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.

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