clear that a high percentage of it has a focus that is centered on the worshiper and the relationship to God, and less on God Himself, and who he is and in trying to paint that picture lyrically.
Also we seem to lose sometimes what really makes a great song - all those little things that you can do to boost memorability like rhyme, near rhyme, alliteration, repeated elements, proper syllable count, room for instrumentation, etc. And just plain old song message and prosody. Many of the songs that become familiar standards are just great songs that, when depth of poetry and proper focus is applied, turn them over time into 'hymns' we know and love.
I think that what has been said here is really good. I would like to add that our purpose as Christ's church is to further His kingdom. How can we do that if we have become irrelevant to those we are trying to reach? I think sometimes when choosing songs we must take our eyes off ourselves (and what we like) and think about the lyrics we are choosing and make sure they agree with what we believe. What is important is the message but the method will always continue to change. I was once told that the first hymns were bar tunes that the church changed the words to (turning them into songs of worship) and this made people who would never step foot into church feel more comfortable to do so. I don't know if that is true but I do know that our purpose hasn't changed, we must reach people for Christ.
This is why I believe that modern hymns have a place, small as it may be. They bridge completely different cultures in a really effective way.