I’m feeling Retro

Music in my church is a good mix generally, but there are some distinct styles we pursue or avoid to suit the needs and tastes of the congregation. If we’re honest, most of us from whatever background who play music in church will admit to a certain self-censoring on ideas that have their place, but just not here/now/in this country/ever/before the second coming.

My favourite observance recently has been the reintroduction of some very retro styling and choice of music. The retro choices fall into two broad categories, between which there is a grey area through which songs pass on their way in or out of favour.

For example, anything more than 5 years old from The Man played on church organ in an echoey building is considered retro in a bad way. There are a few songs which provoke strong reaction regardless of musical style. We’re actually banned from playing one of them under the “not before the second coming” clause above. Oh, it was fine in the ’80s, but it’s no longer acceptable to our ears. Allegedly. Sorry GK, but it’s an old one of yours. I’m sure you’re big enough to cope.

However, when a friend of mine decides to go all Country and Western on an old hymn, even the visiting bishop is seen to bop a bit. A bit of bopping bishop should be used as a benchmark, I feel.

Aside from the “bopping bishop benchmark” which I’m going to Trademark as soon as I can, how do we tell what’s hot and what’s not? We don’t have a Juke Box Jury in every service scoring the hymns, we have well meaning people who know what they like and tell us so.

Personally, I feel that taking a totally original approach in musical worship is an open invitation to a world of pain. Those who have set preferences will loath it by default, and there will be patchy support those who make a virtue of open minds. You can’t please all of the people all of the time.

Allow me a brief summary: some retro is good, some retro is bad, you can’t please everyone, and even if you try you’ll get little useful feedback.

So, just go for it. Mix in one or two newer ideas with some more traditional stuff. Make a virtue of innovation but make it part of what exists already. Aim not to be bland, and try new stuff. If it doesn’t work, you have learned a valuable lesson, and if it does, you have learned a valuable lesson. It’s a win-win set up.

If church music (as I hope it is) needs to be relevant or accessible to most people in church, try something new but retro: a new song with a traditional sound or a traditional (or familiar) song with a new sound. We tried using a cajon. It had mixed reception. I suggested I play mandolin. That went down less well with the rest of the band, especially when I plugged it into a distortion pedal and tried to rock out. Use your fellow musicians as a sounding board, take on some of their ideas and just go for it.

Remember, there is little new on this earth, but a novel arrangement of older bits can work just as well.


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