Although the faces of the audience attending the tour concert were often filled with joy, the performers couldn't ignore its sad timing, just a month after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. That was especially true when Moen introduced "God Is Good All The Time." "We thought about not singing this song tonight because I didn't want it to be a trite thing in light of everything that's been happening here, in New York and in Pennsylvania," he said. "And I just thought is it appropriate?"

The audience roared with approval and Moen agreed. "There's a real power tonight in being able to declare, `God you are good in the midst of every situation that we're facing tonight,'" he said.

Though praise and worship music has its multitude of fans, it also has detractors, both musical and theological. While the "Songs 4 Worship--Shout to the Lord" CDs have an "all-star lineup," wrote Washington Post critic Mike Joyce, "it doesn't take long for these often bland performances to begin blurring into each other."

Carl P. Daw Jr., executive director of the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada, does not completely reject the music, but advocates its inclusion along with more traditional music in what are now commonly known as services of "blended" worship. He worries that the value of historic hymns in exploring theological issues in depth can be lost if they are rejected for praise and worship styles.

Daw added that the modern choruses' focus on unison singing means the loss of harmony and, perhaps, voices of some congregational singers who cannot comfortably sing a melody line. "Singing in harmony is really a theological statement about unity and diversity," he said.

Breeden, of the Gospel Music Association, sometimes is wistful about notes on a page when many praise choruses are sung using lyrics printed on a sheet or flashed on a screen. But he thinks that is a necessary trade-off. "As a musician of over 30 years, I do miss some of the aesthetic qualities that occur with traditional hymnody," he said. "But I believe that the energy and the vitality of the worship experience that the modern music (forms) have brought more than make up for the loss of the aesthetics."

Concertgoers to the "Songs 4 Worship" tour said the music means more to them than just a time of celebration at church or in an arena. Katie Ziselberger, a vocational counselor from Gaithersburg, Md., said the music from Smith's latest CD proved a comfort to her when she listened to it at home as she awaited word on the welfare of a cousin who works on Wall Street on Sept. 11--the day the CD was released to stores. The cousin was fine. "I may not be blessed with the gift of song," said Ziselberger, who attends a Pentecostal church. "But I am totally blessed by God's music and I love to hear it all the time."