I’ll admit that I’m never sure what to make of the Modern wings of major art museums. Classical art galleries feature material culture from antiquity (Greco-Roman, Egyptian), which relates to areas I’ve studied. Renaissance art often has paintings that depict biblical stories I've known my entire life. And while I don’t have the art savvy to know why Van Gogh matters and what made Monet tick, I know the names and can appreciate them for their uniqueness. Modern art can be difficult to appreciate. When I was a child my family would occasionally visit the nearby Allen Art Museum after Sunday lunch. My sister and I would laugh at the contemporary art. Why did a serious museum feature large, plywood boxes of Brillo pads? Was this really art? Our dad could’ve made that in his basement workshop! But there it was. Created by some guy named Warhol. A few summers ago, we were in a Modern wing with the artist “Name Announcer.” As I walked, a man quietly asked my name. Then he turned to the gallery and announced, “Ladies and Gentlemen, Bob Turner!” I loved it, since Enneagram 3s cannot resist this type of momentary attention. But I’m still not sure I understood it, which is consistent with much of Modern art for me.
This is exactly why everyone should keep visiting contemporary art wings. Because without new art, we never find good art. Good art is always good. And new art is always unfamiliar.
This is why crowds make it impossible to get within ten feet of Paris’s Mona Lisa and why you can hear an audible groan every time a band tells concertgoers, “Now we’ll play a few songs from our new album.” We love good, but aren’t sure about new.
Church worship music is no different. Every good song was at one point a new song. At some point in history, the great composers leaned over to a group and said, “Let’s try this new one.” And in each case, someone rolled their eyes and wished they could just sing the ones they already loved. This was the plight of Isaac Watts and Fanny Crosby and Amy Grant and Chris Tomlin and Matt Maher. Like modern art, much of it was terrible and didn’t survive. And also like art, each decade of history gave us a few masterpieces that connect with our hearts in a profound way.
Older music is not inherently good, we’ve simply had time to work through it and decide what to keep. As they say, the key to becoming a great photographer is a large wastebasket. Musicians are no different. I have a friend who told me he wished we stopped singing new songs and sang classics like A Mighty Fortress (1529) and O Sacred Head (1656). I love both, too, but these are the two best songs from their respective centuries. Our repertoire probably needs more than twenty songs, one for each century since the life of Christ.
Part of what the church does is learn new music and see what sticks. Some songs stay with us for a season, others for a decade, and some for a lifetime.
Rob Brannon does such an incredible job of teaching new music. His background in music has equipped him with the skills to teach new songs (and even compose) fresh music. We will feature his gift this Sunday, May 29 in our 9:45 Fellowship Hall class. He will introduce some newer songs and help everyone find their part in the music. He’s called the program Ninety Eight One, which comes from Psalm 98:1, “Sing to the Lord a new song.” Please join us. And I promise I won’t yell your name to everyone in the room when you enter.