Monday, March 24, 2008

Why I Hate Praise Music

Why I Hate Praise Music

I really dislike praise music.  The more I hear it, the more it bothers me.  It's so hard to worship today than I did in my early years as a Christian.  Two events this past week, truly brought this to light.  I'll share both.  Please don't get me wrong, I'm not judging praise music and I'm over 40 so I've been around.  I just hate praise music.


My wife and I were at church last Sunday (Palm Sunday) and we walk in during the opening praise.  We have a praise band, which I have no problem with.  I'm not a big choir person, believe it or not.  We walk in and worship is going on.  We have drums, keyboard, piano, two guitars, bass, backup singers and a lead singer.

What was different about this morning was the lead singer was acting as a lead singer.  He was upfront, doing a few moves, singing like he was on American Idols, you know, giving his own take on the song and had the back up singers going.  This wasn't worship, it was a concert.  I'm not against concerts, just don't make me sing along with it and pretend its worship.  My church has an abundance of great singers and I love to hear them sing, but during worship, I want to be a part of the experience.  I don't want to be forced to be a spectator because I can't sing like the guy up front.

Worship leaders, let me give you a hint.  Please lead worship.  Lead in a way that makes me want to sing and not watch the show.


This bothers me every time I sing.  Music needs to rhyme.  It's a governing truth of Engligh song and poetry, songs have to rhyme.  Let me tell you why.  From the beginning of time, music and poetry had patterns that helped people remember the verses.  "The Psalms don't rhyme!"  Yes, that what I hear.  Even in the original Hebrew they didn't rhyme, but they had patterns called parallelisms. The first line makes a statement and the second line supports that statement or run parallel with that statement.  There is a pattern.

Think about your favorite song, you'll see that it rhymes.  Rhyming does two things for us, it helps us remember the song.  We are not stringing random lines together, but the second line you remember because the last word rhymes with the last word of the first line, or in most cases the second and fourth line rhymes.  Also, rhyming brings closure to a verse.  It an element that brings completion to the verse.  When it doesn't, the verse is just left hanging there uncompleted.

Maybe it's just me but praise songs today feel like a bunch of Christian cliches strung together by a melody.  Composers, please show us that you've truly mediated on a song you wrote by taking the extra step and rhyme.

Whatever Happened to Hymns?

I was watching the movie Junebug.  In the middle of the movie the family was at a church gathering and the pastor of the church coases a spiritually conflicted George to sing "Softly and Tenderly."

Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling,
Calling for you and for me;
See, on the portals He's waiting and watching,
Watching for you and for me.

Come home, come home,
You who are weary, come home;
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
Calling, O sinner, come home!

Granted this is a secular movie, but at the same time, I wondered, what happened to hymns. Let's not forget, hymns are songs.  They rhyme, they have melody, they make indirect statements of my heart.  Why have we given up on them?  Evangelism.  Carefully written words like Amazing Grace, no longer appeals to the non-believers.

Also, why do we need to need to change the melodys of hymns too.  Does Amazing Grace need a jazz arrangement to be relevant? When I Survey the Wonderous Cross really need to be a rock ballad? Can we take a step back and visit the past for a day.  We're missing so many gems that I still believe are relevant today.


Numenorean said...

Your choice of words is...interesting and revealing. You say "I HATE PRAISE MUSIC" but how can this be? Are you a christian? A lover of Jesus? A servant to the most high God? A son of the Lord God Almighty? An heir to the Kingdom of Heaven?

If you say yes then how can you "HATE" that which is good and right? How can you "HATE" praise music? It is right for us to praise God with music and singing for so many reasons. I fear you didn't praise God that day, were you so angered by the worship leaders actions that you could not offer a sweet smelling sacrifice of praise to the King Of Kings? In this life we have an many oppertunities we won't have in the next. There is no sadness no anger, no hate, no pain in Heaven. Only in this life do we have these things, and only in this life do we have the oppertunity to put our circumstance asside and praise God despite it. To humble ourselves and praise Him for who He is.

Praising God through song is all about Him, its you and I humbling ourselves and lifting up the name of Jesus. One of the beautiful things about lifting up His name is the humility that it requires. The marvelous thing about humility is it makes in us the capacity for the closest possible intimacy with God.

Should anyone feel anger and hate in the house of the Lord? Yes. But only as Jesus did when he drove the merchants from the temple (Matthew 21:12-16). (Note vs 16 its great)

Praise and worship should not be about the worship leader i agree with that point totally. I also agree that worship should be done well, with passion and love. I don't agree with the nesseccity of rhyming.

Bruno La Fontaine said...

Thanks for writing. You are very insightful. I think though you have placed too much emotion over the word "Hate". If you look up "hate" in the dictionary, you'll see that it's defined as "an intense dislike."

I believe you can be a Christian, love God and dislike Praise Music. Hate and anger do not mean the same thing. I hate radishes, but that does not mean I feel angry whenever I see it in my salad. I just strongly dislike it. I hate Mountain Dew, but I don't want to destroy it whenever I see it at the super market.

That's one of the problems with the written word. Reader sometimes place their own emotions behind what the writer is actually feeling.

I have not problem with the Worship Leader. I felt that he was more concerned about performing than about worship. That's placing attention on yourself instead of God.

Regarding praise music, yes, I strongly dislike song that are Christian cliche's strung together by melodies. How much thought did David place behind the Psalms that he wrote?

Steven said...

I have to agree with you Alan. I hate Praise Music too, and I'm in a Praise Band! The musicians I play with are all phenomenal, although none of us are professionals (I'm probably the closest, since I used to teach music). We come together each week and rehearse and play because we are in fact Christians, we love playing together, and our little group is so close and supportive of each other. We also present one of the more unique contemporary services in Ohio, one that attracts a wonderful congregation, and I'm very proud of that. I can't imagine not having any of them to jam with, or to lean on in my life.

But I'll reiterate that I hate most Praise Music too, maybe for some of the same reasons that you elaborated on above, but for me it's a bit different. Part of that may come from the fact that I play some of it live each week. I dislike most of it because it's so simple and generic that I can't imagine much thought or feeling going into creating the music, and hence I don't believe it produces much of those things in its audience either.

Perhaps it becomes a sub-genre of Christian music itself. There are some Christian artists whom I think are extremely gifted musicians, and whose work stands on par with, or even above, that of the more popular secular artists of the day. But Praise Music has specific characteristics, and innovative creativity just isn't one of them. That's why there seem to be so many Praise Bands; on the whole, it's a pretty easy category to thrive in.

There was a South Park episode some years ago in which Eric Cartman (arguably the most vulgar and offensive character on the show) decides to start a praise band to make a platinum album. He chose Christian music because, he said, it didn't require any thought at all to write. You just take a normal pop song, insert the word "Jesus" here and there, and POOF! Instant Christian pop hit.

What's both funny and sad is that, largely, he's right.

Here, I'll do it right now. Right now I will write, dissect, and critique a Praise Song. You'll have to take it on faith (tee hee) that I have not written nor thought about this beforehand. I am literally writing the first thing that comes to my mind.

Oh Lord, we love to walk in Your ways
In You, we find our hope and strength
Oh Lord, we love to walk in Your ways
In You, we find our hope and strength

I will shout it from the mountain top
All the world will hear my praise
Every knee will bow and worship You
Every eye toward Heaven raised

I will hear and live Your word always
Men of God will praise your name
Son of God, the Lamb, who shed His blood
We will live all of our days
in Your holy name!

Repeat Verse

Repeat Chorus

End of Song

This is a workable example of a Praise Song. Let's take a closer look at it, starting with the Verse. Notice that it's simply two lines repeated. This is a common characteristic of Praise Music, and it accomplishes two things right off the bat, both of which pull in the listener quickly. One, it rhymes, which Al I believe you stated as a necessary requirement for Western music, which I agree with. Two, since the lines repeat, it's easy for a listener (in a radio or congregation setting) to easily pick up the lines and sing along. Chances are the melody is also simple enough, 3 or 4 notes, that the listener can also anticipate and sing along instantly.

The chorus is the most complicated part, if such a word can be used. Remember here that no prior thought went into my writing, but there is still a formula at work, one that, as you can see, requires little thought. Does it rhyme? Yes, for the most part; enough to be acceptable. Key words here include "mountain top" (a common piece of imagery), "praise", "Heaven", "Your word", "praise Your name", "Son of God, the Lamb, who shed His blood" (a poetic reference to Jesus), "Your Holy Name". All hot-button words, and many more could have been used, which are commonly found in any Praise Song.

What message does the chorus convey? What will we do? Praise Him? Check. Worship God? Check. Reference to Jesus? Check. Generic enough to work for most denominations and churches? Check.

What comes next is what was so surprising to me when I first joined the band and began playing Praise Music; the first verse just repeats itself. Apparently, we haven't progressed in thought or emotion or even told a story here. We just repeat that first verse, a verse which by now everyone knows and can easily sing along with. And since the verse is just two lines repeated, we're really just repeating those two generic yet Christian lines over and over again.

What larger goal might using very few lines for a verse accomplish? It causes the brain to disengage, to expect less, and to relax itself from the task of thinking and processing.

This concept in Praise Music is offensive to me. I see the point of it in congregational settings, but this is also music that's heard on the radio and mass produced, and that's where I'm offended. Can we expect so little of our listener? Are they such a mindless GodBot that repeating the same verse (also could be called "mantra" or "chant") over and over is okay to inflict upon the ear? And what does this say about the musicians' and songwriter's talent? Have we so little an idea of what musical or lyrical ideas we want to accomplish with the song, that repeating the same four (and in our case, thirteen) lines ad nauseum is acceptable? Should they be paid real money for that?

I will admit that our above example is a bit simple, and will certainly grant you that there exists some Praise Music that is much better and more complex (and therefore more effective). But the point of the example, and of my argument, is that it doesn't have to be. And since it doesn't have to be, most of it isn't. What I've written above stands on par with the majority of Praise Artists on the radio today. Writing good music is not a requirement, and that's why Al is so right when he states that Praise Music is a great vehicle for lazy songwriters.

Now I said in the beginning of this comment (which has quickly turned into an article, sorry) that I play in a Praise Band, and I happily do so. What we've been able to do is take our musical style, which grows from each of our musical interests - Jazz, Rock, and Blues mostly - and re-work and re-tool so many of the songs we play to be musically challenging, interesting songs, full of energy and which our congregation loves singing and DANCING to, if you can imagine such a thing. We continually experiment with styles and Praise material, and the experience I have performing with them each week is the highest form of worship that I've ever experienced in my life.

We work so hard to make Praise Music interesting, and I'm glad we do. Otherwise I'd have quit the band long ago. The more I hear our source material versus the end product of our weekly efforts, I've come to conclude that Praise Music in its radio form is largely designed to get large groups of people to mentally disengage and to do the same thing all together. Not to receive any individual message, or to see new ways to connect with God in their own lives. The idea of Contemporary Worship is a very valid one, where we come to God as we are and relate to him in a way relevant to us. Unfortunately, what has become largely our musical medium for this new worship has run counter intuitive to this idea. Receiving and discovering individual insights about God seldom happens in group activities like this. What was a good idea to create a new, Christian generation has become something generic and bereft of emotion.

And that's what Praise Music is. Generic yet Christian. And that's why I hate it.

Again, apologies for providing an article instead of a comment. If anyone cares to point out that I've left hymns out of this discussion, I'll certainly be happy to provide my defense of them.

My Pal Al said...

Great comment/article. I've been working on a random phrase generator so that my computer can create a new praise song every time you run it.

Mr. J said...

Hai Alan. Well, we have to be clear on music. As we know music is a medium for us to extremely and creatively to praise and worship God. First thing first Bro Alan, do we know what is the different between Praise and worship? What praise to you, what worship to you? Maybe it is because our perspective is different about music. I love music, i love to praise and worship God. Don't to know that Praise have to come together with worship?

Bro, read the bible. My point here to help you understand this differences. If you really can't, the only solution is to ask God's favor to help you. I'll pray you'll understand it clearly. In Exo 15 teach us that we need to praise God because of God's goodness in our life, blessing and shows our gratitude, thanksgiving towards God. That's why we praise God. If you talking about instrument and music, refer to this bro, Psalms 150. Stated that praise God in everything, with everything. Don't you know that Psalms is actually a hymn produce by David? And his hymn is played together with many instrument. With praise some more bro.

Worship is where we silently, and prayerfuly towards God. Lifting our hand to God, to adore, magnify, and declare His majesty in our midst. That is worship in church service/mass context.

Do you know and believe that God is a creator too? He also create music bro. If not, who does? who create music? Lucifer? than who create lucifer? God. Its always be God. God create everything, He is creative and can produce different genre of music or beats. He creats it. Why not we learn some other beats or genre, be creative; mixing it up together with our hymn or give a new breath to our hymn in music context bro? Im sure that week, or a following week, congregation can feel the revival in praise and worship or our church, and start to enjoy the fellowship. If you want to talk from another different context.

I make study on music ministry too. I read books, and study the bible on what is the real meaning of praise and worship, also a music ministry. you can always view my blog too, cause i do post about music ministry, though i just started.

God bless you bro. humanly we can't really understand this. But from other's advice or opinion probably can help us. But the most important thing is to pray to God. Ask from God's favor so that we can clearly understand the meaning. It is written in James 1:5. Read it bro.

LWH Records said...

My first observation on reading the article and the subsequent comments is that the entire premise is misguided. "I" is used quite often throughout all of this. We should all remember that we are not the audience. The fact that your ears are offended is beside the point. Now, to be completely upfront, I defend anyone's right not to care for a particular style of music, but it goes too far to state that a style of music can't be good because it's too simple. Have you ever thought how simple your most intelligently crafted song sounds to God? God desires our praise and our worship. We worship in spirit and truth. As long as both of those are being met, the song I'm singing is a beautiful offering to God. Think of the widow's two mites. Her gift was wretched by the world's standards, but God saw that she gave all she had. That applies here too. A child singing Jesus Loves Me from the heart is more beautiful than the most skilled musicians who don't have their heart in it. I'm just saying, be open to the fact that these songs can be a vehicle of perfect praise for some. Maybe not for you, but they could be a simple enough vehicle for a non-musician to truly lift worship to the Almighty.

Mr. J said...

well LWH Record, that's right about a heart of worship Pal. My point here for you is also a heart of worship. We all know and agree that Heart of worship in whether playing music or singing is the most God looking for. Than, we should consider this too, can we judge one by observing the way they play music? Can we observe and value a person by it's singing? If yes, should it be maybe.

Well, music is a medium which enable us to praise or worship God in variety way. If we read in Psalm 150 mention that we praise Him with every single instruments we have or know. And true we should play with our heart.

If we said that praise music is noisy and the musicians is not wholeheartedly, maybe the church u went to is true about their musicians. Their musicians play not wholeheartedly or not controlling their instrument's volume. Well not all place or church's musicians is like that. Our place here we train and advice our musicians to play with heart and control our volume. We do have our Praise and worship Seminar or rally or workshop just to improve our knowledge in Praise and Worship, our desire and heart towards God in music ministry, our biblical knowledge in Praise and worship and of course to advice everyone to control their volume.

well, my point here is though it's a praise or worship, the most important is the heart. If it's a praise song, loud and noisy or heavy sound, but if it come from the worship leader's heart or musicians heart, or even we as an audience or worshiper from the floor; God is please with it.

That's why it is call Worship in Spirit and in Truth. In spirit mean that we are spirit filled which is God's Spirit filled. And the truth is we have the truth with us which is the Word of God live in us, and we know the truth who we worship, which is to worship God the Living one...

BrotherWill said...

I just wanted to say that I agree with everything you wrote. I loved Junebug and I love hymns. It angers me that our churches have music by people like Bach, Beethoven and Fanny Crosby at our disposal, yet most of these new churches choose to sing songs with the most shallow, cliche lyrics and performed by bands that seem to be basking in the praise of their performance. The worst part of Praise Music is the fact that it sounds like the worst band in pop music - Hootie and the Blowfish.

I just turned 30, was raised Baptist and won't step inside a church that has a praise band. I worship at a very small church that sings hymns and has a preacher that makes you think outside the box and doesn't use big screens or Power Point.

I'm a Christian and I hate Praise Music!!!

My Pal Al said...

Brother Will, you stole my thunder. I was about to write exactly what you wrote.

God knows everyone's heart when it comes to an individual's commitment to worship.

As worship leaders, we need to provide to the best of our ability the best worship experience, we have such great songs (even praise songs) and hymns to use, why do we feel we need to use these horrible Christian cliches set to music.

That's laziness. I wonder what God thinks about that?

Janet said...

Praise music drives me crazy. It's repetitive and mindless. I realize that there is an aspect of one personal history social class that enters into what people like and dislike. While I do prefer the subtleties and complexities of a Bach chorale, but all churches don't have classically trained musicians, including my own. I have played piano accompaniment and occasionally gritted my teeth. Whatever brings you to an understanding of the Almighty and the Universal. Still, I wish the pop element were toned down and the lyrics more thoughtful. The roots of praise music are in the African-American music - but I prefer going to an African-American church to experience that passion.

I'm not into waving my arms around either. It's just not "me."

Reed said...

I played music for three decades in Charismatic, Pentecostal, and non-denominational churches. Before that I played music in the world. I reached a point where the praise music was so sweet that it soured. I joined the Eastern Orthodox Church, and have never looked back. To each their own. Music is a taste, and tastes change. In our journey towards Christ, priorities shift all the time. I had a friend that was a real rocker, then one day he discovered Irish folk music and quit the head banging scene. I work for a Lutheran church that has a small group that prefers praise music to the point that they pay for outside musicians to come in. I have never wanted to sit in, because of the reasons mentioned...why go back? So, why do I like Orthodox music? The same reason that I prefer an Alaskan Winter over an Arizona Summer, or the sounds of a fast stream over the sound of traffic, or Tony Rice playing guitar over Santana...I just do. As far as Praise music goes, it has an audience, and will eventually come into its own, or not. Personally, I wish Cat Stevens would drop the Islamic thing, I miss Oscar Peterson and Chet Atkins, but hey, time marches on.