Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Hits Keep Coming

This weeks Witness, May 2009.  Here is a letter from a pastor.  He is part of the problem:

"I was quite surprised that the March Lutheran Witness cover pictured a young musician in front of a traditional pipe organ.  I really didn't see anything in the issue about producing young keyboardists, drummers, reggae, and hip hop artists for today's church, let alone tomorrow's.  Classical organ has been great for a long time, but it's no lover reaching people for Jesus Christ where I live and worship.  Roger Johnson, Jehovah-El Buen Pastor Lutheran Church, Chicago, Ill."

In case you are wondering, I got his email (ain't google wonderful) and sent a response to his letter.

Let's address this issue because it is becoming a prevalent attitude among a poorly trained pastorate with a complete lack of understanding about church music.

1.  The attitude is arrogant.  Pastors with "the music here isn't reaching people" attitude assume that the problem is not them.  That's nuts!  It's almost always them.  I can't tell you how many awful sermons I have had to sit through from pastors who then turn around and say "we need a new direction in the music here. What would that look like?"  We do?  What need direction is your message!  Here's a quote from one of my favorite movies, Planes, Trains and Automobiles.  This is where Steve Martin has had enough of John Candy's lame stories.  Everything is not an anecdote. You have to discriminate between things that are funny, or slightly amusing. You’re a miracle. Your stories have none of that! They’re not even amusing accidentally! You know when you’re telling these little stories? Here’s a good idea: have a point. It makes it so much more interesting for the listener! 

2.  It's ignorant.  The types of music described in his letter are wonderful.  I enjoy them.  There really isn't a type of music I don't listen to.  In addition, I have been in the professional music world recording and performing this type of music for many, many years.  But let's be clear.  This music is for entertainment.  Not art.  In other words, it main job (be it religious or secular) is to turn a profit.  I'm not an American Idol watcher, but I have seen Simon Cowell in his criticisms.  He is not looking for the best music, the best message, the best possible musician...he is looking for a marketable package.  That what this music is about.  There are no old, fat pop stars (well, maybe a few....)  Is that what we want for our church?  Temporary music with a temporary message that bows to the almighty dollar not the Almighty God?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Praise Publishing

Ran across a dilemma the other day concerning the music in our church, and wanted to throw it out there for discussion.  
As you may or may not know, the LCMS Commission on Worship decided to review the praise songs most commonly used in the church and stamp with their seal of approval 100 with acceptable lyrics.

But in considering these tunes in a vacuum, an interesting problem arises.  One of the major publisher's represented on the list is Hillsong Music, a church with its own publishing arm in Australia.  Some of the people represented by Hillsong are Reuben Morgan, Darlene Zschech, etc.  Where is this going?  The annual Hillsong Conference
welcomes Joel and Victoria Osteen as their special guests.  I don't think that I have to do much to explain that the Osteen's don't (or shouldn't) have much in common with LCMS theology.  So when we "approve" music like "My Redeemer Lives, Reuben Morgan", or "Shout to the Lord, Darlene Zschech", do we not also give approval to the publishing house that produces it?  We certainly do with our wallets.  Most CCM music is purchased with licensing sites such as CCLI, and those publishers are paid whenever we use that music.  
This is another consequence (I'm sure unintended) of working with publishing houses for whom we are unaware of theological standards.  Another example is the trouble that arose because of this years youth gathering in Texas when a Non-Lutheran "song leader" was asked to lead worship.  

Now... I'm willing to debate this in good faith.  If a LDS composer creates a choir anthem based on a hymn text that we in the LCMS use, is it acceptable for worship? (This is an actual example - not a hypothetical). 

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Who is speaking?

He is risen!  Easter was wonderful, crazy and all of the things you would hope for.  I hope that you had a wonderful Easter.  
I haven't written anything in a while, and I apologize.  Between the masters degree in Organ and Sacred music and Easter Season and all its pressures, I have been really busy.  Enough excuses.

What are acoustics?  A strict definition is "the study of the physical properties of sound."  In musical terms, we discuss how "live" a room is.  In other words, if you clap your hands, how long does the sound of the clap take to fade away.  In my church, for instance, we have a "reverb tail" of 1.7 seconds.  It is a relatively live room.  

Now, contemporary church architecture has turned the sound of church on its ear (pun intended).  The goal of contemporary church design is to keep the reverb tail down as much as possible or to "deaden" a room.  (You can try this out for yourself. Go to a tiled room like a bathroom and clap, then do the same in a fully carpeted room and notice the difference.)

Why deaden a room?  Because these churches are designed to handle sound systems.  A sound system essentially takes a sound source: a band, speaker, choir, etc., and amplifies it.  In a live space an amplified sound bounces around, gathers in corners, ping pongs back and forth, and the intelligibility of the singer or speaker is greatly reduced.   (Incidentally, intelligibility is measured in "plosives".  Those are the K's and T's that are part of speech.  Vowel sounds carry easily.  In a mushy sound, all you hear is vowels, and you geet aaa--eeee-oooo-uuuu).  

So what's the problem?  Well the problem is this.  For whom is the room designed?  A live room is designed for the congregation.  If you did the home test, which room would you rather sing in?  The bathroom or the carpeted bedroom?  That's why most aspiring divas sing in the shower.  It sounds better.  A live room also sounds better for any type of group singing whether it be a choir or a congregation.  Good choir directors (like ours!) always work to get their choir to "blend".   That is why we have choirs perform in the live room but rehearse in a relatively dead room.  In the dead rehearsal room, we can pick out individual mistakes and correct them.  

Then, for whom is the sound system designed?  An individual.  The singer, the speaker, etc.  In fact, these sound systems will now add artificial reverb that they can control to improve on the sound leaving the speakers.   So what happens then?  The group singing effect is diminished.  Only in churches singing contemporary praise music do you see 4 or 5 people singing a unison part.  But ask yourself, have you ever seen a rock band with 5 lead singers?  No.  There is one.  And they are amplified.  Group singing is supported by a live room, dead rooms support amplified individuals.  

Now.  What are we trying to accomplish in worship?  
Let's tackle that next time!