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Mar 05

Kansas’ Kerry Livgren on the state of contemporary music

Kerry Livgren of the iconic rock band Kansas addresses contemporary music in this excerpt from his book Seeds of Change:

As a member of a band that reached its peak of popularity in the late seventies and early eighties, I find it gratifying, but also peculiar to be receiving a significant amount of fan mail from people 25 years younger than me. On the most recent Kansas tour that I was on, our audiences ranged from early teens to late middle age. Something has certainly changed. The only theory I have for this is as follows: As modern music becomes more formularized, derivative, and shallow, listeners are crossing cultural and generational boundaries to find music of spiritual and creative substance. Witness the recent interest in various types of “ethnic” music. I find myself listening to it a lot because it seems so untainted and fresh–free from the corporate mold.

Christian music suffers from the same malady. Though we as Christians have a mandate to be skillful and creative, and Scripture affirms that we should sing unto the Lord a new song, we rarely hear anything truly new. The atmosphere of Christian radio is so limited as to be almost stifling. Not only is it as highly formatted as its secular counterpart, but in most cases, the artist must conform to some sort of spiritual criteria–someone’s definition of what makes his or her music acceptable Christian music. It’s a strange irony indeed that finds lyrics with the most profound truth coupled with the most unchallenging sort of muzak.

I have noted the church lowering its standard in other ways regarding art and music. The practice of singing to tape tracks rather than live musicians has invaded the church and become so prevalent as to become almost the norm. Though I understand why this is done, I can’t get over the feeling that it is not an improvement, but a great step down into mediocrity. I find it particularly repulsive in the context of a concert. I leave these events feeling like I’ve been to half a concert. I have no problem using things like sequencers and overdubbing for recording, but something precious is lost when a “live” performance is not alive. It deprives the musician of his place and the audience of the joy and spontaneity of human expression. I have even seen a “performance” on Christian television in which the music was on tape and the vocals were lip synced. Is this supposed to inspire?

Read the entire commentary here.

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