Joe Ed Furr, Texas Normal Singing School
One music historian estimated that 500,000 Christian songs have been written over the centuries of time. Most singers today have a repertory of Christian songs that are far less than 1,000 songs. This means that most songs that have been written are unknown in our age.
Most song writers begin their creative career with a favorite style of song that they want to emulate as they compose their new songs. If they are able to create quality songs, then those songs will be popular as long as the chosen style of those songs is popular. If people lose interest in a specific style of singing, then most of the songs composed in that style will fade away.
There was a time in the past when people sang songs in the minor mode. That style of music has vanished in the Western church, so the artists who wrote in that mode are forgotten.
For more than 200 years the gospel song was a popular song style. Most of song writers among churches of Christ in the 20th century wrote gospel songs. I can remember attending song writing classes where the universal assumption was that the gospel song was the normative model for any new song. Today most people have little interest in learning new gospel songs, so many of those song writers are fading into the background.
Austin Taylor was a song writer in the first half of the 20th century. He wrote songs for evangelistic meetings and for congregational singing schools. He was successful in promoting his songs, so several of them became popular for a time. In recent years his fame has faded because his songs are no longer popular.
In the last 35 years the most popular song style has come to be known as the “praise song”. People who are successful in composing songs in that style are today’s popular composers. People who are still writing songs in the gospel song style are finding themselves ignored as people rush by in their quest for the newest praise song.
Some day history will repeat itself. A new style of singing will become popular. People will lose interest in singing praise songs. Praise song composers will fade into the background as singers search out the newest songs in the newest style.
There are always exceptions to the historical model we have described to you. Every style of Christian song that has been popular has had a few composers who have composed some fantastic masterpieces. Those rare gems are still sung in most modern churches. When you survey a major hymnal you will generally find a few songs in every style that survive on the pages of hymnals. Most hymnals will present a balance of diverse styles. But the more ancient the style the greater the demand for high quality.