Tuesday, January 07, 2020


I sang with the choir for Advent and Christmas.  I had not done so since high school, though I was in the men's chorus in the 80s and 90s. I like singing.  I like harmony.  I don't much like that style of music, but at Christmas I thought there would be enough that was based on things I like.

Many of the rules which choral singing stresses apply to all singing.  Hitting the notes, getting the entrances and rhythm, certainly - though even these are played with creatively in other forms.  Crisp consonants are nice, so that lyrics are understandable.  But in choral singing they must be overcrisp, artificially pronounced, while vowels are butchered because some of them supposedly don't sound right when sung.  E's are right out.  R's after vowels are thought horrendous as well. I am not convinced of this.  After years of training one's ear that way, I understand that r's sound as bad as flatted notes to them.  Except they don't really sound as bad. 

It's an artificiality, much like ballet vs. the rest of dance.  Those who favor ballet look down on other forms of dance, not always in theory, but because other dancers so often get things "wrong," that are wrong only in ballet.  More exactly, there are some rules which do apply all around. If a leg is supposed to be straight, getting it very straight is better than sloppily straight.  If a leg is bent, it should be bent the same amount by all members of the company executing the step or pose, and the same amount each time.  Precision is a good thing. Yet it is not the only thing. Following precise rules very exactly is something a lot of folks like in their art, whether it is music, dance, painting, or writing. They are welcome to it, and I see things that way myself.  Sometimes.

Those who go to the ballet might find very subtle differences to be highly expressive.  Well, fine, but they aren't really very expressive, they are only expressive in the context of ballet's subtlety.  Just because it is difficult doesn't make it superior.

Yet even that is not what bothers me about choir.  Forcing myself into that discipline was good for me, and I may seek more of it.  I recaptured a little of my higher range that had been lost to ill-use and sloppiness over the decades. My breathing was better - another place where I had gotten sloppy (though it matters little in other forms). Yet the snippiness about other singing and forms of music got on my nerves quickly.  I have heard it over the years, yes.  Perhaps I hear more of it because I sing the bass lines to the old hymns and am old myself.  Yet I think I have been hearing it ever since I was 14 in choir, the dismissive comments about drums and bass guitars being too loud, people not liking guitar accompaniment. The comments about the repetitive nature of lyrics make me smile wryly to myself, as we sang two pieces this year that had fewer words than praise choruses.  The Hallelujah Chorus has rather repetitive lyrics - and let's hear the Sevenfold Amen again, shall we?

I never hear people in second service criticise the music at first service.  The people at first service will mutter all the time how much better their music is, and what a shame it is that the children aren't taught the older music more. The thread over at Maggie's about what people did for services on Christmas brought out some Great Deplorers. They don't even go anymore, because they don't like the music now - uggh! They stay home and listen to something nostalgic instead.  As an aside about praxis, that has never been the teaching of the church for two thousand years. "Forsake not the fellowship of the saints" is a command, not a sentiment. The community is the Body of Christ.

We love the music that was in the air when we became Christians, most usually, and find that holiest in some way. More solemn, more joyful, more intimate, or more edifying. I have a great advantage in that I came to Christ via more than one channel, so camp songs and five-verse overcomplicated hymns are both in my history and well-loved.


james said...

Some complaints about music are warranted. I've griped before about bands so loud the congregants can't hear themselves. I can't sing that way, and after listening (as carefully as possible under the circumstances) I don't think the folks next to me could either. Actually, after having run monitors for the band, I don't think the band can either. "Can I get more of me in my monitor?"

And playing meter-switcheroos on familiar songs isn't a nice thing to do either. Yes, the band practiced and got the next note at the right time, but the rest of us were flat-footed.

Aside from that sort of thing, most of the praise choruses are fine enough.

I currently do slides for a "classic" service, and I make sure the punctuation for the hymns goes in. 2 reasons: That way I know the slides have been proof-read, and it makes piecing out the often-convoluted grammar easier. I remember singing several of them as a kid and wondering what in blazes the songs meant. (I blame the fashion for treating English as if it were Latin.)

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I think "Here I raise my ebenezer" is the all-time champion for that.

james said...

"my sin oh the bliss of this glorious thought"

Estoy_Listo said...

Our church is so traditional that using a piano instead of an organ is our idea of contemporary service music. Suits me just fine.

Unknown said...

WRT old people thinking that music is too loud, it is worth pointing out the hearing problem called "Recruitment":


In one form of age-related hearing loss, not only do things need to be above an elevated threshold to be audible, but the threshold that's painfully loud decreases significantly.

It is not always just a matter of musical style or taste. The same sound level that is used in clubs in order to "block out" the outside world so that your focus is fully on the "now" and that will maximize dopamine release is also what some worship-participants seek, but it is also well above what is physiologically painful for many elderly.