Stuart Townend is one of the UK's leading song and hymn-writers. So I was intrigued to see what he had to say when interviewed by Cross Rhythms. (In the intro CR points out that 14 of the current most used 500 songs and hymns were written or co-written by him.)Here are the take-away comments for me:
At a time when "stadium rock" seems to be the dominant sound of recorded worship music, I wanted to explore [on his new album] an acoustic sound that would work with any size of congregation; where small and large churches would hear the album and think "we may not be able to recreate all fiddly bits played by the violins and whistles, but we can create the feel of the recordings without having to turn the guitar amps up to 11."
I like playing and listening to music in the "stadium rock" style (indeed I'd like to get the band I'm in to get a more like this), and I know that a lot of people like it. But I know that many don't. And one of the major criticisms I have is that often it's written for (and by) experienced and somewhat talented singers, not the average congregational member, some of whom feel very self-conscious at the idea of singing at all. So I loved reading
95 per cent of the time my focus is on writing songs that congregations can sing. So I'm bearing in mind the dynamics and the limitations of the average congregation, and, yes, I'm thinking "will this work in church?" - although occasionally more performance-type songs do slip on to albums, just to add a little variety... The focus on congregational usage of the songs can make recording albums a bit of a difficult balancing act. You want an album to be interesting and musical enough for people to listen to just for the sheer enjoyment of it. But at the same time these songs were created to be sung in church, so you want the recording to inspire musicians and congregations alike to think, "We could do this at our church."
What a great aim! No wonder he is so much of his material is used so often. More than once I've heard people say "It's by Stuart Townend, so it must be good." I certainly can't remember ever having to ignore one of his songs, because a congregation wouldn't be able to learn it and sing it easily. And I'm regularly doing that with other new material.
The album (Creation Sings) deliberately has more of a folk feel. His reasoning is interesting ...
It's a style of music I've always loved, and it's great to see how people like Kate Rusby have succeeded in recent years in bringing folk music to a wider audience. But I also think that folk music provides some interesting parallels with the ethos of worship music: it's not age-restricted, it uses strong melodies, it often plugs into a story-telling tradition, it lends itself to different combinations of instruments (and different abilities of instrumentalists) without being musically dull, and - perhaps most important - at its heart are songs not meant to be sung by performers but by "the people."
I shall definitely be definitely giving it a very close listen - at least after my upcoming birthday ...