The spontaneity of contemporary music


Contemporary music is spontaneous. Organ based - hymn music is designed in a way so that it will never change. An organist can play a score and hit every note just the way it should be hit. Generally, traditional hymn music changes chords on each syllable. So the organ follows and complements the vocal melody. The beat must be just so for the church to sing the song. There isn't room for improvisation or spontaneous arrangement changes (by spontaneous I'm not suggestin you just go off on your own doing your own thing mid-set but I mean changing a structure on a given night).
Contemporary music is written to be disposable. I mean that in a positive way. The chord progressions are generally simple and chords are held for longer. There is room for a piano or electric guitar to improvise in space. This means that for contemporary music, more instrumental voices can be heard and expressed to proclaim God's majesty. Contemporary music is fluid. It can be changed and molded without losing the essence of a song. For example... Blessed be your name can be played slowly or more subdued but it can also be played with a driving rythmn and a celebratory tone.
Contemporary music lives in the chord chart.

What I mean is that contemporary musicians should not feel locked in to a score in the same way as more traditional musicicians. Contemporary musicians are free to create within a song and thus can themselves be praising as well as serving through their strings/keys/skins.
Not only this, but also vocally. Contemporary singers are free to use dynamics in a way that traditional music could not. A singer can inflect emotion with their voice by introducing different volumes and accents. A singer can repeat a line over the top of the congregation or write new harmony and so continually create in praise to God.
This is why I feel that many who have introduced the contemporary music genre into their churches have missed the point. They still enforce a strict regime of following 'the way it is on the cd'. They don't allow their musicians the freedom to express themselves and they continue to enforce 'formal diction' in their singers (formal dction is pro-nounce-ing-your-word-sss-per-fec-tly. Its when the t's sound like d's and every K is heard loud and Klear through the mix). Contemporary music doesn't follow formal diction. It is more like speaking. It is casual. It's spontaneous and it serves us in teaching us not to worship the form but to worship the focus - our great God and his mercy.
With this freedom comes much responsibility but I'll save that for later.
P.S - Photo is of me with the two most spontaneous people I know

Posted byDan at 3:57 PM  

3 comments:

Andy M said... 12:17 AM  

Hey Dan.
Not sure if I agree with you (sorry, it has taken me a few days to get this comment up). A few reasons:

(1) I don't think modern songs are necessarily more spontaneous that old hymns - there's still a distinct structure. Either a contemporary song or an old hymn can be played in a structured way or a more fluid spontaneous way.

(2) I'm not sure spontaneous is necessarily better than structured. (Perhaps you're not saying that though). In fact, a recognizable song relies on a set structure rather than complete spontaneity, in the latter case you could be playing anything! That's an extreme example, but the point is all songs rely on certain inflexible elements.

(3) In the end, it's a simple matter of taste I think. I'm all for the contemporary style of songs you are referring to (and for contemporising hymns) but that's just my modern tastes. But they're not inherently better than old style hymns.

Am I making sense?? Have I understood you correctly?? Perhaps not. It's late. I'm tired. Time to go to bed.

Max said... 10:45 AM  

For me its not whether a song is contemporary or 'old-style' that allows freedom while playing it.

Rather a slower song with fewer chords allows for much more freedom.

It is the fast songs with lots of chord changes where I feel locked in to playing those songs a certain way. Its like when you said, "They still enforce a strict regime of following 'the way it is on the cd'. They don't allow their musicians the freedom to express themselves..." (Not saying that our music leaders are that harsh).
Songs like 'All the Earth Will Sing Your Praises' and 'How Majestic' are prime examples where we seem to play them relatively the same every time we sing them. Whether that's the songs fault or the musicians' is another issue I spose.

Summing up:
Fast song with lots of chords/chord changes = inflexible

Slower song (or even a faster one) with few chords/chord changes = freedom to experiment!

Dan said... 9:07 PM  

Hey Andy,
Sorry it's taken a little bit to get back to your late comment but I'm away at the moment and its tricky to get access.
My motive in writing what I wrote was not to say that contemporary is 'better' than traditional - but rather to highlight the positive attributes of contemporary music. I agree that both a hymn and a contemporary song can have elements of spontaneity within them. I also agree that complete spontaneity in all we do is a bad idea. Our congregations need to know where we are going - but I do think that as a generalisation musicians in our church circles don't feel free to improvise within a song. The difference between contemporary music and traditional is that traditional music is rigid. The parts are set - whereas contemporary music has a set skeleton but the skin and muscles can be a bit more fluid. I hope that gives a bit more understanding to what I meant.

Max, I agree that speed changes the ability to experiment. Perhaps we need to experiment with speed itself.

Thoughts?

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