Monday, October 27, 2008

Fried Cheese

I don't know if you realize it, but Chili's Restaurant has taken away the Awesome Blossom. For those unfortunate few who have not tried it, the Awesome Blossom was an onion sliced into many tendrils like flower petals, battered, deep fried and served with a sauce. Now if we are to return to Chili's, we are forced to order the fried cheese (also battered and deep fried).

Oddly enough, this made me think about music. Specifically the role of music in the church. I have been, rather unsuccessfully I think, trying to explain my feelings toward the current crop of contemporary Christian songs (how's that for alliteration?). I finally hit on an analogy that I can live with: Hors d'oeuvres. Who doesn't like hors d'oeuvres (or appetizers as most of the restaurants call them). You've gotten to your favorite eatery, the smells are wonderful, the place is abuzz with the noise of the crowd and your stomach reminds you that you are starving. At just the right moment, a nice young man or woman says, "Can I get you something? Maybe some nachos or even fried cheese?" Knowing full well what this will do to your cholesterol, you say, "Sure, I'll have the fried cheese."

That's my philosophy towards contemporary praise in a nutshell. It's a mighty tasty appetizer. Think about it: it's quick, easy to digest, and comes before the main course. There's nothing wrong with an appetizer. Most people enjoy them. But they are not the reason you came to the restaurant. In fact, if you only had money for one item, it would be for the main course and not the appetizer only. Or, if you needed to cut down on the superfluous food and focus on healthy choices, you would stick to the main course. In other words, appetizers without something solid just don't make sense. They will leave you fat and unsatisfied. While it may seem like the less expensive option to just get an appetizer, in the long run, the cost will be greater...either in empty calories or just bang for the buck.

So for those out there who have an enormous desire to introduce contemporary praise, do so. But do it with the same care and expertise that is required of the main course, and don't leave out the meat.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The view from the Bench

As a church musician, I view the results of what I do during the week from the bench. Now, even though my bench is either in front of a piano or an organ, the reaction that others get can be just as legalistic as a lawyer's. So the question is, how do we try to move music forward without sinking into legalism? Let's assume that our goal here is to get our church to consistently strive to improve its music. In order to do that, we have to define what is good. Let's tackle that.

If you are like me, you have had myriad conversations with (sometimes) well intentioned congregants about music. You then have heard the same people describe the same piece of music as too fast, slow, simple, complicated, meaningful, etc. Therefore, if one is to begin an argument with the lay members of the church by saying, "I'm educated in music so I know more, and what I know is that your music sucks," you will find yourself in an unwinnable argument. I had a professor who said, "If your congregation wants contemporary sounds, don't introduce them to that rock and roll garbage. Give them the contemporary harmonies of Olivier Messiaen." This is, of course, absolute nonsense. A contemporary congregation handed the Vingt regards sur l'enfant-Jésus will react as an infant to a jalapeno. (I had a friend who used to say that Ornette Coleman was not the best way to get your girlfriend started on jazz).

So, how do we get there? What we have to define is the ultimate purpose of and place for music in our worship. What role does it play (no pun intended).

We have to make several connections in worship. These connections, when correctly applied, form the shape of the cross. We are to praise God in songs, we are to listen to God in His word, and we are to confess to one another our faith. We are to strengthen our faith one to another by growing in knowledge of our God.

Let me put two texts side by side.
#575, Lutheran Service Book, My Hope is Built on Nothing Less
My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness;
No merit of my own I claim, but wholly lean on Jesus' name.
On Christ the solid rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.

Here is the current #1 song from CCLI
How Great is our God (portion)

How great is our God
Sing with me
How great is our God
And all will see how great
How great is our God

The splendor of the King
Clothed in majesty
Let all the earth rejoice
All the earth rejoice
He wraps Himself in light
And darkness tries to hide
And trembles at His voice,
And trembles at His voice.

In "My Hope is Built," the theology is clear. We have a reason for our hope, and it is not our selves! There but for the grace of God...Christ is our solid rock, and to hope in anything else is to hope in vain. And that's ONE VERSE!

In "How Great" all that is done is ascribing to God His attributes: splendor, majesty, light, etc. How do we respond? What do we do with this information? Apparently, we sing with him, but that isn't very deep. The most that you can glean from this tune is that God is great.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


I was inspired to start this blog after hearing some truly terrible examples of music in the Lutheran Church.
I am a full time music minister in the LCMS, and I have a degree in piano from the University of North Texas (which we all know is the best music school in the world). I have been in church music for over 15 years and have been the director of music ministry for 10 +.
I am currently (after a 17 year hiatus!) pursuing a Masters in Organ Performance with Church Music as a related field at the aforementioned UNT.

I would love to discuss the future of the liturgy, the direction of church music, the relevance of "historical" music (my term) etc.

I intend this discussion to be mostly from a musical perspective, not necessarily a thoological one, although, we are as we worship!

These discussions have been mostly driven by pastors and lay people. Although I am keenly interested in their opinions, I really want those church musicians, either full time or bi-vocational to chime in! Look forward to your opinions!