Saturday, August 19, 2006

Teens on Rock Music in Church: Blech!

This is a fascinating article, from the site Faithstreams. It interviews Dr. Barbara Resch, who conducted a survey of nearly 500 teenagers from across the United States on the topic of the appropriateness of music for the church. The research and findings formed the basis of Dr. Resch's doctoral dissertation at Indiana University. The interview from 1999 summarizes her findings.


Q: As you prepared your survey, what results did you expect?

A: First, I expected that the music deemed appropriate would, like their church affiliations, be diverse. Second, knowing that the vast majority of teenagers enjoy listening to rock and pop music, I also expected that those styles would be identified as appropriate for church by their standards.

Q: What did you learn?

A: Surprisingly, neither of my predictions proved true. Across this diverse group of students there was clear agreement about the kind of music that was "right for church": it was

* choral music, not instrumental
* sung by a group of singers rather than a soloist
* characterized by a simple musical texture and understandable text.

Musical examples reminiscent of popular styles (rock, jazz, country) were overwhelmingly rejected as church music. The example rated most appropriate was a male choir singing a four-part version of Psalm 98 (The Lutheran Hymnal 667!). The piece considered least appropriate was the loud and rhythmic "Midnight Oil," performed by the Christian rock group Petra.

Q: Were there any common factors that influenced the responses?

A: Church background was an important predictor of the kind of music considered appropriate. The frequency with which a given style was heard also tended to be related.

For example, some settings of traditional choral music were considered appropriate by nearly everyone. Conversely, the examples of Christian rock and jazz were considered inappropriate by the great majority.

But it was also clear that students from nondenominational churches who heard contemporary Christian music in their churches considered that music more appropriate. Likewise, gospel choir music and popular styles were considered more fitting by students who attended Pentecostal churches.

The traditional choral sound was given its highest ratings by the Catholic and Lutheran students in the study.

Q: What does that information tell you?

A: What it says is that the kind of music that is heard in a church service seems to become the accepted norm for that context. Contrary to expectations, these representative teenagers do not bring to the church service their own musical preferences (e.g., rock and pop music) as the right music for that occasion.

Rather, they tend to accept as appropriate for that context the music that the church has already put in place, whatever that music may be. While they liked rock music and thought it was the right music for some times and places in their lives, they didn't believe that the church service was that time and place.

Several students wrote comments on their survey sheets indicating when and where each excerpt would be appropriate. Although all of the examples played were representative of the range of music heard in American churches today, the contexts with which the students associated various pieces were Sunday brunch, a movie soundtrack, "church services of the 40s," a campground, and an opera.

They apparently had clear opinions regarding the fittingness of musical styles for particular occasions, including that of the church service.

Q: Not all of the students who took the survey were churchgoers. How did they respond?

Nearly 12 percent of the respondents did not belong to or attend church. As might be expected, their responses were very diverse. One surprise was that their responses were not significantly different from the church members in their disapproval of rock music for church.

Interestingly, the unchurched students gave their lowest ranking of appropriateness to contemporary Christian music. Several wrote on their survey forms "This sounds like my parents' music!" ... The opinions of the church-going students were clearly influenced by their church settings. Lacking that context in which to form opinions, the unchurched teenagers were apparently influenced by the standards of popular culture, which would judge the sound of most contemporary Christian music to be neither contemporary nor popular.

For adolescents who keep current with popular music trends, much contemporary Christian music has a dated sound with a greater appeal to the "fortysomething" generation.

Read the full interview

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