Genre of Faith
Last week, I shared songs from two very different sounding genres (Metal and Country) that I find inspiring, prayerful, or worth reflecting on. Interestingly, I find any of these songs to have more in common with each other than many songs within their own genres. What is the commonality between them? They are within the genre of faith.
“Genre is more than just the sound of the music. It’s also, at the bottom, the culture and the community of people that make the music, and listen to the music, and talk about the music. And then also at the top, it’s the institutions that promote the music, mark the music, and then present the music in live performance situations.”
Adam Neely on “Is Laufey Jazz?“
Genre is a fascinating concept that can change in time and mesh with other genres the way that languages do. It is amazing that we are able to separate them at all.
Genre of Faith is “More than Just the Sound”
Genre is more than just the sound.
Looking up a direct definition of genre I find:
“a category of artistic composition, as in music or literature, characterized by similarities in form, style, or subject matter.”
This is a big “or”. If you asked me to define genre, I would have guessed more closely to “form, style, and subject matter”. Yet, it seems that you could separate art into categories completely apart from the way they sound.
In the context of music, this seems silly because the medium is consumed through sound and listening.
At the Bottom, It’s the Culture
Replying to my recent articles, a fellow Patheos writer reached out to share his work and commitment to the intersection of music and Faith. Delvyn Case has been collecting songs into genres that bend our common understanding in the context of sound alone.
Even within the Genre of Faith, his project divides more specifically into subject matter. These playlists look at popular songs that describe Jesus in various lights: Person, Savior, Truth, etc..
This isn’t about sound alone, but at the bottom it is the Culture at Large that is utilizing these songs to discuss a common subject matter in our Christian Faith.
“I believe we can find God in all kinds of music. From pop songs to symphonies to jazz tunes, I think that music is one of God’s greatest gifts to us. Like water, oxygen, sunsets, and coffee, the presence of music in the world shows just how much God loves us. Music brings us peace: it calms us, centers us, and prepares us to worship – and to simply rest (which is a spiritual discipline, of course.)”
Beyond how something sounds, I like that this study looks at how the music is used by the community/culture and its common source as a gift from God.
At the Top, Institutions
I found this video years ago where Chris Thile, mandolin player and singer of many genres, predicts the meshing between genres that has increased so much in the last decade.
Thile tells a story of being so excited when a symphony perfectly finished a song that he said “Yes!” and he got shushed by audience members.
“These are materials that can be manipulated in a way for you to suggest any style you want. It’s sort of mere setting considerations where the differences lie.”
Here, genre is driven by the venue that is promoting the music and their ideas of how music should be participated in, despite sound or emotion.
I am sure there are infinite examples of this concept, but I have a memory as a kid of hearing Sheryl Crow singing “The First Cut is the Deepest” on almost every radio station and wondering what genre the song was. Both the country stations that my parents were listening to and the pop station on the school bus played it.
This song was promoted by all the institutions, making it a part of both genres regardless of its sound or subject matter. Later, artists like Taylor Swift would do more massive genre jumps from country, to pop, to folk and more, meshing styles and making lines between genres less defined.
So what songs are promoted by Christian cultures? And what Christian institutions exist to promote them?
If we all live in the Culture at Large, and if the liturgy is the Source and the Summit, then the top institution would be the Church.
For music to be Christian, it is informed by what flows out of the Church, from the source of liturgy, through her devotions and evangelization to the culture at large. Whether the artist is aware of it or not, if they are singing about Jesus, or Truth, Goodness, and Beauty more broadly, then they have been reached by God either directly or through His people.
People create art based on their lives and experiences. The greatest art in history has been art that is true and real.
The Purpose of a Genre of Faith
So even if the music is not created or intended for use in liturgy, it is likely that it has still been informed by it. It is also likely that this music, the Genre of Faith, can lead us back to God as the source as well.
I hope that all Christian artists, listeners, and institutions alike can continue to use music in a way to glorify God and lead the world closer to the Summit of the Faith.
I will leave you with this beautiful genre mash I found recently. Renowned composer Hanz Zimmer paired up with Bastille to recreate Pompeii.