I’ve had uncountable numbers of people question why our church utilizes traditional Psalms and hymns in worship. The essence of their argument is that contemporary music resonates with modern people. Let’s take a look at this in more detail. BTW this is not a rail against modern music in all contexts. I was a New Waver in another life and still stay Rude in my musical selections while doing my work.
The first argument that is frequently brought up against traditional music is that it is old. After all, they say, Martin Luther used bar tunes. Hear well, this assertion about Luther is absolutely, positively false. Can we please bury that lame argument? But let’s use the substance of the argument: contemporary bar tunes (or folk tunes intended for group singing) are a good scaffold to build Christian worship music on. So, which songs shall we use? ...Anyone? Since I’m not a teetotaler, I’ve been seen in taverns on occasion and I’ve never seen anyone there singing. I am hard pressed to identify any supposed bar tunes that people today sing. Today’s music is written to be sung for entertainment not for people to sing and, if they do, they sing to themselves.
Let’s unpack this a little further. Before the advent of the phonograph, the main way people experienced music is that they sang it themselves. They sang while working, they sang while at ease, and they sang when they worshipped. Their worship music was written to be sung in concert with others. Up until 100 years ago one of the biggest forms of communal entertainment were “Singing Schools” where a professional song-leader would come to town for several weeks, teach people to sing songs (typically Psalms and hymns) in parts (Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass), and lead them in group singing. People used to sing in groups at events in homes - ever see those old songbooks at the music store? Sometime around the advent of the jazz age singing became something that others do to entertain you and the church has been mindlessly chasing after this practice ever since.
In the past, the church either chanted, sang vigorously in unison, or sang in parts. Musical instruments were used to accompany the human voice and the accompanying pipe organ or piano was meant to highlight the singing of the people. Modern worship music typically reverses this pattern. Note that the number of instruments and the volume of those instruments has increased. The worship band, then the worship band singers, all overarch and eclipse the congregation in its singing (though the congregation is conditioned to be observers).
For these reasons I think we should stick with tested, thoughtful, traditional music as we wait for a day when the church starts leading the musical culture again.