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Songs Outside Structures

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  • Songs Outside Structures

    Hello all!

    I'm currently in the process of a style of songwriting that stands apart from what is current.

    To put this in perspective:

    For centuries, the majority style of worship was based in Gregorian Chant. While in Latin (which was far more understood in its day), the melodies were of their own nature, nothing repetitious, with the texts reflecting passages from Scripture verbatim. [A B C D ... ]

    After the Reformation, the Reformers helped create hymnody. Psalms, then original compositions, were set into meter. Melodies were written (or borrowed from popular pieces) that complemented the texts. [A A A A]. (i.e. Be Thou My Vision, Amazing Grace).

    Sometime later, the notion of making the hymns have a chorus was added. [A B A B ...]. (i.e. How Great Thou Art).

    There was a time when negro spirituals were coming into focus, which were simple to learn, highly repetitious, and great for those who were unable to read. [a a a a]. (i.e. He Is Lord).

    In the 70s thru the early 90s, praise and worship choruses combined the highly repetitious nature of spirituals, but grafted them into contemporary styles; most of these were verse-chorus format. [a b a b]. (i.e. As The Deer).

    With the emergence of modern worship, and acceptance onto radio formats, which meant the songs had to take the praise and worship into even more complex arrangements, employing verse, pre-chorus, chorus, verse2, pre-chorus, chorus, bridge, chorus, extended-outro and chorus. [a b c a b c d c e c].

    So.... what am I attempting to do?

    Since March, I've rediscovered the Gregorian Chants from above, but I also read a book detailing the beginnings of the Vineyard Movement in the U.S., in which they made a concerted effort to write simple, personable songs that could be sung without any lyrics sheet/projection. Before Vineyard became known for "signs and wonders" ministry, this was the church that Bob Dylan had his faith-experience, and he rubbed shoulders with Keith Green, Larry Norman, and T. Bone Burnett. And yet Carl Tuttle wrote "Hosanna", Eddie Espinosa wrote "Change My Heart O God" and John Wimber wrote "Isn't He".

    So my creative sparks had beckoned me... what if I combined the two seemingly different approaches--Chant and 80s-P&W together? Where I preserve the chant melodies as is, translate the texts into English, convert these texts to become vertical-to-God, have them metered, find the right chord progressions, and craft the songs so that the best of both chant and singable-p&w are together? This would result in a fibernacci sequence of sorts, of repetitions on repetitions of short musical phrases: [AA BB A BB CC B CC DD C DD A B C D].

    Perhaps the best comparison is if I was to do a medley of established short praise and worship choruses. Except this would be a single song.

    My question is: Are there any other examples... in the VASTNESS of THOUSANDS of CCLI SONGS... that also attempt to break any previous molds, outside of Verse - chorus - verse - chorus - bridge, etc.?
    Nick Alexander
    Host, The Prayer Meeting Podcast
    Worship that is Contemporary, Traditional, Charismatic, Contemplative, Spontaneous, based on the Church calendar, play it whenever you want.
    Find out what Nick Alexander can do for your conference, retreat or workshop.

  • #2
    "My question is: Are there any other examples...that also attempt to break any previous molds..."

    That's a good question- seems that the next phase in the P&W is the expansion into EDM (electronic dace music) with engineered tracks and heavy drums/percussion and non-standard chord progressions.

    Fusing together a chant with a simple chorus and harmony would be a fun challenge. It seems the challenge would be finding chants in compatible scales/modes with modern music. I am not versed enough to know what modes work well together. But it would be cool to at least try it,

    If we want to go places we haven't been, we will have to do things we haven't done.

    Comment


    • #3
      Great thoughts here, Nick. I think what we see here is that the "VASTNESS of THOUSANDS of CCLI SONGS" that you refer to, sadly, are the byproduct of the commercialization of worship music. It's label-driven, made for radio. I composed a song a while back, it's a lament... it's dark, has some pretty heavy lyrics... it isn't in the "mold" of the typical CCM radio format. Every time I've led the song the way I composed it, it seems to resonate with the congregation. People come up and express how much it meant to them. I played it in Nashville for some popular worship artists/writers and they destroyed it. It wasn't good for radio, it wasn't a "fist pumping CCLI Top 100 anthem". Like it or not, so much of what is written has the commercial end-game in play.

      Now I realize that sounds jaded. I'm not. And I love the music that we listen to. But I'm with you, there is room for more. In our current climate, it will never be "mainstream", but that shouldn't hinder us from using this material. WRITE IT. USE IT. Don't be afraid to be different. Let your church's express be true to you, and who you are, as a congregation.
      Fred McKinnon, Pianist/Composer/Worship Leader
      blog: www.fredmckinnon.com

      Please check out my piano/instrumental music at:
      www.soundcloud.com/FredMcKinnonMusic
      www.youtube.com/c/FredMcKinnonMusic

      Comment


      • #4
        The fusion of Gregorian chant and EDM has been done before, although I don't have any examples off the top of my head. I know that such compositions are usually found in the "New Age" section (though they are not associated with the "New Age religion"). I also know that some CCM artists had experimented with incorporating Chant in their rock pieces, from Jars of Clay to Delirious.

        I'm not entirely sold on the prospect that EDM is the future, however. (I see All Sons & Daughters and Rend Collective fighting the resistance). But perhaps you have early examples of what you're referring to? The best I can conjure up is something like the Hillsong Alive and Free albums... but what little I know of them (and I'm blissfully ignorant) is that while the tones are dance-music-like, the songs themselves are still structured as songs, preferably in the pop style.

        The other thing is that the above sounds have male unaccompanied non-metered voices of old (typical Gregorian Chant) complement already existing compositions. I'm referring to entire congregations (male and female, all ages, all races), singing such songs (made metered and accompanied, but the melodies are still there).

        BUT ALL THAT SAID... I am not opposed to experimenting to seeing how these compositions would sound using modern instrumentation. My question is, do you have albums I can listen to that are moving in this direction? Thanks!

        Nick Alexander
        Host, The Prayer Meeting Podcast
        Worship that is Contemporary, Traditional, Charismatic, Contemplative, Spontaneous, based on the Church calendar, play it whenever you want.
        Find out what Nick Alexander can do for your conference, retreat or workshop.

        Comment


        • #5
          Hi Fred... There is most certainly a fear in today's Christian radio scene that a sad song (which is the largest category of hymnody in the Psalms) would steer all the Becky's in carpool-land to switch the channel to an 80s station... where she can potentially hear from (an uptempo) music icon how "sad songs say so much." However, I would also hope that if you had such a song on YouTube, and the song went viral, the numbers would give the social proof you need to Nashville.

          I'm thinking that I would have to build a separate approach to getting the songs out there, most notably creating a subscription website (similar to the Integrity/Hosanna and Vineyard approaches of decades ago), albeit with a Scriptural index, videos, and optimum days to play such songs, for those churches abiding by a liturgical calendar.

          Nick Alexander
          Host, The Prayer Meeting Podcast
          Worship that is Contemporary, Traditional, Charismatic, Contemplative, Spontaneous, based on the Church calendar, play it whenever you want.
          Find out what Nick Alexander can do for your conference, retreat or workshop.

          Comment


          • #6
            What's funny, Nick, is that I struggle with the opposite problem - so many worship songs (some on the radio, some not) have lyrics of praise but sound like dirges. I wish there were MORE great, upbeat songs.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by ShannonTWC View Post
              What's funny, Nick, is that I struggle with the opposite problem - so many worship songs (some on the radio, some not) have lyrics of praise but sound like dirges. I wish there were MORE great, upbeat songs.
              I hear that- I'm digging Third Day's "Revival" and "Saved". Our church has done Crowder's "All My Hope Is In You" with a southern Gospel/ rock feel to it with a very positive response from the congregation.

              Personally, I like the super-deep spiritual throne-room entering worship songs. When I need to really pray and seek God, they are a great asset. Sometimes, though, I just need to hear some happy, upbeat, simple Jesus music to put me in a good mood and literally lift my spirits without trying to be all deep and soul-exploring.

              Fred- your experience stinks, but it's not surprising. Don't get discouraged, though. All the greats have a similar story. How many labels passed on the Beatles? The irony of your experience is Bono made a splash a few years ago basically telling the Christian Music keepers that they need to get more authenticity and real experiences in Christian music- like bad marriages.
              If we want to go places we haven't been, we will have to do things we haven't done.

              Comment


              • #8
                I'm seeing more and more EDM type songs coming out. I just wish they were more lyrically rich, but... they're definitely fun to listen to. Hillsong Young & Free is a good example.

                Back in the 90's, Christian dance music was huge, but it died off slowly. (N*Soul Records, Nitro Praise, Scott Blackwell, World Wide Message Tribe, etc. etc.) I would love to see it make a recurrence.

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