I have written previously on historic carols and newer carols and am now revisiting this after four years. In that article I spoke of finding a 2013 top 10 Christian Christmas songs.
Intrigued I thought it worth having a listen to some of them. Overall I didn’t hear any that I could see myself singing in a carols service. Perhaps one or two could be an item worth people listening to and reflecting on. Considering changes in the ways we interact with music are carols suffering an identity crisis?
To provide some context some of the songs I listened to are:
Brandon Heath - “Just a Girl”
Nice song but since it’s written from the first person and in a ballad style it is a tad odd to sing in a congregational context.
Paul Baloche - “Hark the Herald Angels Sing/King of Heaven”
Fun arrangement but this is still the classic which we are all familiar with a chorus inserted into it.
For King & Country - “Baby Boy”
Also written from the first person? Fun song though, I recommend giving it a listen. It has a bit of a classic 2010’s pop sound.
Sidewalk Prophets - “Hey Moon”
Once again from the first person and a ballad? Detecting a theme here.
Sidewalk Prophets - “What a Glorious Night”
This song opens with a cute reading from Matthew’s account read by a young girl. A fun upbeat song, I think I would recommend this out of the two songs suggested by the Sidewalk prophets. Still though I couldn’t see myself singing this at a carols service.
Nichole Nordeman - “Real”
Real is a different song to many here, this in itself is rather refreshing. The song has a life to it, looking at the real nativity events verses the plastic nativity scene figures which seem so detached from the events of Christ’s birth. Definitely worth a listen.
What is different
What is different about this short cross section of new Christmas themed songs to the carols we hear and bring out each year? Primarily (I think it’s clear) I can’t see myself singing them with others. It seems that this list of songs are primarily written to be listened to and perhaps sung along to by ourselves. In contrast to the carols we sing time and time again each Christmas there is a different purpose. However there is a long tradition of Christmas songs intended for listening to instead of singing together so what has changed?
The changes to how we consume music, brought about by audio recording, playback and the Internet is a likely culprit. Rarely do we listen to songs as a community, instead we listen in private. Has this virtual intimacy we’ve created with artist changed what we expect from a new carol? Is our language of expression through song in a state of change? If so it would provide an explanation as to why a genre which still references a roster of songs covering several centuries is suffering a severe identity crisis.
What then can be done? Patience and exploration come to mind; In years to come the new language of our emerging virtual private shows will likely developing and mature supporting broader acceptance of new carols. Exploration is important though both for listeners, songwriters and performers. Both into new ways to communicate and old solutions provide a foundation upon which both audience and performers can build on. This is at least a hopeful outlook.
Can the modern Christmas carol snap out of this identity crisis? I certainly hope so. Maybe next year we can sing a new songs together about the birth of our Lord and Saviour?
Sam Gillespie is a graduate Composition student and a computer programmer doing his Honours year based in Sydney. Sam has composed a number of works.
Sam Gillespie previous articles may be viewed www.pressserviceinternational.org/sam-gillespie.html
Sam Gillespie is a composer, programmer and PhD candidate at the University of New South Wales.Sam Gillespie's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/sam-gillespie.html