Sunday, June 21, 2009

What is contemporary?

As I mentioned about the music this week, Joanne and I contributed some music with a distinctly more modern sound - Joanne singing with a more modern, pop style and me playing a jazz piano arrangement. Both drew some positive comments, which we're always glad to hear. Feedback from the congregation does factor into music programming, because we always hope to provide a variety of musical sources so that the Gospel message can be carried to listeners of all kinds of backgrounds.

There were other examples of contemporary texts and tunes during the service, however, that may have gone overlooked. In fact, with the exception of the postlude (from a Handel organ concerto), the entire service was drawn from American sources post-1850:

"Faith of Our Fathers" was written in 1874 and played the funeral of Franklin Roosevelt.
"This is My Father's World" is an early 20th century hymn about the beauty of upstate New York.
"Stand up, Stand up for Jesus" was based on a YMCA sermon of the late 1850s.
"Eternal Father Strong to Save" is often referred to as "The Navy Hymn." It originated in the Civil War era, and it was played as part of the funeral ceremonies for both JFK and FDR.

To a casual listener, there isn't a great deal of difference between some of the hymns of Luther's era and the hymns of the American hymn writing tradition of the late 19th century. Why is that exactly? For starters, the four-part chorale is both familiar and highly singable for most Lutherans. In other words, stylistic similarities make it easier to sing 900 different hymns (notice that different hymns every Sunday don't trouble us the way that a new liturgy every week would).

I encourage you to read the entire page of the hymnal, including the dates of composition, composers, and writers. Try to learn more about them - by reading here or elsewhere and by asking questions. A broader awareness can only deepen the meaning of the hymns, and it also can remind us that superficial similarities can be deceiving.

4 comments:

  1. Rev. Robert FerroJune 22, 2009 at 10:47 AM

    I don't know what is "contemporary." But what I find fascinating is when people say they like "contemporary" music and then call music written 30 - 40 years ago "contemporary".

    Last Thursday Paul McCartney turned 67. If you ask my children, they consider that "old" (which is what Paul considered 64 to be when he was 16). And yet he is still called a "contemporary" artist and the music he has written "contemporary" music. What gives?

    The liturgical music used in ELW Setting Four (and LBW Setting Two) was called "contemporary" worship when it was released in the early 70's. Now we call it "traditional".

    The terms "contemporary" and "traditional" are relative and correspond to our own frame of reference. What we consider "contemporary" is considered "traditional" or "old" by the next generation.

    What is contemporary? I don't know, but I do know that I'm getting farther and farther away from whatever it is.

    "When I get older, losing my hair, many years from now ... Will you still need me? Will you still feed me, when I'm sixty-four?"

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  2. Monday, June 22, 2009
    I've always thought of contemporary music as anything which has not turned yellow! I'ts been my joke in choir to sniff for mustiness, and shake out the moths.

    See the website below for a few good definitions of contemporary music, as well as the following 10 Commandments.

    http://www.newsongonline.org/whatisccm.html#Pop

    The Ten man made Commandments On Christian Music
    (Please Note: The following 10 assumptions are satirical only)

    I. The beat must not be dominant or be too fast (cuz the devil liveth in the heavy beat).

    II. It must not have too much syncopation (cuz the devil hideth in the irregular rhythms).

    III. It must not be “rap” or “rock n’ roll” (or whatever is new and popular).

    IV. The music must contain no distortions and the electric guitars must not squeal.

    V. It should not make me want to dance like david; if it does then it's wrong.

    VI. The music must not be more dominant than the words (but if it's classical then it's ok).

    VII. You must be able to identify every word the first time through.

    VIII. The words must be straight from the dictionary (i.e. no “ooh”s, “ah”s, “la la”s, “sha na na”s, or “oh ya”s).

    IX. You must not put religious words to a secular tune as did that man Martin Luther.

    X. It must sound “Christian” (to me that is).


    Most acurately I think, would be to say that any music that makes Pastor laugh and roll is eyes would be considered "contemporary."

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  3. "contemporary" to a musician might indicate a certain style, but for most people it means it was written by someone living, or at least recently so. This can give the words a modern perspective that can be quite refreshing (Earth and All Stars would not have been written by Luther). I, for one, would like to see more hymns with texts about "contemporary" answers to life's questions. Maybe that would bring more young people into the churches as well.

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  4. Rev. Robert FerroJune 22, 2009 at 10:20 PM

    Here's a contemporary song we can sing this Sunday.

    He Loves You

    Chorus:
    He loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah
    He loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah
    He loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

    Verse #1
    You think you lost your love,
    Well, I saw Him yesterday.
    It's you He's thinking of
    And He told me what to say.

    He says He loves you
    And you know that can't be bad.
    Yes, He loves you
    And you know you should be glad.

    Verse #2
    He said you hurt Him so
    He really lost His Son.
    But now He said He knows
    You're not the hurting one.

    He says He loves you
    And you know that can't be bad.
    Yes, He loves you
    And you know you should be glad. Ooh!

    Chorus:
    He loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah
    He loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah
    And with a love like that
    You know you should be glad.

    Verse #3
    YOU KNOW it's up to you,
    I think it's only fair,
    Pride can hurt you, too,
    Apologize to him

    Because He loves you
    And you know that can't be bad.
    Yes, He loves you
    And you know you should be glad. Ooh!

    Chorus:
    He loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah
    He loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah

    With a love like that
    You know you should
    Be Glad!

    With a love like that
    You know you should
    Be Glad!

    With a love like that
    You know you should
    Be Glad!

    Yeah, yeah, yeah.
    Yeah, yeah, yeah Ye-ah.

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