“The rise of rhythm”

A fundamental shift has taken place in music over the last half-century, Christine Longhurst writes, in a viewpoint piece in the Nov. 16 Canadian Mennonite called “The rise of rhythm.”

Longhurst explains that music is made of three main elements: melody, harmony, and rhythm, and that western music throughout its history has seen a shift from one to the other of these. Now it seems, it’s rhythm’s turn. And it’s “not just a passing fad,” she says. Those who have grown up in the new musical environment — well, they feel at home in it. And, in terms of the church and its worship, “the increased focus on rhythm has changed the very nature of congregational singing in many churches.”

Longhurst goes on to say that this changes melodies, and makes congregational singing more dependent on instrumental accompaniment.

I found Longhurst’s analysis helpful — clarifying for me, in fact, what may be the underlying issue in the “worship wars” of so many churches, though, as she also says in her article, we often talk about contemporary worship music and its differences with earlier music in other terms. And I agree with her, that  if rhythm-based styles are the “soul music” of our culture, “adding some rhythm-based songs ” to our worship is “both an opportunity and an obligation.”

In our congregation, it’s not so such much “adding” as accepting the pretty much wholesale shift. I’ve noticed that pleas to include “hymns” usually result in rhythming-up some of the hymns of yesterday or selecting the upbeat, lighter, and sometimes sillier ones of the past, whose texts may be as vacuous as the texts of contemporary music ocasionally are. Which really has the effect of undercutting the argument.

Canadian Mennonite editor Dick Benner’s comments on Longhurst’s piece in his Nov. 16 editorial come out very much at the place I’m at: sadness over the loss of the voice, or better said, voices — in harmony — but recognizing a shift has taken place and definitely determined to keep open to that. (To be a nonresistant older person, in other words! And if I get really lonesome for the sound of the trained singing voice, I can always put on our record — a.k.a. a really big CD — of Peter Koslowsky singing German hymns, or some of the choir albums we own, which are gorgeous soul music for me.)

2 thoughts on ““The rise of rhythm”

  1. In my 2008 book titled “The Interface of Percussive art, religious experience and sacred association” (Word Alive press), I highlighted this enormous transition that has happened and is happening – great to see others writing about this phenomenon.
    Matthew Todd

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