Thursday, January 5, 2012

long days, short nights, and bad music

Sometimes I get the feeling a lot of people don’t really like music so much as they like being the sort of person who's into music, just as I often think there are a lot of people who don’t like books so much as being “a reader”. Jenna’s first after-Christmas discussion post reminded me of all those people. I don’t listen to Christian music. After a traumatic week working laundry at Holiday Inn under a woman who refused to listen to anything but, I’ve tried to put my memories of that 30 minute cd - set on repeat and played for 8 hours straight, Monday through Friday - far behind me. Most people I've heard who make Christian music seem to fall into the catagory of “people who don’t really like music” because if they did, they'd care more about the quality of music they're putting out.
Modern church music, says Jenna,  is “some of the worst shlock ever caught posing as music.” I think one of my favorites is a song in one of our hymnals in which we praise God with “swirling test-tubes.” (Test-tube joins chemotherapy, coagulating, and spiritistic in the ever-expanding list of words that don’t fit into good songs). I’m not saying that there aren’t some really good, modern hymns out there, but for some reason, those hymns aren’t being sung. A big part of the problem is advertising. Ours really is an age of advertising and publicity. The songs sung most often are common because they’ve been marketed as comfy, all-purpose, and unoffensive hymns. It’s similar to the attitude that creates popular pop-music, pop-fiction, and many hit movies - they’re marketed as popular, so they become popular, and we just absorb them.

I'm a bit out the loop right now, though. We attend Mass in the extrodinary form, before that, I belonged to a Ukrainian Catholic parish with a cantor who chanted nothing in English, who promoted traditional Ukrainian customs, and wanted to marry me for my pierogies.  When I do attend the novus ordo, I'm generally to wrapped up in keeping my mind on the liturgy, I don't notice the music, until my husband points out that "they sang the test-tube song!" or "wow, they changed the words to Amazing Grace! Why?" But Jenna's right, when you see God as a cozy friend, a shrink, a quick-fix emotional high, your music reflects that, and you stop writing anything deep.

I wonder if part of the problem is that we are too comfortable with popular Christian music, and so we start wanting our church-music to sound the same. We stop trying to pursue beauty, to form ourselves in imitation of beauty, and follow the easy path that leads to badness and banality. But I'm still unrecovered from my vacation. My mind is fuzzy and my nights are always too short. If I sound like more of a hater than Jenna, it's probably because I am. Mr. Pond, what do you think? Do you reject bad music and embrace the good, or is that a leading question?

Blessed new year.


  1. hm. As someone who enjoys both cheesy and non-cheesy music, I'm not sure it's fair to claim that someone "doesn't really like music" if they go for things you don't. (Though I haven't re-visited Jenna's post yet for fear I will get "Gather Us In" stuck in my head again).

    what is this test-tube song? I must know!

  2. HAHA!!! Yes, what is the test-tube song? Good post, Masha. I am hoping to catch up on this blogalectic in full at some point in my life.

  3. Masha said, "I think one of my favorites is a song in one of our hymnals in which we praise God with 'swirling test-tubes.'"

    I think the hymn in reference is "Earth and All Stars" written by Herbert Brokering. In our old hymnal Lutheran Worship the line in question was "loud-boiling test tubes." Unfortunately it also made it into our newer hymnal too. :(

    Brokering's written like 20,000 hymns none of which is, how to say it, very good, but somehow they often end up in hymnals.

  4. Good post, Masha. :D

    I am floored by the test tube song. Just floored. And here I was complaining because of "the fabric of our lives" and "One is the breath of the star and the rose" and the one that says something about "when I was unemployed, you found me a job." Oh, and Mr. Pond reminded me of "I Could Sing of Your Love Forever" which has been a pet hatred of mine for years. (What I always thought: "I could sing of your love for half an hour... and then I'd be stuck for ideas....")

    Still, test tubes. Wow.

    Thanks for clearing up the mystery of what hymn that was, George, even if no one can clear up the mystery of what it is doing in a serious hymnal.

    Laura, shame on me for mentioning the title! I know it's awful. :P

    Maria, I have very good memories of sitting around a table with your family and trotting out parody versions of crappy hymns. I still can't sing "Go and Make a Difference" without grinning and thinking "Go and drink a milkshake" or "Go and build a treehouse". :D

  5. Laura, it has less to do with them putting out something that's not my taste, and more to do with putting out something that obviously lacks effort, simply for the sake of having something..or, those people we all know who carry around guitar cases coated in stickers, wear-guitar pick-necklaces, and call it good (musically speaking).

    George, That's it! Loud boiling test tubes! Why does it exist??

    Maria, good luck catching up! I have enough trouble keeping up :) I'm glad you caught this one!

    Jenna, "when I was unemployed.." really. wow.

    Has anyone read Why Catholics Can't Sing? Though, if Lutherans have the test tube song too, Catholics aren't alone in musical sadness.

  6. Lou has "Why Catholics Can't Sing", and I've read part of it. It's pretty hilarious.

  7. HAHA! Jenna, as soon as I read that I went around singing "Go and make a milkshake" with gusto. My husband didn't look askance. He is accustomed to these occasional fits of madness now. I had totally forgotten about that one.