Question:

I read your Review of Sacred Songs of the Church. I noticed this sentence:

"The "praise song" crowd will probably not like this book because it is not filled with one-stanza numbers having a set of seven, often touchy-feely, words sung eleven times to a new age melody."

I was wondering if you would mind explaining what makes a melody "new age," and if you would give some examples of the songs you mean.


Answer:

I will seek to answer your questions simply.  Right now, all my books (including the vast majority of my hymnbooks), study materials, magazines, etc., are in storage so I am going to have to give you an answer mostly from memory off the top of my head.

     Regarding the term "new age melody," if you have studied music to any degree, you may be aware that there is the traditional style of musical melody and harmony of the western world, which practically all of our standard hymn and gospel song tunes follow, and then there is a more recent development known as "new age music" which blends traditional western music with elements of jazz, eastern (oriental) music, and other non-western musical forms.  Many music stores have an entire section devoted to such music.

     Much of the Contemporary Christian Music movement, from which so many of the newer "praise songs" come, draws heavily upon this "new age" style of music because it's so popular.  You asked for some examples and, again, most of my things are in storage, but I would put practically anything originating from CCM (some CCM artists may "borrow" songs from other sources and then "new age" them up), including many groups very popular among churches of Christ such as Hallel, into this category -- perhaps practically 99% (maybe that's a little bit too high) of what appears in the majority of "new song supplements."  By the way, these concepts and even terms are not original with me.  I base a lot of my observations on a detailed study of this development in church music by Forrest M. McCann, former professor at Abilene Christian University and general editor of Great Songs Revised, and Paul Brown, a well known song leader in Nashville, TN, who I think may have also been associated with David Lipscomb University, that appeared in a couple of issues of the Gospel Advocate a few years ago (unfortunately, my copies are packed so I cannot give you the precise dates).

     Also, I want to make sure you understand that my purpose is not necessarily to pass divine judgment on the songs which I called "one-stanza numbers having a set of seven, often touchy-feely, words sung eleven times to a new age melody."  I do have very specific opinions about them and freely admit that I do not care for them because I find them, even with all my musical study, rather difficult to sing (and even in congregations which like them and try to sing them, my experience watching this is that they are not easy to learn), and they just do not "speak" to me as do the older hymns with their deeper content of meaning.  However, I have no desire or intention of setting myself up as arbiter of the psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs which brethren must or must not use.  Other people may find such songs meaningful and edifying.  I cannot, and therefore will not, say that the kind of songs which you asked me about are sinful and wrong.  However, I will encourage brethren to examine the songs which they sing continually to make sure that they accomplish the scriptural elements underlying the Biblical concept of "singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord" and not just that they "sound good" or are popular.

     I hope that this answers or at least sheds some light on the questions that you asked.

Brotherly,

Wayne S. Walker