05 October 2003

Christians and singing

Many years ago I attended a workshop led by Dr. Emily Brink, music editor for CRC Publications. I don't recall the exact venue, but I rather think it was at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She made an observation that I found startling at the time, but it didn't take me long to recognize that she was almost certainly telling the truth. She said that Christians are among the very few people in our modern society to sing, whether on an organized basis or otherwise. If you think about it, it makes sense.

There are many cultures around the world where singing, along with dancing, is simply a part of life. It's what people do when they get together. It's one of the marks of a genuine folk culture.

By contrast, North American popular culture largely shifts such activities to a professional class, which undertakes them on our behalf. This is by no means a recent phenomenon, as it began already at the opening of the last century, with the invention of sound recording and radio. The music "industry" has thus come to be viewed as very nearly the aural equivalent of a smorgasbord in which the diners do little more than to sample the various delights without contributing anything of their own.

But not in the churches. Here people still sing together. Could it be that the churches are the last bastion of a genuine folk culture here in North America? There may be something to be said for this.

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