Ok, I want to get a little abstract for a minute so just bear with me. Trip Sanders and I were having a conversation about music, culture, and quality and he proposed the idea of an XY axis to define standards in multicultural music (I will explain what this means). I have been thinking about it for a while and would like to take it to another level.
As musicians, we aspire to make excellent music, music with quality. God has called us to use our gifts for His glory and to bring our first fruits to Him in worship. So, suppose we create a hypothetical quality spectrum running from top to bottom. That would be the X axis.
But, the standards of quality are different in different cultures. So the variation of musical quality from culture to culture is represented by the horizontal Y axis. This is was completely Trip’s idea that came out of our conversation.
As I listen to songs to chose which ones would be fitting for our worship, I use this sort of flexibility to determine their quality. A song might be of excellent quality, but is culturally irrelevant, so it would fall on the negative end of the Y axis. Sometimes there are songs that are culturally relevant, but they are poorly written, lacking quality. They would fall on the low end of the X axis, and the high end of the Y axis. The best songs fall in the Northeastern plain of the graph.
Now, I have been thinking about this idea of Trip’s for a while, and I think that I would add a third line to the graph. This would be the Z axis which would make our graph 3 dimensional! The Z axis would be a representation of contemporary relevance. I want to recognize that I am treading on thin ice here because there is a lot that can be said about what constitutes contemporary relevance. Please leave that discussion out for a minute and just stick to the intention of the graph. The Z axis is necessary because culture is not absolute through time, but it is ever changing. The hymns of the past must become relevant to the present to survive. The truth is that some songs fall on the negative end of contemporary relevance. I will pick an easy target for an example: if you open up a Maranatha! Song book from 1989, there will be a lot of songs that will sound so dated that they have become irrelevant to our present culture, but there will be some songs in it (I will pick “As the Deer”) that can still be effectively use in our churches.
3D Music! Being a music filter for the church is a difficult job and cannot be approached flippantly. I spend several hours every week just looking through our list of songs, weighing the value of each, determining their role in the service, etc. My method of choosing songs is never this calculated, but the graph can give you some idea of the complexity of variables involved.
Is this idea a poor judge of a songs merit?
I am assuming that quality is different in different contexts, but is that a dangerous assumption? Is quality an absolute, like truth?
In heaven will we experience God’s music, the music of absolute quality, and will it have perfect J.S. Bach counterpoint?
Are the Y axis and Z axis unnecessary for the X axis? Does quality determine cultural relevance and contemporary relevance? (in other words: is good music always good in every context?)
If all this is too much to think about on a Friday, just check this out.