More on GVB Reunion
Besides, the appeal of this upcoming GVB reunion video isn’t about whether or not the singers can still cut it. The appeal is seeing them together again. I enjoyed Danny Funderburk on the Cathedral Reunion Tour a decade ago, even though he could no longer cut it. The excitement was still there, and yes, they SHOULD sing the same songs they popularized in their heyday. Why would we want them to sing some song we’d forgotten?
I wanted to hear Danny sing “Somebody Touched Me” as well as he was able while Glenn and George cheered him on at the Cathedrals reunion back then, and I want to hear Mark and Michael singing “Satisfied” now…warts and all.
This isn’t exactly a new point – that reunions are less about music and more about the satisfying memories evoked by watching and listening to certain recombinations of singers perform music from the past. And as several of you have noted, even at or near their worst (and think this clip probably qualifies as such), the Vocal Band – even past its prime – still surpasses a lot of the gospel music being made today.
But put together like this, these two points made me think about two related points. The first one is somewhat obvious: part of what makes it so painful to watch that clip is not how it compares to gospel music in general, but rather its merit compared to the Vocal Band’s own longstanding and justified reputation for innovative, difficult, impeccably sung arrangements that consistently found that sweet spot between the familiar and the fresh. Put this another way: for most gospel groups, having your live reunion performance dubbed “not bad” is probably a complement, but the GVB is not most groups, so not bad is … well, not good, no matter how much nostalgia you slather over it.
The second point has to do with the concept of a reunion for a group whose main function over the past 15 years or so has been to maintain a stable core of musical excellence for what is probably the biggest and longest running reunion in Christian entertainment.
Sure, there was always a sentimental component to what the Vocal Band has done as part of the Homecoming phenomenon, and the opposite it true: there has been a lot of great music created by so many friends “coming home” to the Gaither tour. But the appeal of Homecoming has always primarily been sentimental and nostalgic. I think a lot of us want to believe that it succeeded because it emphasized musical excellence, however schmaltzy it may have been at times. And it is probably true that Homecoming wouldn’t have succeeded to the extent that it has beyond the gospel music world if the quality of the music on the tour hadn’t been reliably high. Still, I don’t think anyone could persuasively argue that musical excellence is a precondition for success among gospel audiences.
One way the Homecoming tour kept from sliding into abject sentimentality and maudlin nostalgia was to anchor the shows and videos with vocally astonishing performances by increasingly astonishing iterations of the Vocal Band. My own sense is that the Lowry-English-Franklin (or maybe the Lowry-English-Murray) Vocal Band was the most musically talented version of the group, and the Phelps-Penrod-Lowry/Hall version(s) the most accomplished group of entertainers.
But everybody has their own favorite. What stands out in this process of recalling one’s favorite lineups from the group’s history is that there hasn’t really been a bad iteration in the bunch (and this is true going back from the beginning, long before Homecoming came along). No instance where a new member faced a conspicuously steep learning curve. No case of someone failing outright in the job, even if in a few cases the choice was less inspired than most others. Instead the distinguishing feature of the Vocal Band has been that personnel changes seemed to be managed not on the basis of their nostalgic or sentimental value, as is naturally the case for the at-large roster of Homecoming friends, but on the basis of talent and ability.
Thus, to see this particular group, which kept the Homecoming reunions from falling into reunionizing excess, undertake their own reunion is a pretty clear signal that an era is maybe not over, but is headed toward some sort of end. And no matter how inevitable this may be, and no matter how well the GVB reunion will sell (oh how it will sell), it can still be hard to watch, sad to see, and sometimes difficult to listen to.Email this Post