Thinking Out Loud

July 24, 2015

The Day The Audience for the Music Died

…and they say modern worship is repetitious…

There is no denying that there’s been a slowing down in the production of the Gaither Homecoming video series, aka the Gaither Gospel Series. For the uninitiated, these concert videos — appearing first in 1991 on VHS and later switching to DVD — featured a large cast of singers performing a mix of old hymns and southern gospel standards. A trip down memory lane for people of a certain age, I suppose.

Back in the day, we couldn't resist adding former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to this Gaither Gospel DVD cover.

Back in the day, we couldn’t resist adding former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to this Gaither Gospel DVD cover.

The Wikipedia page for the series lists just under 100 titles, though it is in need of update. In its peak years, there were five or six new releases annually, also available as audio product on cassette and later CD.

(In America, the term gospel can mean two different things. The country-inspired, Nashville-flavored sound is usually termed Southern Gospel, while the large choirs historically coming from the African-American Church is often simply called Gospel or Mass Choir music. The Gaithers are the former category.)

The series, promoted through a weekly television show that was in reality an infomercial for the videos, was a major cash cow for the Gaither organization, their distributor, and retailers. Mark Lowry, a stand-up comedian who was also a member of the Gaither Vocal Band once quipped something to the effect that one of the most significant moments in the history of Christian music was the day Bill Gaither bought a camcorder.

But lately, the production of new titles has seen a somewhat sudden decline. There could be a number of reasons for this:

  1. Bill will be 80 in March of 2016, so perhaps he just wants to slow down his own pace and take it easy.
  2. The Christian retail industry is not in good shape generally. Over the years the U.S. base price for the series has dropped from $29.99 to $19.99, but price reductions are not enough to get people to buy.
  3. The faithful already have shelves and shelves of these things. There is such a thing as going to the well once too often. Also, the novelty has worn off.
  4. Many of the key compositions have now been preserved for posterity. This is significant because while some of the hymns and gospel songs exist on YouTube, many of those versions don’t have the feeling that many associate with them.
  5. Some of the target demographic are simply dying off.
  6. Some people who are moving into the target demographic are nostalgic for a different type of church music.
  7. Many of the videos were based on live concerts that are costly to stage and film. Some of the key personnel have done their time and don’t want to hit the road anymore. Last one out be sure to lock the bus.

More recent releases have focused on a new generation of southern gospel artists, such as Ernie Haase & Signature Sound, but even with appearances by people like Michael W. Smith or even Michael Tait, the concept just isn’t transferable to a generation accustomed to picking and choosing the songs they like and then downloading the mp3 or mp4.

Nonetheless, today we pay tribute to the Homecoming videos. They weren’t my personal preference, but there are definitely a key entry in any history of Christian music.

September 15, 2014

Poetic License or Errant Theology? You Decide

image0915Going through our archives, I thought I’d pay a return visit today to Tom Lawson at the (mostly) worship blog, Adorate to see what he’s written more recently.

I Don’t Believe in a Hill Called Mount Calvary

While criticism of contemporary worship music is sometimes fully justified, I’m baffled that older gospel songs seem insulated from such scrutiny.  The truth is hymns, gospel songs, and contemporary worship music all have their fair share of either shallow, silly or even wholly heretical (a phonetic oxymoron) lyrics.

We ought to stop longing for A Mansion over the Hilltop.  In 1611 the word “mansion” simply meant a place to live.  The actual idea in John 14:1-2 is clearly the “Father’s house” has more than enough room for everyone.  The gospel song seems to suggest heaven is going to be a land of millions of eternal antebellum southern plantations.  I would note this is an image of heaven many black Christians, for some reason, find less than appealing.

Sometimes, the images are so deeply rooted in the presumed mythology of popular Christianity that even well-informed believers are surprised at the absence of any biblical basis for them.

I believe in a hill called Mount Calvary
I believe whatever the cost
And when time has surrendered
And earth is no more
I’ll still cling to the old rugged cross

What’s wrong with any of that?

If we’re talking about the overall intention of the song, nothing whatsoever. The centrality of the atoning sacrifice of Christ in dying on a cross for the sins of the world has been and must remain a core truth of Christianity.  For our sake, He was crucified under Pontius Pilate.  He suffered death and was buried.  On the third day, He rose again, according to the scriptures.  He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

But, unless you are hiding something in the attic that would be a real show-stopper on the Antique Roadshow there is no “old rugged cross” for you to hang onto…

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June 14, 2009

I Watched a Gaither Video and I Liked It

Filed under: Humor, music — Tags: , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 3:20 pm

It’s my wife’s fault.   She brought it home with some items left over from a yard sale her ministry organization was running.

Mark Lowry4Last night, I watched a 2005, 2-hour DVD, Mark Lowry Goes to Hollywood.   It doesn’t have the “Gaither Gospel Series” banner across the top and doesn’t feature the Homecoming Friends, so technically speaking it’s not a Gaither video, though it was mostly music and no doubt follows the same formula.  I did enjoy it.  But if someone offered me a ticket for the next time the Homecoming tour passes through our part of the world, I’d probably suggest giving them to someone with a greater appreciation for the genre.   It’s still not entirely my scene.   Call it denial.

Lowry is a wonderful treasure belonging to the Christian community at large.    In one of the all-too-few spoken bits on this DVD, he reminded me of comedian Robin Williams.    Kinda guy you’d love to spend an hour with, but not over dinner, because you’d be spitting out your food from laughter.  He’s proof that you don’t need ADD to be in comedy, but it sure helps.

However, it also struck me that Mark is a man of spiritual depth.   He knows his Bible, yes; but its words have also traveled that distance from head to heart.   The concert also featured The Isaacs, Lordsong, Stan Whitmore, Michael English, Reggie Smith, Bill Gaither (of course) and the Remarkable Choir.    It did leave me wanting to hear more from each of them.

Nonetheless, I will still insist that I have yet to watch a Gaither gospel video.   One has one’s reputation to protect.    And don’t you tell anyone.

…Here’s a homemade clip someone put on YouTube from the DVD that’s one of my favorite parts, where Mark Lowry describes surviving a tornado in a houseboat.  “I would have had a lot more fun if I’d known I was going to live through it;” he quips.   It’s the first 3-4 minutes of this seven minute clip.


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