Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Of Idols, Musicals and Sunday Morning Liturgies

I feel a bit bad for dudes like Taylor Hicks or David Cook or pretty much any American Idol winner who isn't Kelly Clarkson or Carrie Underwood.  After all, it has to feel pretty lousy for bagillions of Americans to know your name and drool over your talent and cry along with your human interest stories and cheer for you and vote for you and think you're the most awesomest thing in the world and then not remember who you are six months after the season is over and you release your first album.

But even though I feel bad for Idol winners when they have to face the harsh reality of no one caring about them before they can even get all the confetti out of their hair, it really shouldn't come as a surprise.  You see, people like it when singers sing songs that they know.  And they get bored when singers sing songs that they don't.  So, in an era of ever-diminishing attention spans, the "Me and My Jealously" guy (five bucks for the first person to tell me whose song that is) will always be the rule and the "Since You've Been Gone" girl will always be the exception.

I've also noticed the same principle at play when it comes to musicals.  Granted, I'm certainly not a theater expert by any means.  But it's probably safe to assume that whatever shows I've heard of in the midwest are the bigger successes on Broadway.  And if that rule is true, then two of the more popular musicals of recent years would be Mamma Mia! and Jersey Boys, shows whose scores are composed (almost?) entirely of the already established hits of Abba and The Four Seasons respectively.  So when it comes to a night out at the theater, it seems people are working along the same lines as they are with American Idol, thinking, hey, let's go see that one show where I already know all of the songs so that my ears don't have to process something new and I don't get bored.

So if this is the way people with evaporating attention spans respond to secular music, it would seem strange to me that they'd operate in a completely different manner concerning church music.  You see, one of the arguments I've often heard in favor of contemporary/creative liturgies is that people like having something new every week.  They like being surprised with the structure and aura of an unpredictable worship service.  Not knowing what's coming next and not being familiar with it keep things fresh and puts them in a better place to worship.  And while I'm sure there is some anecdotal evidence for such a (mystical) position, I have a hard time buying the notion that the same people who don't want unfamiliarity on stage or screen or ipod are somehow clamoring for it on Sunday morning.

My name is Pastor Hans Fiene.  Thanks for reading.


Eli said...

I think you may be overplaying the significance of Jersey Boys and Mamma Mia to theatre patrons.

Like many theatre lovers, I avoid those shows (the term I frequently read is "jukebox musicals" and tend speak of them with no small degree of derision and mockery - much like we both do American Idol.

Much more than serve as a source of mere entertainment, I feel that theatre should challenge and inspire its audience, and should reveal aspects of ourselves we might never have otherwise seen. Doing less is a disservice to both the audience and the institution of the stage.

Many of the students at my school are studying for the SAT's now, so in that spirit, I give you an analogy of how I see things. Bear in mind, I'm generally in favor of worship-jam type services, if they meet the needs of their viewers, although my personal comfort level is higher in more staid, traditional services.

Shakespeare : American Idol :: Pastor Fiene : Joel Osteen

Any questions?

Eli Center

Ed Maanum said...

Lee DeWyze.... so that'll be in cash right? Because I don't do checks.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

So you're going to do a contemporary cover-band service >=o)