June 24, 2017

An Examination of Sovereign Grace Ministries and Getty-Townend For Use in Fundamental Christian Churches (2)

Part 2 (Part 1 can be found here)

Doug Bachorik and Ryan Weberg

In Part 1 the authors established the desirability of adopting new and unfamiliar music for church music ministry, but they insist all such music must be thoroughly tested before being adopted (or adapted) by local churches (and individual Christians).

In particular, this study intends to examine the music of Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) and that of Keith Getty and Stuart Townend (GTM) for its appropriateness in the ministry of Fundamental Christians.

Music

A brief examination of the musical styles of these two ministries reveals a level of similarity, as well as significant differences, each with implications for our discussion. The music of both ministries is born in a predominantly rock music idiom, as are the performing styles; however, the stated purpose of GTM is to write a new kind of congregational song that blends the strengths of traditional hymn with popular forms of music (including rock and ‘Irish’ music). SGM seems to be content with working exclusively in various rock styles.

Below is a brief list of elements from the printed versions of several songs which demonstrate that rock music is at the heart of the compositional style of SGM. As will be seen, this is less true of GTM songs.

Beat Anticipation

One key element of rock music is a unique syncopation that Pastor Graham West (former professional musician, composer, and recording engineer, Australia) has termed beat anticipation.[1] It is the syncopation that happens in the melodic line, when the singer comes to the end of a phrase right before a strong beat, thus denying the psychologically and physiologically expected conclusion of a phrase. The pervasive use of this type of syncopation seems to play a major role in the engendering of sensual body movement to rock music. Because there seems to be a strong, if subconscious, expectation for a melodic phrase to cadence or finish on a strong beat the body tends to ‘fill the gap’ with suggestive movements when it does not.

Examples in SGM (this pop rhythm element is found in the printed version of most songs, and is a pervasive element in SGM’s own performing style; below are representative examples)

  • All Glory to You – the phrases of the chorus; nearly half of the measures contain similar syncopations that obscure the strong beats
  • You Heavens Adore Him – ends of phrases 1 and 4, and the last phrase of the 2nd ending; also, almost every phrase contains similar syncopations that obscure the strong beats
  • Feast at Your Table – end of 1st and 3rd phrases, throughout the chorus; also, almost every phrase contains similar syncopations that obscure the strong beats
  • Haven’t You Been Good – nearly every phrase contains similar syncopations that obscure the strong beats
  • These Strong Arms – same as the previous in almost every measure

Examples in GTM – there are very few, if any examples, of beat anticipation in the printed versions of GTM songs. It is, unfortunately, a pervasive element in their performing style

Melodic Anticipation

Although melodic anticipation is a musical ornament that can be found in Western music back at least to the Renaissance, there is a particular version that is very common in rock and pop music: when the melody line cadences (ends) before the final beat of a phrase (just like beat anticipation), but there is no syllable on the note just before the final strong beat. This particular use of melodic anticipation seems to have an effect similar to beat anticipation, although it is a bit subtler. It is more commonly found in GTM, while only occasionally found in SGM.

Examples in SGM

  • All I Have – measures 7 into 8

Examples in GTM:

  • How Deep the Father’s Love for Us – measures 2, 4, 6, 8 (at the dotted quarter note)
  • The Power of the Cross – measure 4
  • Speak, O Lord – measures 8 & 16

There are numerous other examples of melodic anticipation that don’t exactly fit the description above, such as In Christ Alone at the ends of lines 1, 2, 4, and the verse for The Power of the Cross. They do not have quite the same effect, but the pervasive use of this ornament tends to weaken melodies in terms of forward motion; the heavy use of such an element tends to create a more static feel to a melody, which is not uncommon in the verses of rock and pop songs.

SGM melodies tend to follow patterns long established in rock music, as described by Dr. Ken Stephenson this way:

What I have been calling traditional phrase structure…should conclude a pattern, satisfy a need, solve a problem. In rock, however, what sound to the traditional ear like endings…often occur at points of beginning; a chain of events leads not to resolution but simply to the inception of another chain of events. The musical situation, in other words, shares postmodernism’s rejection of progress toward a goal.[2]

Harmony

In many ways, the previous quote also applies to ‘typical’ rock usage of harmony in general and in SGM in particular, although SGM printed music retains a more typical, progressive feeling of conclusion at the ends of verses and choruses. The overall use of harmony seems to convey a sense of static motion – moving, but not moving anywhere.

Use of Repetition

A key component in the overall effect of rock music can be found in the use of extensive repetition. Excessive repetition tends to encourage the mind to become less attentive to what is going on in the music, although the body and emotions of the listener are still being engaged by the music. We find that SGM tends towards a heavy use of repetition, melodically, rhythmically, and sometimes textually, in the printed version, and even more so in the performances. This fits well with the Charismatic roots of their worship theology. If worship is primarily experience, rather than action, a musical language that encourages a heightened emotional event is appropriate. GTM tends to avoid excessive repetition, showing a great deal of variety in the various musical elements. In performance, both SGM and GTM often use various types of rock back beat and a heavy emphasis on the rhythm section of their bands.

Other elements that sometimes tend to weaken musical sound, when used excessively (as overriding stylistic elements), include:

  • de-emphasis of strong beats
  • de-emphasis of strong syllables/words
  • heavy use of consecutive 7th chords
  • excessive unresolved dissonance
  • static melody (in contour, pitch content, or rhythm)

Some of these elements are significantly present in the printed and/or performance versions of SGM songs, and can be found in some GTM printed or performed songs.

Performance style

Both ministries record their own songs and perform them in typical pop or rock styles. GTM often adds Irish elements to their performances. Both performing styles tend to include breathy, inappropriately intimate, even sensual vocalizations, and singers often add sensual vocal ornaments (groans, moans, slides, flips, etc.), beat anticipation (even when it is not notated in the printed version), back beat, and standard rock instrumentation. This characterization is especially true of SGM, but GTM ‘performances’ are uncomfortably close to the same.

Music Conclusion

While none of the individual music elements may be problematic (although we think some are), if used sparingly or in isolation, the excessive and/or combined use engenders physical and emotional responses that have little to do with biblical worship. Rock music, generally speaking, is a musical language of freedom from or rebellion against restraint. While such a feeling is often euphoric and empowering, it is not appropriate for Christian worship and edification.[3]These elements are a core part of SGM music, both in print and in performance, and are appropriate for their views of worship, which are radically different from worship as it is portrayed in both the Old and New Testaments. GTM includes far fewer of these elements in the printed versions, especially those that have been arranged into a traditional, 4-part ‘hymnbook’ setting. True to their stated purpose, they are writing songs that are much more a blend of traditional hymn styles and modern song genres. Unfortunately, GTM performing style tends to be very pop-driven. SGM and GTM, as performed by the originators, are a real problem for those of us who do not agree with their theology of worship or ideas about avoiding worldliness.

For the authors, the musical problems imbedded in most SGM songs make them unusable in our ministries. ‘Cleaned up’ versions for choir or in traditional hymn style do not remove some of the elements that are so integral to the original version, and to ‘sanitize’ them further would be to completely recast the songs in a format completely foreign to the genre of these songs. In fact, it is the authors’ belief that the rock idiom is so intrinsic to most SGM that ‘watered down’ versions are really musically unsatisfactory; therefore, the tendency will be to gravitate the use of such songs back to the original rock style, which would ultimately impact our thinking negatively about worship.

GTM presents a more complicated picture. Setting aside the performing versions of the songs, the ‘composed’ versions are constructed with both pop and non-pop singing styles in mind. From a musical standpoint, the printed, ‘hymned’ versions of many GTM songs fit better with our thinking about worship, sometimes reach wonderful levels of expressiveness, and can bring a needed, appropriate freshness to our congregational singing.[4]

To be continued…


 

Doug Bachorik is the director of music studies, Bob Jones Memorial Bible College, Quezon City, Philippines. He is also the author of a new book on music, see New Heart, New Spirit, New Song for additional information.

Ryan Weberg is the pastor of Valley View Bible Church, Telford, PA

  1. A more complete discussion of beat anticipation can be found in my forth-coming book New Heart, New Spirit, New Song. DB []
  2. Stephenson, Ken. What to Listen for in Rock: a Stylistic Analysis. New Haven, CT (USA): 2002. Yale University Press, p. 26. []
  3. For more information, please refer to the chapters on worship and secular music in New Heart, New Spirit, New Song. []
  4. At this point it would be good to remember that song-writers much more in line with our own theological perspectives have been striving for many of the same goals, without some of the negative baggage GTM brings. In the realm of congregational song, ministries such as Majesty Music, The Wilds, and Church Works Media come to mind. The authors suspect that part of what is driving the popularity of GTM (and SGM) is the pleasure of the original performances. We too quickly forget that a very real part of our being, as incompletely sanctified believers in this life, wants the freedom to indulge in thoughts and sensations antithetical to the sanctified life, so we gravitate towards things that allow us to lower our guard and yet remain ‘guilt-free’. []


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