While at Henry’s place, I saw this promotional magazine D@avid Cr0wder Band put out along with their newest album, called “Church Music M@gazine”. (Kind of seemed to be a parody of the old CCM Magazine). It had lyrics, song notes, other promotional stuff. It also included the text of a talk DC gave on worship. Honestly, this talk might be the most interesting and influential article on worship that I have ever read. It’s about the future of church music, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that his conclusions apply to the church as a whole as well.
His main point is that throughout the history of church music, there has been a repeated cycle of chaos, a desire for control and order in response, and then capitulation. For centuries, Christians sang in unison. When harmony broke out, it was initially considered evil. It was even banned by the Pope. But in time, it was accepted, and objections to it seem silly now. And the pattern keeps repeating itself throughout history. I feel like I’ve seen this cycle happening even in my lifetime. I can’t remember exactly where, but at some conference I went to during youth group, the host (Bill Gothard?) insisted that singing songs in minor keys and using drums in worship were demonic. He even had theological reasons for his arguments (something about the emotions of minor keys and how the tribal rhythm roots of drums were Satanic). But in general, the church has basically ignored these arguments. Chaos, desire for control, capitulation.
Based on this, he assesses which stage church music is in right now (order) and where he thinks we’re headed (exploring the chaos).
His talk is fascinating because it gives a historical and philosophical groundwork for where he’s coming from and what he’s trying to do, and now it makes complete sense to me why he would call his latest album Church Music, when I initially thought that the songs on it are completely unsingable in a church setting. He’s exploring the chaos, the limitlessness, which has always been done in church history, and which he feels must be done to approach God.
I also resonate with his talk a lot because I feel like it gives a similar grounding to where I am worship music-wise. As you may or may not know, worship music is vitally important to me. And recently, I’ve been really interested in pushing the boundaries. Trying to do different things musically. Trying to get the congregation to try different things. I couldn’t elucidate exactly why I was doing that; it just felt right. I feel like DC’s talk explains and justifies what I’ve already been feeling.
I scoured the web to try and find ways to purchase this magazine but found none, and I think the talk is important enough that I’m violating possible copyright laws to post it. Here’s a link to the pdf; also including the text of the talk (pictures) below. Again, the most interesting talk on worship I have ever read. If you have any interest in worship, music, mathematics, philosophy, or the church, you must read it.
Good Sound vs. Bad Sound
Order vs. Chaos
Limited vs. Limitless
In the very recent past, Dave gave a talk at a small conference in Austin, Texas called, “Q.” The title of the talk was – The Future of Worship. Dave doesn’t have the faintest idea what the future of worship is, and this was basically his talk, how he really had no idea, well, with the exception of a few things, of which he was absolutely certain. Now you must understand that Dave doesn’t like to talk out loud into microphones; he does not fancy himself an orator by any stretch of the imagination or creative use of the word. His reasoning is as follows: “My mouth tends to work faster than my head, which means, when I start talking, I’m hearing most of the stuff for the first time along with everyone else.” This is a quality unsought after in the art of public speaking. Regardless, what follows is an excerpt of this reluctant talk with small interjections from the orator (Dave) who is in fact now requesting that he be allowed to interject explaining that, by, “excerpt” we intend to mean – what follows is pretty much word for word what he said. [Yeah it’s word for word what I said, I think.]
Right, like we said, this will pretty much be word for word, but, to set the moment up properly – there were five individuals presenting that afternoon, all of which were sitting on stage together, listening attentively while the others delivered their talk. The individuals who presented prior to Dave were as follows – an astrophysicist, a neurologist, and the founder of Tom’s shoes. This is funny to us. They each had 18 minutes allotted for their presentation. A large digital clock faced them from the front of the stage counting down from 18 to 0. An equally large clock faced the audience, it counting down as well, which added to the drama and heightened the nervousness for everyone. Again, knowing Dave, we find this funny. [It was not funny.]
“So, I’ve been thinking about this: Is there such a thing as good sound? Is there such a thing as bad sound? Or, is there just true sound – an authentic expression of our condition.
And, along with this – Order and Chaos, or, The Limited and The Limitless.
[Of course I didn’t start the talk like this. No, I started with some self-deprecating humor that was specific to the moment. This humor, although timely and highly effective in its provocation of laughter, would be out of place and utter nonsense here so I asked if we could cut it out. We did. Most of it was silly rambling anyway; I was nervous. Really, really nervous.]
“OK. Let’s start with something we’re all familiar with – a triangle. Actually, to be more precise – a right triangle. [At this point I drew a triangle on an overhead projector. I chuckled because I was using an overhead projector.] Use your imagination. [I said this, the use your imagination part, because it looked like the following:
The reason it looked like this was because my hand was shaking when I drew it due to the unreasonable nervousness. There was laughter acknowledging the poorly drawn triangle] OK. Now, the length of one side of the right triangle is, let’s say, 3. [I knew it was going to be 3, but I
said it as if it were just off the top of my head.] The length of the other side is, uh, 4. [Again, as if I am making things up as I go.] Which, of course, makes the length of the hypotenuse of this particular right triangle, what? [Immediately, “Five!” was yelled from multiple places in the theater.] Yes! That is correct, 5! And we know this because of the one piece of information that has stuck with us from our early education – the Pythagorean theorem. How this bit of information became lodged in our heads is mystifying and if we could figure out what they did to cause it to be permanently implanted there I’m confident we could solve the educational crisis in America. But yes, thank you, Pythagoras is with us for life. And of course we dare not leave out his little gang of creepy mathematician pals known as, the Pythagoreans. [The audience laughed here and I thought, “huh, I didn’t think that was really funny. I concluded it must be due to the way I pronounced “Pythagoreans.”]
Now, much conflicting information exists surrounding these guys. [I was going to say, “Pythagoreans,” but I thought I better not since there was a good chance I was pronouncing it improperly, so, instead, I said, “guys.” The audience was still sort of chuckling though.] Basically they were a pretty awesome math club with cult-like tendencies, you know, carving pentagrams on their persons, which seems weird and oddly intriguing, and sitting around in their secret lair, talking about their little math discoveries, telling you, “you, can’t come in,” because, you know, “you don’t carve stuff on your person,” and such, and I’m thinking, “sign me up,” you know. [This was a big hit. They were amused. I was becoming less nervous but still pacing about the stage like a crazy man.]
So, this [I pointed to the squiggly right triangle on the overhead projector] is brought to us from this little math club, and it is mystical, almost. [I paused dramatically so the word “mystical” could hang around a little longer.] And it becomes even more profound when you draw the spatial representation of the theorem. So here is a square, and here is a square and here is a square. [I drew the following.]
The area of these two squares fits perfectly within the square on the hypotenuse. [I pointed to the square on the right triangle with the length of 3, then I pointed to the square on the right triangle that was on the line with the length of 4, and lastly, to the square on the hypotenuse with the length of 5.] And here’s what’s going on: The Pythagoreans, [I risked saying the word again, no one laughed] while sitting around worshipping their little math god, they believe that everything is numbered, that order can be pulled from the perceived chaos, that the seemingly limitless can be limited, that beauty can be explained in mathematical terms, that all of our experience in nature can be explained mathematically, and here it is right in front of us. [I said all of this really fast while tapping furiously on the overhead projector screen.] This [still tapping on the triangle] reaffirms their beliefs. And this is not something that they created. [I paused.] This is not something they can change. [Another pause] This just is. And it is beautiful. [When I said this last line, I felt it.]
The first natural law brought to us by mathematics also comes to us from Pythagoras and his math club. And it is connected to music. [I felt excited saying this.] Here’s how it went down: So, these Pythagoreans [Again, no laughter] are cruising around and notice something – when some people play the lyre, which is a harp-like instrument that I’m sure most of us are vaguely familiar with, [When I say this, the part about the lyre, my hands are out in front of me and my fingers are moving as if I’m playing the harp-like instrument I have just announced] they [the Pythagoreans] note that it sounds pleasing, that it evokes a pleasant response; it is considered beautiful. When other people play the lyre, it is less than this. It is foul and evokes feelings of nausea etc. And they believed that they could mathematically explain this. They believed that everything is numbered and they would find the order beneath the chaos. [I actually paused here because the surety stunned me – to believe that beauty would have numeric equivalents.]
And so, to prove this, they built an experimental one stringed lyre. [I drew a one stringed lyre.] And so they plucked the string of the one stringed experimental lyre and established a primary tone. Then they divided the string into two equal portions and plucked one of these portions. [I drew a line, halving the one string of the lyre. Also, I was making plucking motions.] Something incredible happened. A perfect octave above the initial primary tone is sounded. This is mystical. [My voice went up in pitch due to excitement.] Suddenly, order from chaos. Suddenly, the limitless is limited. Suddenly, beauty is assigned a number – a ratio of 2:1. They divide the string again, [I drew again] into 3 equal sections. They pluck one of these sections. [I was talking faster.] A perfect fifth is sounded. Mystical! They divide the string again into 4 equal sections [I drew again] and pluck and a perfect 4th is sounded. Mystical. [Pause] Beautiful. [Pause] This reaffirms their belief that there is order beneath the perceived chaos. What they heard with their ears and perceived with their senses as beautiful had a mathematical explanation that was equally elegant. Again, this is not something that they have created. [Pause] This is not something they can change. [Pause] This just is. [Longer Pause] They can arrive at it intellectually and they can arrive at it through their senses – both through scientific experimentation and by hearing it. And order is brought from chaos, the limitless is limited, beauty is assigned a number. [I look at the clock. I know that by this point it should read 13 minutes. It does. I’m OK.]
OK. Let’s now jump to some church history.
I want to look at music within the Christian church and point out the contention present in its development. [I’m wishing that I had more than 18 minutes so that this transition didn’t feel so abrupt. I’m not sure what I would have said though. And then I thought maybe it was good that we just left Pythagoras hanging there for a little while. I knew we’d get back to him soon enough.] Now, we could look at all of scripture – there are many examples of music in the life of the Hebrew people, I mean we could even go back to the beginning and see that in scripture, the invention of the first musical instrument is attributed to a guy by the name of Jubal, [I looked at a number of different pronunciations for the this guy’s name and landed on, “Joo-Ball,” emphasis on, “Ball”] descendant of Cain, evil son of Adam and Eve. I’m just saying – it’s the black arts we’re discussing here. [Big laughs. Better than expected. I relax a little more. Still pacing.] But I would like to confine the conversation to the Christian church following the death and resurrection of Christ.
Paul is the first to address music in the church and he’s pretty useless, right? [Another laugh due to a provocative, over the top statement.] He instructs us to, “encourage one another with spiritual songs.” Well, thank you very much, Paul. Incredibly helpful. I mean, the question arises – Paul, what if these songs are discouraging rather than encouraging? Right? And I would think this question would surface fairly quickly, at least, if the early church were anything like mine. Paul again broaches the music thing in Colossians 3:16, but I’d rather jump to the first mention of music of the Christian church from someone outside of Christianity.
Pliny the Younger was a Roman statesman who wrote a number of letters that gave great insight into Roman life and law in the 1st and 2nd centuries. In one of these letters he is addressing the Emperor Trajen and he is attempting to describe these Christians, whom he is having some problems with, and with whom he has not had a lot of experience, and so, describing this group with which he is unfamiliar, he says, “they rise early before dawn, to sing songs to Christ as if to a god.” This is really cool I think. Not the, “rising before dawn,” but the, “singing songs to Christ as if to a god.” [Big laughs. I suspect this is due to the implied, and played to, self-deprecating presupposition that musicians do not rise early in the morning.] It is significant because it is a thing that defines us. It is something observed and strange – We will sing to God and He will listen. This was an odd notion then; it is an equally bizarre notion now. [That is, if you can allow yourself a bit of objectivity to observe our presuppositions – there is a God; we may address Him; a fantastic way to do so is through music – from an outside perspective, we might conclude that, in history. fact, this is a bizarre line of thinking.] And I think this is significant and beautiful, this thing that sets us apart. [Again, I’m enlivened by the thought – that the thing that designated us as different, and outside of culture, was something as simple as a belief that we could sing to God.]
The next commentary I found, chronologically, is from Clement of Alexandria in his treatise, “The Instructor,” which seems aptly named, given my impression of Clement’s personality. In it, he is attempting to contrast the orgies of the heathen with the chaste celebrations of the Christians that he has observed, and in so doing, he wishes to call his readers to, “purity, restraint and nobility in singing, leaving the over-colorful melodies to the lascivious orgy throwers.” And I would assume there is something he is addressing here – perhaps the fear of the chaotic’s encroachment. And so, he encourages order. And here, early on, we already have a discussion of good sound, bad sound, what is appropriate, what is not appropriate. Apparently, over-colorful melodies are not appropriate.
Tertullian, in “The Apology,” which also seems aptly named for our purposes here, responds in a way that seems to address Clement’s concerns almost directly. He says, [translation, mine], “Hey, listen. There is only a modest amount of drinking going on in our gatherings.” [I adopted a tone of satirical condescension.] As proof, he offers this – “When we gather, each individual comes to the center [I made motions indicating a group of people gathered on stage with me, and then made motions toward the center of the fictitious group indicating where the center was and that someone was now in that center] and sings an encouraging song, And this would not be possible, the singing of an encouraging song, if there were more than a modest amount of drinking.” I think these statements illuminate Tertullian’s generous view of modesty more than anything else. I mean it is surely generous enough for a good pub-crawl or a Dave Matthews concert. [Another provocative statement elicits another benevolent chuckle]
Jumping to St. Augustine, who is a guy who seems to struggle with emotion at times, sometimes embracing it, oftentimes distrustful of it, but he seems much more equal handed in, “Confessions,” when he addresses some criticism being leveled at the Donatists, the North African church, who apparently were pretty rowdy when they got together. He is clever in his defense of offering critique as well, saying, “Yes, sure, they work themselves into a frenzied emotion and use the colloquial language with songs coming from writers within their churches with little concern for historical context,” as opposed to his experience which was much more sober and restrained and refined. Yet he argues, “whenever we gather, is it not cause for song to erupt? As long as the deacon is not praying, or the pastor is not preaching.” Which seems reasonable. And he is obviously arguing this because there is a call for restraint and order. [I was sort of stunned that the paradoxically sarcastic and generous tone of St. Augustine seemed to linger in the room with us at this point.]
Then polyphony arrives and oh my. We’re having conversations; what’s appropriate, what’s not appropriate; what’s good, what’s bad; then polyphony arrives and it all breaks loose. We had been singing in unison for a long while now and then, suddenly, the world burst into harmony, like a coke commercial or something. And we said, “Wow. No sir. We will not participate. This is licentious and loose and chaotic and no, we will not participate.” But eventually we capitulate. And by the time we get to singing thirds and fifths, the rest of the world has moved on to fourths and sixths. And we declare this to be licentious and loose and chaotic and declare that, no, we will not participate. But then we capitulate. And this pattern is repeated. The scale that we use in western music today was once decried as evil, containing the devil’s interval, the dreaded tri-tone.
Polyphony was banned completely in 1324 A.D. by Pope John. We declared it licentious and loose and chaotic but then, of course, we capitulated and now you hear this, our Western chromatic scale, in JCPenny’s and churches everywhere and it now seems silly, the fear we held. [I look at the clock. I wish I could talk more about this but it is relentless in its diminishment and so I press on.]
And so I think it is obvious – we can now point to a readily visible pattern. There is this move toward the limitless; [I made a motion with my hands that indicated movement toward something. For some reason, the way I was holding my hands seemed similar to holding a ball] and then, all of a sudden, this period of want for restraint and order, [I pulled the imaginary ball back to me] and then capitulation. [I pushed the fake ball forward again, as if it were being pulled from my hands.] A movement toward the limitless; a reaction of restraint and order, and then capitulation. [I repeated the whole imaginary ball thing again along with the verbiage for dramatic effect.] And so, I would like to draw the following conclusions. [I looked at the clock.]
First of all, here’s what I think: I can predict with one hundred percent certainty [I shot a look to the host of the event who was sitting onstage with the other presenters as if to say, ‘this is humorous, what I am about to do, this definitive statement that I am about to make.] The future of worship will be this – contentious. And I feel a large amount of pride in being able to predict with such accuracy, but yes, there is a large amount of contention ahead of us. [A snicker of sorts from the audience is audible.] One hundred percent, there will be contention.
The second thing I draw from what I’ve presented thus far, is I believe we are currently in a period of restraint and order. I say that, and I think, this may sound somewhat counter intuitive because of what causes me to be delivering this, whatever this is, [‘Presentation’ is the word I’m looking for] in that I am and have been a part of something that has become known as the modern worship movement. Here’s what I think has happened in this, the modern worship movement – the Church has simply embraced pop music. Right? [This was a rhetorical question.] I mean, we’ve been in this era, and this is another reason why I would think order and restraint is the land where we currently reside, we’ve been in this era of great turmoil and shifting. Philosophically. Scientifically. Large paradigm shifts that many of us have been in constant conversation about – attempting to absorb and respond as people of faith. These shifts that are just massive, I mean the move from Newtonian physics to quantum physics, the undermining of ontological proof and certainty, these things have immediate and direct impact on our art and music and our ideas of beauty. And so I think it makes sense then, that we would want simplicity, that we would want order, that we would need something that feels foundational, that gives us a sense of certainty. I think that’s what this embrace of pop music is.
Pop music is the lowest common denominator when it comes to art and music, to critique myself and what I participate in. I love pop music. You know, give me some Lil Wayne, I’m happy, you know. [Mr. Wayne just popped out. It must have been the subconscious knowing the mention of this deviant would be ludicrous provocative. Sure enough, much laughter was elicited.] But what’s going on is I mean, look back to here. [I was standing by the overhead projector again, pointing at the one string lute.] The first thing that Pythagoras gets to as he starts dividing is the 1, 4, and 5. The simplest of ratios when dividing the frequency of sound is pop music. You’ve heard the phrase, “just give me three chords and the truth.” These are those three chords. The “one” chord that is formed based on the primary tone sounded when the string is plucked, the “five” chord that is formed based on the note sounded after the first division of the string, and the “four” chord that is formed based on the note that is sounded after the second division. One, Four, Five. So pop music is based on the simplest, most foundational divisions. So, to see the Church embrace this form of music indicates to me there is a want for order and simplicity. We have perceived chaos dominating the horizon and it is therefore expected and understandable that we would wish for order – that we would wish to place limits on the seemingly limitless.
So, what’s the future then? I know, you’re already ahead of me, I’m certain, but let’s do this. [I move to the overhead projector and pull the marker from my pocket again.] I mean, this felt so mathematical earlier. [I shot a look to the physicist who was onstage and she nodded approvingly.] Again, this would be a triangle. [I drew another triangle.] It is also a right triangle, as was our previous triangle, but this time, we’ll go with a length of 3 and 3. [I wrote 3 underneath the bottom line of the right triangle and then wrote 3 on the vertical line of the right triangle.] OK. Can anyone give me the length of the hypotenuse of this right triangle? [A long, silent pause] So here’s the thing. This drove Pythagoras crazy, right? [I’m pointing to the new triangle on the overhead projector.] Didn’t this? [Still pointing to the new triangle] I mean, to get the square root of 18 is just not going to happen. [The physicist was now laughing audibly.] All Pythagoras and has to work with are whole numbers and fractions, right? So, this is not cool man. [I’m back at the projector, pointing at the new triangle.] This is not something that they created, this is not something they can change, this just is. And without irrational numbers he’s not going to reconcile things.
So, here’s what I think. I think that the future of worship is this line right here. [I am drawing on the hypotenuse of the new right triangle, tracing it back and forth until it becomes thick and dark and substantial.] That it will reconcile order and perceived chaos, that it will point to the chaos, that it will point to the limitlessness of things, that it will point to the irrationality of where we are and in so doing, it will probably point to the most irrational thing of all, which is grace. And I hope and I pray that in the process of this contentious thing ahead of us, we will still be known and defined simply – as people singing songs to Christ, as if to a God.