gail song bantum

blog on identity, leadership, discipleship

Archive for the month “May, 2009”

the heritage mass choir – authentic or assimilated?

ok….over the past month or so, i have been forwarded TONS of youtube videos of this particular all korean choir- the heritage mass choir- singing what we know as african-american contemporary gospel music (mostly, folks were geeked about what they discovered as well as curious what i thought of the group). while there has been incredible interest in the heritage mass choir, i have found the interest itself to be rather fascinating….here’s why:

the heritage mass choir is undoubtedly talented and passionate, but while some may find there adaptation of african-american style gospel unusual, in many ways, this seems to be a natural point of connection between the worship life of korean and african-american christians despite each groups relative ignorance of the other. growing up in pentecostal korean churches and later worshipping in african-american churches, i have always been struck by the deep and almost desperate moments of worship, yearning, and exaltation in both places.

the heritage mass choir expresses something that is not “foreign” to them but has found a timbre that perhaps expresses their own particular worship life, but in a slightly different key.

in many ways, i wonder if the fascination with these worshippers reveals our own limitations — perhaps, the ways we have been more determined by our cultures than our faith to see the deep congruities of hope and yearning among the various brothers and sisters in christ. this is not to say we all should fundamentally worship the same way… don’t get me wrong. but the fact that there has, for so long, been a deep distrust, if not animosity between koreans (and korean-americans) and african-americans while there has also been such an easy assimilation or trust of asians in general (and koreans included) as “quasi” white folk, suggests that perhaps we are ordering our lives together according to desires, hopes, and ideas that are not bound to a certain cultural similarity, but a cultural myth.

what is ironic is that it could be those who deem themselves so culturally different, that are in fact bound by an expression of worship, a history of pain and alienation that is shared and found in such an unusual moment in the heritage mass choir.

if we do not take the moment to think about why we think this group is so wonderful, we risk passing them by too quickly and consequently losing an opportunity god may be presenting us to become truly new people.

pentecostal music: through the trope of suffering, immediacy and hope

much of the pentecostal/charismatic experience can be theologically read through their music. as the music has slowly evolved into and under a more generic umbrella of “contemporary worship” i want to suggest a retrieval of its initially intended form. in other words, stripping away the marketing and business aspect of the now contemporary genre, pentecostal worship in its purest form holds a unique insight into the Spirit’s presence in and among its worshippers.

as with many african-american slave songs and spirituals, we witness the very tension between suffering and hope. their longing for escape by means of the “chariot” expresses an immanent hope of their own freedom and possibility sung through a swinging rhythmic pulse of promise. when we think about pentecostal services in a larger context, the music could be read as a confrontation of the worshipper with the immediacy of god’s presence. some may say that the music is incessant, repetitive, loud and simple. granted, it may be. however, perhaps we can interpret the incessant beating of the drums, the repetitive choruses, the loud musical swells, the climactic phrases and the simple refrains and chord structures as the very confrontation of the holy spirit’s expressive and all consuming presence. it does not allow room for critical thought, for an excuse that “it’s too hard” or “i don’t understand.” the beats of the drum lure the worshipper to a rhythm that draws out the beat of one’s soul to clap, to tap, to rock back and forth, to dance, to jump, etc. in other words, the way in which the music is played could be equated to the image of the spirit’s immanent presence as engulfing ones being to the point of “otherness.” in fact, isn’t this exactly what happened to the disciples when the spirit came upon them? there was no rationalizing about what was going to take place, who was going to speak how, or when. rather, the spirit came and all in the room were caught up.

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