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September 30th, 2013

The Chicken-Nugget Mentality

Recently, when working on voice qualities with a student, I was asked why people his age generally hate a low larynx sound.  (For you non-singers, the phrase “low larynx sound” refers to a darker, richer vocal color associated with opera singing).  The reason is simple: societal conditioning.  Not so long ago, the average American 20-year-old was more vocally savvy.  They had a musical palate, specifically related to vocal music, more sophisticated than a twenty-something today.  In 1963, there was a television phenomenon called The Ed Sullivan Show.  Running from 1948-1971, it featured an amazing array of entertainment which was viewed, surprisingly enough, by entire families in one room at one time.  In the course of a show you could see and hear, for example, a comedy act, acrobats, dancers, instrumentalists and singers—every style from opera to rock and roll.  It showcased the vocal fabric of popular America song.  That isn’t to say that every viewer loved everything they heard, but they were exposed to it.  They witnessed people singing in different vocal qualities and they accepted it as normative for that art form.  Through the breadth of variety that was showcased side by side, week after week, a clear message was broadcast:  all these singers are at the top of their game and to be equally respected.  Things have changed a lot in 50 years.  There are fewer variety shows on the air and less variety featured, contrary to the name.  As a culture, we have fallen prey to the notion that a demographic can only appreciate certain things.  We are held captive by marketing gurus with their mantras.  I don’t believe for a second that today’s young adults have lost the ability to appreciate a fuller spectrum of vocal sounds.  What is lost to them is a culture that believes they deserve to be fully-exposed to the length and depth and breadth of what all the arts have to offer.  Essentially, instead of insisting that young adults today deserve a well-flavored palate in terms of vocal music, we settle for less.  I call it the “chicken-nugget” mentality.  We’ve all heard it:  “All kids will eat are chicken nuggets, right?  Just give them what they want.”  This is insanity.  How can we treat people this way who are made in the likeness of God?  Speaking of God, no institution has played a bigger role in this travesty than the evangelical Christian church.  Many have bought into the marketing research of the age and served up a similar diet in terms of the church’s worship music.  I am not suggesting that Sunday morning should be a variety show—there are enough of those already.  I do believe that every church should eat from a broader musical menu.  When the music we use in worship reveals the vastness and diversity of God’s people, it is a sign of welcome.  Otherwise, the narrowly-defined musical style reads more like a members-only club.