America … is largely a listening world rather than a singing world. Just as most of America can’t dance. In terms of culture – compared to most native cultures – America has largely been stripped of all natural culture, replaced by marketable and consumable products. There’s something wrong with a nation where people don’t sing and dance.
– Father Stephen Freeman
Father Stephen is an Orthodox priest from Tennessee. The above quote is from a comment he made on a post on Mission and Worship in America. While I don’t agree with everything he says on the subject of musical styles (he is from Tennessee, after all), he does make some valid points. As I’ve thought about the quote above, I have realized just how true this is – there is very little folk music in America, at least at present.
We had a big folk movement in the 60’s – and by folk, I will include anything from Woody Guthrie to Louis Armstrong to the Grateful Dead. This was back when people still played music simply because they enjoyed it, whether it be blues, jazz, bluegrass or rock. That was before everyone who thought they could sing put out a CD hoping to become a star. Music today seems to have become a device to achieve stardom. If you have no chance of being American Idol, why bother?
This, unfortunately, seems to apply to the church as well. How many people write worship songs simply to worship? And, how many worship bands consist of the instruments that people in the church happen to play? How many worship teams play musical styles that reflect the members on the team? I’ve seen my share of worship teams, and I have to say that most consist of the same general instrumentation, playing the same general styles, as that found on whatever “hot” worship CDs are out there.
I think I agree with Father Stephen, that American has lost its ability to truly sing and dance. We have become listeners, and performers (to please other listeners). I have to ask, is this type of music fitting for worship? Now, I think the Orthodox Churches err in the other extreme, using musical styles from another culture, another time period, and ruling that as more appropriate. Why? What makes music from somewhere else or some other time any better?
I used to say that style is merely cultural; but if the good Father is correct, then America’s only style is that which is being sold to it. And, he may be right. Americans don’t sing and dance. Our culture is bought, borrowed, downloaded and promoted. We have no heart – that’s really what Father Stephens is saying. Or, perhaps it’s just been hijacked; maybe we only need to find it.
But, I’m not recommending at this point that we start old Greek hymns. But, perhaps we should start learning how to sing, and maybe even dance.