Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Church Music

So again, another evangelical writes with dismay about the superficiality of praise songs, with the usual complaints about "happy-clappy" and limited theology.  Heck, I've done it myself years ago. But I am minded that better Christians than I sometimes think differently, and remember Retriever's comments years ago.

Yes, of course.  Trained musicians are going to find it too simple, and word-people are going to want something more substantial. So what?  Do you not realise that you are putting outsize importance on the music portion of worship? Sing the songs. It's not all of worship. The old style of five verses of complicated imagery carried its own death in its obscure references.  "Here I build my ebenezer..." always made me think of Mr. Magoo.

16 comments:

Grim said...

I don't know, man. Some of these songs are horrid. Dad29 told me to think of it as a chance to serve some Purgatorial time up front.

Donna B. said...

I'm probably missing the point of your post, since I'm certainly not a church-goer. But one of the most contentious elements of planning my father's funeral was music. From one part of the family, there was pressure for Vince Gill's "Go Rest High on That Mountain". I despise that song more because of the music than the lyrics, but even the lyrics didn't seem to fit my father's life. From another part of the family, there was pressure to find something, anything, by Neil Young. No... just no.

And then... when I thought everything was settled with one recorded song at the beginning of the service ("Daddy Sang Bass", which was both joyful and meaningful because Daddy did sing bass very badly on every road trip we ever made) and a live performance of "Amazing Grace" which was one of my father's favorites... the minister informs us the evening before the service that we need music at the end of the service when the mourners are departing. He suggests Garth Brooks' "The Dance".

Thankfully, my younger daughter was present, saw the look on my face, and quickly suggested "Rock of Ages" instead. Even the funeral director looked relieved.

I am a trained musician (and my minor was English). Granted my training was in piano and voice with a classical and operatic emphasis, but even there I always disliked the gratuitously sad, or compositions that seemed designed primarily to elicit sad tears... or a shove toward slitting one's wrists.

The Gold Digger said...

I wish there were a music-free service I could attend. I hate the clappy happy music and I hate the Marty Haugen/David Haas crap that is so popular in the Catholic church today. (Note that the Lutherans, to whom Haugen belongs, do not even sing his music.) All I want is an efficient get in and get out service with no BS. And no hand-holding during the Our Father.

Sam L. said...

Rock of Ages, Fall on me,
Wash my body, Out to sea...

james said...

Our book had "Here I raise mine ebenezer".

Funny how songs morph, or don't. I went to a Christmas carol singalong in Geneva populated largely by English folks, and forgot my magnifiers. The songs being in microscopic type, I went from memory--and found that 10 out of 11 had significantly modified lyrics. In most cases they got rid of archaic language. I wondered if that was because CofE is hierarchical, and could update things at will; while the US baptists are more congregational-driven, and most of the congregation is fine with the words they grew up with.

iOpener said...

A church that will accept third rate music and lie to me that it is good music will accept third rate morality and lie to me about that.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Yeah, I thought this one would be controversial.

I went to a small church that had a very high educational, biblical educational, and musically educated background. I was on worship committee and we agonised about using music that was singable but profound, deep, quality...all that stuff.

That church died, and that was part of the reason why. When you do that, you have a sort of elite congregation. One interim pastor mentioned how difficult it was that she had to keep ratcheting up, because (almost) everyone got what she was saying, right from the first week, and wanted more. It sounds perfect, a slice of heaven.

Except that a year later, no visitors stayed beyond a week or two - and we tried, we really did, to be welcoming and interested, and willing to get involved, because really, we were. We were primed and loaded.

Once you start down that road there are no signposts telling you to go back. There are less-educated people, there are children, there are unmusical people - hell, there are developmentally disabled people and drunks and depressed people, and they deserve good worship more than you do, because you can go out and compensate with reading or recordings or stimulating conversation.

The ancient liturgical churches could be complicated because repetition was their ally, not their opponent. To a far lesser extent, now that they are doing weekly experimentations as well, they can do it now. Everyone else needs to sing to weakest link. You can always be looking to raise their standards, but two years later, you've got to remember you've got a whole new crew whose standards haven't been raised. They grew up on hip-hop, mindless oldies, or death metal and they are the only children you've got.

james said...

"Gentlemen, this is a football."

RonF said...

My wife and children are under strict instructions. In my family it is customary during the wake to place some grave goods in the casket. A bottle of favorite booze, a deck of cards, etc., etc. In my case, these are to include a baseball bat.

If at any time during my funeral the organist starts to play "On Eagle's Wings", they are instructed to open the casket, remove the bat, and pummel the organist until they stop.

jaed said...

There are less-educated people, there are children, there are unmusical people

On the other hand, beware of equating "easy to understand" with "horrible". Even when I was a child I couldn't stand most hymns, and it wasn't because I was some kind of prodigy; it was because they were sappy, senseless, and ugly. Surely there is music that are pleasing to the ear and mind without being impossible to understand and/or sing by anyone other than trained musicians with a master's in medieval history...?

Christopher B said...

This is one of those "I can see your point but" topics, and I do lean against you at least a little bit.

People know that high church folk are going to look at their shoes and kick the ground when the subject of worship music comes up. It becomes a good way of politely declining to continue attending without really offending anybody (we're pre-primed to be apologetic about it). So even if you found the pastor boring or difficult to understand, or some of the congregation off putting for one reason or another, "I just couldn't sing the hymns" is a polite way to ease out the door.

I don't see that praise songs are necessarily free from misunderstanding. The words might not be archaic but they seem as likely to use unfamiliar idioms (to some of us), and poetic license can lead to confusion. This seems especially true when using Christian pop songs which add the difficulty of being written for professional performance, not group choral singing.

I've also run across a few people of my own years or younger who grew up singing hymns and would really like to have them included in worship but wind up at the 'contemporary' service because they don't want to get up at 0-dark-thirty in the morning on Sunday, or stay until after brunches have close down, in order to attend the traditional service.

Grim said...

I think AVI is raising a good point, although I'm inclined to agree with this:

On the other hand, beware of equating "easy to understand" with "horrible".

Several of Bach's pieces are both easy to understand and beautiful. One of the things you might be able to do, even taking on board that every week new people are walking in the door, is to show them a better world. Even if you have to show them just the first stair step to it.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Yep. You can. "Blended" worship is not really worst of both worlds, though it can be. But with skill, you can at least live on the third or fourth rung up the ladder. As most older church music isn't consistently above that anyway, a skilled worship leader can juggle this.

One of our church's examples is frequent use of "Be Thou My Vision" in contemporary ve5rsions. It works very well.

Texan99 said...

Why sing at all, when you can just pop in a CD?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Actually, the singing part is big. If you can get people to participate in worship rather than be receivers of it, that is worth a great deal. See new post.

Texan99 said...

Ironically, I do prefer to participate in the music rather than sit and listen to it--unless it's happy-clappy garbage, in which case I'm afraid that the cost of including others is to exclude me. I'd as soon hum along to margarine commercials. Earplugs are the only solution!

I'd hope there was a compromise position, old standards or something. Otherwise it's looking more and more as though I'll need to start attending the 8am service, which is music-free.