Daniel Mount has written an open letter to southern gospel artists from young fans of the genre. Like him, I am a young fan, and I’ve addressed and will continue to address the points he made here on this blog. They are good points, and I will gladly be one of the co-signers he has called for.
I thought that I would elaborate on some of them in my own post, if my readers don’t mind. This was Daniel’s first point: “Recognize and retain what makes Southern Gospel unique musically.” I agree. Could we imagine southern gospel without the male quartet? The family harmony? The distinctive southern gospel piano?
At the same time (and I don’t know whether or not Daniel would agree with me here), I happen to like a lot of different kinds of music. I love southern gospel, but I also love CCM, country, jazz, etc… when it’s good, of course! So even while I heartily agree that it would be a disaster for southern gospel to lose its identity, I also think that an artist’s repertoire can be enriched by incorporating a wide range of sounds. Signature Sound provides a very good example of this. Much of their work isn’t really southern gospel, but guess what? It’s good music, and it works in a southern gospel setting. Ditto for Brian Free & Assurance’s forays into what I would call classic CCM. Their version of CCM isn’t what I got sick of on the radio a couple years ago. It brings back memories of the kind of CCM my radio used to play, which I actually liked.
So I’m grateful for what the traditional groups are doing, and I think we need them. At the same time, I enjoy the variety. But I think at heart, Daniel and I agree on this point.
His next point was “Recognize and retain what makes Southern Gospel unique lyrically.” I would modify this just a little to say “what makes southern gospel unique lyrically today.” Sadly, Daniel is right that other Christian music is increasingly fluffy while southern gospel is more or less holding the fort where biblical doctrine is concerned. I actually have a couple posts I have been working on to illustrate this very point, completely independently of Daniel’s post. However, in fairness, we can find a lot of CCM songs with very good lyrics. (For that matter, we can find secular songs with very good lyrics, but at the moment we’re staying in the context of Christian music.) But once again, Daniel’s core point is one I agree with, namely that CCM is becoming much more generic much faster than southern gospel, and southern gospel writers should do all they can to keep that gap.
His third point was “Recognize and retain what makes your group unique. Master and perfect it.” I couldn’t agree more. We all get tired of groups that sound the same, and that’s probably not just true for young fans. In fairness, we can find a lot of similar groups in southern gospel, but there are plenty of groups that are distinct from each other as well. Daniel went on to say to the smaller groups that they shouldn’t try to “be” a big group. This is simply good practical advice. If you want to be noticed, don’t blend in with the crowd. At the same time of course, there’s nothing wrong with a smaller group’s trying to learn from a bigger group. It could be argued that this is what happened with Signature Sound and the Gaither Vocal Band. Ernie said they learned a lot from the GVB, yet nobody can deny that they emerged with a distinctive style of their own!
“Talk to us” was Daniel’s next point, encouraging artists to take full advantage of social media. I know that I personally am drawn to artists who keep a steady line of communication with the fans, and I don’t know whether this is specifically because I am young or not. But either way, it makes sense, and it probably is especially important for young fans.
His last point stings a little: “Live the life offstage that you portray on stage.” I think that pretty much speaks for itself. But of course, it’s something that should extend to all who claim to be ministers of the gospel, southern gospel or not.
Your thoughts are welcome.