Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make melody in your heart to the Lord.
- Ephesians 5:19
Whenever I write about church music, as I did in last Sundays column, I touch a nerve. This time I also received a request: Wont you please write something about the awful church music today?
Like beauty, awful is in the eye (or ear) of the beholder. Thus any attempt to compare types of church music will be applauded by some and criticized by others. But perhaps it will also help explain why one group of singing Christians so judges the melody-making of the other, and plant seeds of harmony between the two.
As some of you know, I have been a church musician all my life. My grandmother was an organist, and my parents sang and directed choirs for years, so it wasnt surprising that I would follow in their footsteps. I dont say this to impress you, but to let you know Im right there in the trenches, one of those joyful noise-makers or, perhaps to some, part of Thomas Grays madding crowd.
Our backgrounds may not be the same, but we are all products of our past. Our choice of church music, then, is influenced by our generation, the worship style and denomination of our church, and our preference for music in general. If you grew up singing seasoned hymns and choruses accompanied by an organ or piano, youre probably not going to enjoy the beat, chords, and taped accompaniment of contemporary Christian music with its repetitious phrases flashed on an overhead screen. Likewise, if the latter style is all youve known, the well-constructed hymn and organ accompaniment may be too "high church for you.
So is there any hope that harmony can replace the discord in many of our churches today? For those willing to explore the merits and pitfalls of all styles, I believe the answer is yes.
Though we are shaped by our past, we are also influenced by the culture of the present, and all music is written in somebodys present tense.
Therefore, as many believe, the changes in church music today are not confined to the art of music alone, but are an outgrowth of a culture that prefers 10 easy lessons over study and experience, and the limits of self-expression over an infinite array of footsteps to follow in any subject we wish to pursue. As someone said, No one wants to dig anymore, and I conclude from the current lack of church musicians, no one wants to commit anymore, either. Music takes practice, and music positions need to be filled every week. Music may offer great freedom in both composition and expression, but musicians need a heavy dose of discipline along with their spontaneity and self-expression.
When asked how he selects music for the Lorenz Music Co., President Larry Pugh said, It must have textual and musical integrity. In laymens terms, Pugh means the words of their vocal music must be theologically sound and grammatically correct, and melodies and accompaniments must follow the standard rules of music composition. Lorenz, the oldest church music publisher in the country and one of the largest, bridges the generation gap by choosing music from a variety of eras and styles, but quality and integrity are present in each publication.
For those who would like to dig further into this subject, may I suggest studying the Psalms, the textual model for centuries of church music, or a book of hymn stories, such as Amazing Grace, by Kenneth Osbeck. You might also sit down with your hymnbook and read the texts, noticing how often God, the Lord, and similar names appear, and how often the phrases are peppered with some form of the first person singular. Worship may be a combination of praise and response, but authentic praise is directed toward God, and real response is expressed by us.
I agree with Pugh about integrity in church music. I also agree that both good and bad music has been written in every generation and style. But when it comes to choosing music to augment worship, my favorite model is the following, contemporary text by Fred Pratt Green:
When in our music God is glorified, and adoration leaves no room for pride, it is as though the whole creation cried, Alleluia!
How often, making music, we have found a new dimension in the world of sound, as worship moved us to a more profound, Alleluia!
Let every instrument be tuned for praise! Let all rejoice who have a voice to raise! And may God give us faith to sing always, Alleluia!
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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