The American Songbook, the Biblical Songbook and the Church
Theater historian and writer Ken Bloom says that “No matter what state of mind you’re in, there’s an American popular standard that can express your emotions in words and music, elevate your mood (or help you wallow in it), and cement the memory of the moment for all time.”
He is absolutely right. The Great American Songbook is music for the moment.
Of course, Americans weren’t the first people to write songs like that. The psalmist tells us that he will sing to the LORD all his life and will celebrate his God with singing as long as he lives and lasts. You can’t get much deeper, higher, or more memorable that that.
Human beings are musical people. It’s something God has put into us. But what songs will we sing?
Some Christians argue that only so-called “church” music is appropriate. But the apostle Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 that the attitude of thanksgiving is the grid through which we are to view all of life’s activities, including song.
I think that if Christians can sing or play a song and give thanks to God with integrity while we are doing so, then it is a good and appropriate song.
In addition to making us musical, God has made us emotional. Songs that express our emotions can — for the Christian — be a thankful offering to our Redeemer, whether we’re going through rough patches or smooth patches.
The Great American Songbook — those standards of popular music written in the first six decades or so of the 20th century — is the sentimental music we Americans sing for enjoyment, emotional expression and genuine relaxation.
Sure, some of the songs are silly and shallow and paper thin and cotton candy, yet can be enjoyable at the same time. There is no more memorable or effective way to elicit human sentiment or emotional release than through popular songs.
(“At Last” performed by Etta James)
Of course, I know that among some Christians, there is outright opposition to popular music because it is focused on self. But, I think that opposition is misplaced — and I’ll talk about why I think so in future segments.
This is Bob Case for “Singing in the Shower: The American Songbook and the Church.”