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No More Musical Touchstones

At the beginning of this semester for my course on religion and popular culture, I had the students fill out a getting-to-know-you questionnaire about their favorite films, TV shows, books, and music. The results were instructive. Among my sixty students, many of the same items showed up in their first three categories: they loved Harry Potter books, the movies of the Coen brothers, and the new series Modern Family. They also have a shared guilty pleasure in reality TV; almost half admitted watching Jersey Shore, if you can believe it.

But music? Music was a different story entirely.

Out of sixty students naming their top three or four recording artists – so, up to 240 possibilities total – the most votes any one act had was three.  A few had two votes, and dozens of other artists had just one vote. Many of these groups or musicians were ones I’d never heard of.

Yes, it’s true that I’m twenty years out of college, and I confess I don’t make much of an effort to keep tabs on current music. So it’s not that surprising that I was clueless about my students’ musical selections. But here’s the thing: many of my students had never heard of their peers’ chosen musicians either.

There simply were no cultural touchstones, musically speaking.

- Jana Riess, Gathering Voices (The Thoughtful Christian blog)
February 19, 2011

So what, then, is the future of hymnody?