Thinking Out Loud

August 28, 2020

Do Christian Musicians Carry the Same Influence As They Once Did?

Tonight is a pretty big deal. Compassion, World Vision and Food for the Hungry are combining to present “Unite to Fight Poverty,” a two-hour music saturated fundraiser streaming live on YouTube, Facebook, PureFlix, and Daystar, with the audio portion also heard on The Message channel on Sirius Radio. It starts at 8:30 PM Eastern, 7:30 Central.

I love that these organizations are joining forces for the event, and that so many musicians are cooperating. I hope they do well financially. And I hope that Contemporary Christian Music fans are excited to see their favorite artists, especially in light of the lack of concert activity over the past six months.

But I’m wondering if those same artists carry the same weight, or influence as they did in days of yore? The barometer of Christian music’s popularity was always sales charts based on the number of physical product units sold. With the single now replacing the album as the quantifier of popularity — as things were in the early 1960s — and downloading available from multiple platforms, it’s really hard to tell if the impact of a given artist or group is the same. People may be downloading millions of copies of a single, but with a much higher financial outlay, one’s commitment to an artist when measured in sales of the full album was perhaps more meaningful.

Anecdotally, I spend two days a week working at a Christian bookstore. And Compact Disc sales right now are dead. Really dead. I don’t see us ordering new releases beyond September 1st. Even the elderly “Gaither” customers have abandoned the CD. They all spent their retirement money on new cars, and those vehicles didn’t come CD-player equipped.

So I hope the concert does well tonight, but I think that, moving forward, those Christian relief and development agencies might have to tweak the model and develop a new paradigm beyond reliance on CCM artists.

August 18, 2020

Worship Composes Who Piggyback on Classic Hymns Create Copyright Confusion

My wife uploaded a church service video which included her congregation singing, “It Is Well with My Soul.” Although the song wasn’t annotated, the YouTube bots scanned the video and recognize the lyrics and tune and immediately informed her that the entire video would be banned in one European country, which raises the specter of more blocking to follow.

While she was staring at her screen in disbelief, I went to Wikipedia on my screen; a source I find offering increased reliability at a time when general search results can be misleading.

True enough, the song pretty much has to be in public domain, considering it is listed as first published in 1876.

But the page also noted a 2011 edition “with a new added bridge composed by Reuben Morgan and Ben Fielding.” I am willing to bet that is part of the problem. The new bridge would qualify them to claim a copyright, even though my wife has never heard it and didn’t use it at all.

You and I and she understand that. YouTube does not. When she went to file a ‘dispute’ on the blocking, the dispute itself was blocked by YouTube. The company acts as sheriff, judge and jury…

…Piggybacking on existing hymns is nothing new. I wrote about this in April, 2017:

The first time I heard a bridge added to a traditional hymn was the addition of Wonderful Cross to When I Survey. I don’t know if I took to it the very first day, but I certainly grew to like it quickly, and as a worship leader, I’ve since used the Wonderful Cross section with the hymn Lead Me To Calvary, where it also works well.

Modern worship music has been greatly influenced by popular songs. Whereas a hymn generally just has either stanzas, or follows a verse-and-chorus format; modern worship will use introductions, bridges, codas, etc., and is often more prone to key changes.

Amazing Grace is another example. My Chains are Gone is certainly a suitable addition, I don’t challenge the musical or lyrical integrity of it by itself, or its fit with the time-honored verses that precede it.

To make the bridge stand out — or I prefer to say break out — musically, some of the chord changes in When I Survey or Amazing Grace are made more minimalist so that the declaration in the bridge introduces a powerful, triumphant transition. “Oh, the Wonderful Cross!” “My chains are gone, I’ve been set free!”

If I had a similar idea a few years ago, I would have positioned my finished work as a medley, not a new arrangement, but the chord changes necessitate the piece to be considered a re-write. And the original composers aren’t around to protest.

So it was only a couple years back when someone more cynical than me — yes, it’s possible — suggested that perhaps the motivation for doing this was financial. Then it was more than one person. Freshly re-minted songs that were formerly public domain can be performed with mechanical royalties (album and print music sales) and performance royalties (concerts, radio, television and even CCLI playlists your church submits) flowing to the composer. Nice work if you can get it…

…But I was reminded of this in a new way on the weekend, when I encountered a song with a very unique title — No One Every Cared for Me Like Jesus — a title I would have considered hands-off, since the original is so iconic, but had none the less been assumed by former Bethel Worship leader Steffany Gretzinger. I can’t be convinced that this title similarity is a coincidence.

You’re allowed to be skeptical of my conclusion, but truly the title is somewhat unique. Clearly, the composers had this in the back of their minds. It’s the question of how much of this was intentional where we’re allowed to disagree.

I found myself experiencing an emotional response to this title borrowing that I was not expecting. These guys are creative types; couldn’t they have found something else to act as their motif? No, I think they wanted to catch a ride with the original hymn.

For that reason I hesitated to include it here, but for those of you who want to do an After-and-Before comparison here it is. The similarity of the mood and tone of this and the original.

For those with a sacred music memory longer than the last 12 months, I want to leave you with the original, in a tasteful arrangement by Sandy Patti. In my view, this version will always have the last word.


Postscript: In searching for a hymnbook image of “No One Ever Cared…” I found one which indicated the song as public domain, and one that indicated it as ©1932 by The Rodeheaver Company; the same company that filed a copyright claim against another song my wife uploaded, In The Garden. That hymn was well past its sell-by date in terms of legalities, but Rodeheaver apparently renewed the copyright. Why not? There’s gold in them there hills.

 

May 18, 2020

‘Worship Leader’ Should Never Have Been Made a Paid Position

Today we have a guest post in which I agreed to allow the author to remain anonymous. Agree or disagree? Comments are invited. (Where the author responds, it might appear in the comments as a forwarded email under my name.)

The other day, a Facebook user on a worship music user group (there are several out there) posted a rather long-winded, tritely worded and somewhat repetitive rant on how modern worship music songs are getting longer and longer. The writer had, with quite deliberate irony, was illustrating (cleverly, some thought) how it may be a problem. In the rant, they had cited some worship song on YouTube from a prominent ‘song-mill’ that was about 15 minutes in length.

The irony was apparently quite lost on most, as I couldn’t help notice that it wasn’t long after the post that the majority of the post’s readers came at the writer with knives, daggers and claws out! I watched as the comments began to mount, one atop the other, calling him/her out as a ‘Karen’ (slang for a privileged white woman in her middle age who also happens to possess a cheesy bobbed haircut) and slagging him/her for such a negative post.

I think the writer had had enough of the responsive negativity, because when I went to comment, the post had been pulled.

I feel for this person, as I too am a worship leader who has been watching popular Christian worship music shift toward longer and leaner (light on originality and variation) songs, seemingly in attempts to foster a true ‘worship experience’ for attendees, esp. in the larger churches and gatherings. (If you’re reading this in the COVID-19 era ca. 2020, it’s even further irony that none of the above-noted protracted worship services can even be considered or thought of as reasonable for online church services as most social gatherings are suspended or restricted.)

Because ‘the times, they are a changing’ (showing my age much?) my team and I were ‘passed over’ for worship leadership in our former church when the pastor decided to go with this new model, figuring it would attract the younger generation. Hymns and songs older than 10 years? Out. Long ‘basking sessions’ of post-rock style worship with choruses that repeat over and over again til eye-rolling commences in even some of the young in attendance?  In.

But the post questioning the present state of Christian worship music and the visceral reactions from several worship leaders forced me to remember something.

Being a worship leader (particularly in the U.S.) for very many, especially in the very large mega-churches, is a paying gig.

Now I’m well aware that in the New Testament the itinerant or local preacher was paid for his pastoring (and ancient documents like the Didache back that up) but are we supposed to continue in this present millennia with the Jewish traditions of the Levite tribe for that which should really be volunteer work? Didn’t the apostle Paul – a roaming preacher of the Gospel – also have a regular job to cover his expenses to set an example and to never give the church a reason to say, ‘Well, if he weren’t getting paid, he’d not be teaching this newfangled doctrine!’ Yet, he affirmed that the ‘ox shouldn’t be muzzled while treading out the grain’ as well. But worship leaders? Where does it affirm in Scripture that worship leaders are to be paid for their singing/playing songs in a church?

I strongly feel that because many worship leaders are being paid (sometimes ridiculous amounts – I have a chart someone made somewhere that shows their average salaries), they are beholding to their craft, their worth and probably feel impelled to stretch out their song-playing – make the worship ‘experience’ a huge thing in order to justify or validate their salaries or church’s budget.

And maybe this is why Christian music now is so redundant, repetitive and long-winded in character. It was quite interesting to see how some of the folks who blasted the Facebook writer for questioning song-lengths and incessant stanza repetitions ran to Psalm 136, because it clearly shows the repeated phrase ‘His love endures forever’ and which, of course, justifies their 10-20 minute song audience-winder-uppers. The thing is, I can read/recite that particular Psalm in about 2 minutes flat reading aloud at an easy pace!

Another defense tossed about was, “You gotta go with the Spirit. If the Spirit moves, you gotta keep on going.” I am looking for a reference that occurred in the later days of the early church that shows that song-worship went for extended lengths of time. Nope – found nothing. The disciples prayed while awaiting Pentecost. I’m sure they sang songs too, but prayer was the big thing going on and that was BEFORE the Spirit moved on them in a special anointing. Afterward? I see a lot of ministry and amazing signs and wonders at their hands, but no protracted singing sessions, except maybe for Paul and Silas in their jail cell. |(I guess if your hands and legs are bound and you can’t serve the Lord in any other way, you’d be apt to sing a lot too to both praise God in your difficult circumstances and to keep yourself from going mad from the isolation. But it’s worth noting that their songs we’re being heard by their fellow prisoners who were not saved Christians.)

Another justification many Facebook Worship leader group members came up with for their hyper-extended worship songs and praise sessions was, “Well, buddy, you won’t like heaven then – cause you’ll be worshipping God all the time there!”

“Well, okay then”, I would have retorted had I the chance, “let’s work toward not spending more time in service to the suffering and poor or attending to the needs of our families while living on this often demanding earthly plain and just dance before the throne 24/7 right now.” Nope nope… that’s not what worship is. Romans 12:1-2 tells us what real worship is. Songs, hymns and spiritual songs are to be integral to our lives in Christ, but the whole worship scene … tainted by cash-in-hand paid-for-performance worship leaders who have too much invested in their own net worth.

Lastly, with paid worship leaders, another serious issue can arise: the salaried worship leader will oft be inclined to do whatever he or she can to protect his or her gig. When this factor is in play it affords little opportunity for incoming talent from within the local church (or from churches elsewhere) to be utilized in the church for worship leading. The salaried individual holds all the cards, can get possessive or even jealous and feels threatened by abilities that rival his own. And what’s worse, the rival doesn’t want to be a burden to the church by getting paid for their musical offerings. What a racket!

Maybe Luther (if it was him who said it) was right when he said, “The devil fell from heaven and ended up in the choir loft.”


Image sourced uncredited at Worship War Weariness in 2014; the artist may be Dan Nuckols.


Related article: Becky Goes to Church (June 2018)

April 30, 2020

Singing Your Way Through Pandemic Anxiety

Filed under: Christianity, music — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 2:04 pm

Live To Tell – Enough (Living with Anxiety During a Pandemic)

Our friends Martin and Nancy released this two days ago, and I want to see it get more exposure. Nancy wrote the song, and Martin did the arrangement.

Nancy explains in the video notes:

This song came out of a sleepless night earlier this month when I guess I really started to freak out about the pandemic. Admittedly, I was watching too much news but when a good friend died and a proper funeral couldn’t be observed, it really hit home. From a social perspective, how challenging it is to grieve from a distance.

The lyrics you’ll hear reflect my disquieting and intimate thoughts and are very specifically written for now. The use of the term “peaceful waters” is an homage to John Prine who died from complications of COVID-19 a couple of days prior to me being inspired to write this song.

“There’s no gold in the silence, just a quiet form of violence.”

In this song, I am laying claim to my generalized anxiety disorder, the tension between how I experience my world as it is now and how I imagine it could be – and how I am coping.

Tucked inside the larger narrative is a love song to Martin. I pray that we all have such a good companion to help us get through this.

God bless you. Stay safe, stay home as much as possible, and thanks for listening.

April 4, 2020

Songs for Good Friday | Songs for Communion

For the past decade, I’ve linked to or included songs at Thinking Out Loud and Christianity 201 which are cross-focused, appropriate for a Communion Service (Eucharist) or Good Friday. There are also a number of songs we’ve done individually or as part of a worship team. I’ve never attempted to gather them all in one place.

These are not the top songs which come to mind for many of you, but ones which I thought might be lesser known, or are more lyrically rich. There are a number by UK artists, and I feel the lyrical depth we get from songwriters there exceeds the output we see from writers in Nashville. I have however included a few you should recognize.

This is the first time I’ve embedded a playlist — not a single video — so to keep it playing you either need to keep this blog page open, or click the YouTube icon to transfer the action directly to YouTube. Right now there are 21 songs, so if you want to have this playing in the background, you should be good for 90+ minutes.

Again, these are not “Easter songs.” A few of them move to the resurrection, but the idea was to focus on the arrest, trial, scourging, suffering and crucifixion of Jesus.

If the player does not open properly here is the link.

March 30, 2020

God and Man at Table are Sat Down

Filed under: Christianity, music, prophecy — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:05 am

We usually reserve the “table” imagery for The Lord’s Supper or Eucharist, but this table is the marriage supper of The Lamb where God and man share a meal, referred to in Revelation 19:9 ‘Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God.”‘

Oh welcome, all you noble saints of old
As now before your very eyes unfold
The wonders all so long ago foretold
God and man at table are sat down.

This song was posted exactly seven years ago today to a YouTube channel we were managing featuring songs which were (at that point) more obscure in terms of being able to find versions of it online. The song was adopted by Travis Cottrell and used in the Beth Moore satellite teaching sessions.

This recording is from a 1979 album, Grand Arrival by Craig Smith. In a comment someone mentioned that the song was written by the Rev. Bob Stamps, while serving as Chaplain (Methodist) at ORU.

March 22, 2020

Classic Hymn (Updated) is Most Appropriate for Our Times

Filed under: Christianity, music, women — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 3:45 pm

Live to Tell are friends of ours. You’ve already seen their work here — if you’re a longtime blog reader — under a different name.  This recording features their own unique arrangement and an added chorus.

Enjoy Abide with Me: Click through (double click the YouTube icon) to watch on YT and then copy the link and share it on your own social media. Then click the description to learn more about Live to Tell, this arrangement, and the story of the original hymn.

 

February 24, 2020

Worship Community Knows No Language Limits

Filed under: Christianity, guest writer, missions, music, worship — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:31 am

guest post by Ruth Wilkinson

Four Canadians got out of the cab and started walking up the short rise to the small wood frame church building. A hot day, for we gringos, especially dressed in button-up shirts, long pants, socks and shoes. Because it’s church.

We’d come a long way to be here. Maybe not as long a way as the people who every week walk 2 or 3 km down and back up the mountain, but still.

Having visited Cuba a couple of times before and enjoyed the tourist experience, we’d started wondering how we could actually connect with Cuban people. The staff in the resorts are all very nice, and they all speak some English. But they wear uniforms and it’s their job to make those who’ve ‘come from away’ feel at home. The resorts are not Cuba. We wanted to make and be friends with people whose concrete block and palm wood homes we’d driven past between the airport and the reception desk.

I also wanted to go to church. We’ve travelled a bit and seen some impressive old churches in Europe, but never attended a service abroad.

I asked a Canadian friend who had some experience with this for direction, and he put us in touch with a Cuban pastor who is also an area supervisor, overseeing the educational requirements of 26 other Pentecostal pastors. Between his basic English and my aptitude with Google Translate, we’d emailed arrangements for Sunday morning.

And here we were. Walking up to the door.

The walls are a single layer of palm planks. The roof is red ceramic tile. The windows have no glass, but horizontal wooden shutters against the rain in the wet season. Out through one, we can see the pit where the pig was roasted for our visit on Thursday. Through the door we can see a sheep grazing on the front lawn.

The foundation is a thick concrete pad rising up from the ground, and tiled indoors with the smooth ceramic we see on every floor. The pews are unfinished wood benches with squared seats and backs.

The room is decorated with flowers made from twisted strips of brightly coloured paper that hang within easy reach from the painted, rough timber rafters. Encouraging passages of Scripture are hand written on signs around the room. A list of upcoming birthdays hangs at the front above a shoe box filled with small, paperbound hymn books.

Here we were.

We’d talked ahead of time about the fact that we didn’t want to end up sitting in the front row, preferring the back or somewhere in the middle so we could see what was going on. So we could look around and ‘experience’ the service.

Yeah, right.

Stepping from the bright sun into the shady cool of the room, we saw that every seat was taken. Except for the front row, left hand side. A young man we’d met earlier in the week smiled a welcome and gestured for us to come forward and sit in the seats that had been saved for us. So, trying not to look put out, we did.

The pastor had arranged for a translator to be there on our behalf, but he’d been called in to work. He was very apologetic, but we were more or less on our own and, in the words of my eldest son, “We did pretty well. Between the 4 of us, we understood about half.” It helped that one of the young women who is a leader in the church ran next door to the pastor’s house and brought us each a copy of a parallel Spanish/English New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs. She grinned as she gave them to us, knowing we’d brought them ourselves to give to the church. So, that worked out well.

The congregation began to sing. Or rather SING! It was loud, rhythmic, joyous. What Pentecostals do best. With just a guitar and some percussion, they raised the roof. Between songs, people spoke or shouted phrases, most often–over and over–“Gracias, Dios!” Hands raised, bodies dancing. Some of the choruses we were able to catch on to because they were simple enough.

It occurred to me that, if someone were speaking in tongues I might not know. Unless it was English.

But I wasn’t feeling it. Standing at the front, trying not to look like I was peeking over my shoulder, I could see and hear the heart of these people. But it wasn’t reaching my heart. I said to God, “I know You’re here. But where are You? Where are You?”

There was a disconnect between my mind and my spirit. I had already started wondering why I was doing this. Why was I in this room right now? You’ve heard of eco-tourism and adventure tourism? I was thinking that maybe this was just poverty-tourism. Come see the poor people. See how they live. Take pictures of their jerry-rigged existence–their cardboard box bulletin boards, their picturesque cracked walls, the sheep in the parking lot. Think, “How quaint” and put it all on Facebook. Don’t worry about the fact that they’re human beings. They don’t have Facebook, so they’ll never know.

That was my frame of mind in the moment. Standing in church, looking at myself from a distance.

When the singing ended, the pastor turned to my family and asked (we all thought), whether we had enjoyed the music and the time of worship. We all nodded and said, honestly, “Si! Gusto, si!”

Apparently the question we answered was not the one he’d asked because he handed the guitar to my husband and gestured us to the pulpit.

Oh.

Oh, dear.

What songs do we know? What can we sing that isn’t going to suck?

My husband whispered, “How Great Is Our God?” Yep, OK, nods. We know that one well enough to harmonize.

1, 2, 3, 4 “The splendor of the King….” Away we went. We sang through the first verse and started the chorus. “How great is our God, sing with me, how great is our God…”

And suddenly… I thought, “Oh, there You are.”

People in the congregation started singing along in Spanish, “Cuan grande es Dios…”

There You are.

People whose names I don’t know and possibly can’t pronounce raising their hands…

There You are.

Eye contact and smiles and recognition…

There You are.

Speaking the same language. The language of a Kingdom we share.

There You are.

Somehow, I wasn’t a tourist any more. I was among family.

Before the service ended, these ‘poor’ people prayed for Canada. For revival. For Spirit power and fire.

They surrounded us before we left and all 42 of them gave us each a Cuban greeting. Cheek touching cheek, a kiss and “Dios te bendiga.”

And four Canadians walked back down the hill and got in the cab.

Dios Cuba bendiga. Gracias, Dios.

December 21, 2019

New Uses for the Hymn Board

After yesterday’s discussion on Twitter prompted by Traci Rhoades, I thought you’d like to see what my wife did when she inherited a hymn board at the church where she now serves.

For Advent it got more complicated! The second line in this board is replaced each week…

…with the lines shown on the right in this picture. And the candle flames on the left……end up on the hymn board on the other side of the church.

 

 

December 19, 2019

♫ New Christmas Music ♫

Filed under: Christmas, music — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:12 am

I had so many of these on file I decided to make a special extension of Wednesday Connect. We could call it Thursday Tunes. But we won’t.

I decided to embed the videos instead of just linking them. Not sure how this works out on your various mobile devices, but let me know. Also, there are a couple of names here you might not have heard in a long time.

Rachel Lampa is back:

J. J. Heller:

How could it be that a stable so small
Could somehow contain enough room for us all?
It’s a story that turned the whole world upside-down.
Giving birth to a kingdom where lost hopes are found.

Hollyn:

Plumb:

I mentioned the next ones in previous editions of Wednesday Connect, but wanted to include them here…

Amanda Opelt (read the story why the sister of Rachel Held Evans chose this song):

Switch (that’s the name of the band) with the same song, entirely different tempo

Nicole Nordeman: The one that’s been on repeat most at my house.

Hope that didn’t tax your bandwidth! Enjoy!

The management of Thinking Out Loud wishes to acknowledge the help received from the website NewReleaseToday.com

 

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