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Why Johnny Can't Sing Hymns: How Pop…

Why Johnny Can't Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Rewrote the Hymnal (utgåvan 2010)

av T. David Gordon (Författare)

MedlemmarRecensionerPopularitetGenomsnittligt betygDiskussioner
238285,610 (4.29)Ingen/inga
In this book, I attempt to locate some of the cultural forces that have caused hymns to sound so foreign to this generation that they feel they need to replace them with something contemporary. I also express misgivings about this circumstance. - Author website.
Titel:Why Johnny Can't Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Rewrote the Hymnal
Författare:T. David Gordon (Författare)
Info:P & R Publishing (2010), 192 pages
Samlingar:Ditt bibliotek
Taggar:Worship, Hymns, Gordon


Why Johnny Can't Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Rewrote the Hymnal av T. David Gordon


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If you are interested in reading my review, here it is: https://jimkang.wordpress.com/2020/04/15/why-johnny-cant-sing-hymns-book-review/
  pastorjimkang | Apr 19, 2020 |
The use of contemporary musical styles in church services has become an increasingly divisive issue in the Christian community. "Praise and worship" music, once a phenomenon limited to youth events and evangelical Protestant megachurches, is now replacing older repertories of hymns and choral music in many local parishes. Too often, however, contemporary Christian music is discussed in a simplistic way, with its supporters insisting that only contemporary music can be "relevant" and "reach out to today's youth", and its detractors insisting that "traditional music" is an inseparable part of Christian practice. Why are these debates so difficult to resolve, and why do these opposing viewpoints seem so totally irreconcilable? This book attempts to present an argument for traditional music in a more intellectually sophisticated way, explaining why contemporary music has become so pervasive and examining the possible consequences and implications of its use. Unfortunately, despite its clear presentation and many other merits, this book fails to get to the heart of the issues and will be unlikely to convince anyone who holds a different viewpoint.

Gordon argues that there has been a fundamental rupture in our musical experience because of the impact of mass media technology. In the pre-Second World War era, an average family would be familiar with four musical genres, each associated with different venues. During the week at home, they would sing folk songs and other tunes from an orally transmitted repertory. In the evenings, they might listen to the radio or attend a concert, which would have a roughly 50/50 chance of containing either classical, European concert music or the popular music of the day (ie: jazz). Finally, on Sundays, they would sing hymns and other sacred songs as part of the Church's liturgy. With the increasing dominance of mass media, all of this was changed; radios now broadcast twenty-four hours a day and could be heard both in homes and public places, and the music they played was exclusively pop music. Where an earlier generation had accepted a variety of different musical genres in different settings, the boomer generation was surrounded by pop and found it difficult to relate to music not based on guitars and drums. Folksong was quickly obliterated, classical music was increasingly marginalized, and church music only avoided transformation through the innate conservatism of ecclesiastical institutions. Now, however, church leaders are being urged to accept the musical style and ethos of popular culture.

And what exactly is the "ethos of pop culture"? Gordon argues that the primary value expressed by pop culture is contemporaneity; everyone wants to hear the latest music, watch the latest gadgets, and buy "new and improved" detergents and breakfast cereal. The daily news is worth watching even though most of the information it contains is banal and irrelevant to our lives; if we didn't fetishize novelty and contemporaneity, we'd realize that we could more profitably spend our time reading a good novel or biography. To incorporate pop-style music into the liturgy is to accept this ethos, which is entirely opposed to Scripture - the history of the early church, as well as the letters of Paul, reveal that early Christians were deeply concerned with holding to traditional knowledge received from the past. By abandoning a distinct and idiomatic repertoire of church music for the first time in history, and replacing it with praise tunes modelled after last week's pop charts, contemporary Christian musicians are endorsing the anti-Christian values of the outside culture. Even if praise songs were of the highest theological and musical quality, which they generally aren't, these considerations alone would be a powerful argument against their use. Such concerns are rarely raised by musicians or churchgoers with regard to contemporary church music, Gordon argues, because we assume that all musical opinions are unimportant matters of personal taste - an aesthetic relativism which is itself the result of absorbing the values of pop culture, and which is irreconcilable with the moral seriousness with which worship is discussed in Scripture.

It's not a bad argument, as far as it goes, and it makes points about the nature and role of technology in society that need to be heard. But there's a disappointing vagueness that mars Gordon's book. Because Gordon prints no examples of lyrics or music from contemporary songs, and few from traditional hymns, it's difficult to assess their relative quality objectively; one is thrown back on previous experiences of "traditional" or "contemporary" services, which are always extremely subjective. Praise-band musicians, after all, argue that their repertoire is a distinctly Christian one, clearly separate from secular pop music, an argument that can't be addressed without a closer analysis of the actual music and lyrics. At one point, Gordon expresses how shocked he was to find that one of his theology students had never heard of Luther's hymn "A Mighty Fortress is Our God". This is indeed unfortunate, but this factoid has no impact unless you already know the hymn well and appreciate its poetry, theological significance and musical qualities. An appendix to the hymnal with texts and/or music to some particularly fine hymns would add significantly to the value of this book for a general audience; since the repertory is mostly public domain, it would cost essentially nothing to do this.

I wonder, too, if blaming everything on the mass media and the cultural changes of the 1960s isn't a bit simplistic? Gordon points to the emergence of the daily newspaper as an example of our obsession with "new" and "contemporary" things, rightly pointing out that all the information you really need to know about current events can fit into a biweekly or monthly publication, with rare exceptions like the September 11th attacks. Yet daily newspapers replaced weeklies in the 1780s. Isn't it possible that the replacement of tradition with contemporaneity is a much older phenomenon, tied up with demise of the medieval worldview, and that our current problems are not new ones, but the culmination of a centuries-old process? If so, a much more comprehensive and thoughtful solution is needed than that offered by Gordon.

Recommended to those interested in these issues, but there are better books on the subject. ( )
2 rösta hauptwerk | Jul 28, 2010 |
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tillagd av pastorjimkang | ändraJim Kang, Jim Kang (Apr 15, 2020)
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In this book, I attempt to locate some of the cultural forces that have caused hymns to sound so foreign to this generation that they feel they need to replace them with something contemporary. I also express misgivings about this circumstance. - Author website.

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