Is there a gap in Christian music — In practice?

Availability of songs does not mean that they are used in worship. Part 1 focused on the availability of songs and hymns. I think this is where worship leaders and pastors miss an opportunity to minister in a specific way to people. Do our song and hymn choices provide the fullness of musical expression, whether contemporary or traditional). That is, while our liturgical format brings along the congregation where everyone may be, the songs/hymns also have to explore the fullness of the congregational experience (i.e. the Psalms experiences).

Lament

This has implications for traditional and contemporary expressions, maybe in different ways or choices. For traditional songs, sometimes the lament comes through a combination of words and music, often in minor key. Consider this one, while not in a minor key, still brings forth the true hope in the midst of trial. Written by Paul Gerhardt, here is the first verse:

Commit thou all thy griefs
And ways into His hands,
To His sure truth and tender care,
Who heaven and earth commands.

http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/c/o/m/commthou.htm

“Lauxmann calls [this] ‘the most comforting of all the hymns that have resounded on Paulus Gerhardt’s golden lyre, sweeter to many souls than honey and the honey-comb.’ It soon spread over Germany. It was sung in 1743, when the foundation-stones were laid of the first Lutheran church in Philadelphia [Pennsylvania], and again at the open ing service.”

In the realm of a perceived gap in use of contemporary music lamentis frequently the target. A friend (thanks, Kathy) shared this link with me to show that such music is indeed available. “Blessing” by Laura Story:

Laura Story, “Blessing”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1CSVqHcdhXQ&feature=youtu.be

See her background on this song:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tDiTuSLSJB8&feature=related

Is this usable for a service? Yes, indeed. Is this the only appropriate song or explanation for lament? No, but it does present another side of the Christian life that needs attention in both traditional and contemporary music — in practice. How many of us are there?

Joy

For the traditional music choices, sometimes the joy theme is limited to a particular style. Yet, even here the choices are available; are we using them? Consider the options for “At the Lamb’s High Feast We Sing” written in the 6th century. Verse 1:

At the Lamb’s high feast we sing
Praise to our victorious King,
Who hath washed us in the tide
Flowing from his pierced side;
Praise we him whose love divine
Gives his sacred blood for wine,
Gives his body for the feast,
Christ the Victim, Christ the Priest.

Christ the Victim, Christ the Priest

Now listen to three possible melodies:

http://www.oremus.org/hymnal/a/a387.html

http://www.opc.org/hymn.html?hymn_id=61

http://www.lutheran-hymnal.com/lutheranworship/lw126.mid

Note that each has a unique place within hymnody and can be used appropriately.

For contemporary music, while there is much available on joy, I think some selectivity is necessary. Just because a song expresses joy, does not ensure that it is a doctrinally appropriate (this goes for contemporary and traditional selections). One example is “Center of My Heart” (http://larryholdermusic.org/center.html) In some ways this is an acceptable song, but notice who the primary pronouns refer to (“I, me”). And there is a problem with Law and Gospel distinctions relative to the Christian life.

Now to take another example, look at (and listen to) “King of Israel.”

http://songsofpraise.org/song.php?songid=166
(scroll down to see words and play music)

It expresses joy with a contemporary sound and contemporary lyrics. This song can fit within a Lutheran context easily.

Conclusion

This is by no means complete (nor intended to be). Rather, I hope that it gives us pause as we consider not only the availability of appropriate songs/hymns but also with discernment, using as wider a spectrum of music as possible.

And here is one delightful Orthodox Easter song that combines new and old.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iuczNQonTXQ

There is one other factor for another post: sing-ability of song choices.

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5 thoughts on “Is there a gap in Christian music — In practice?

  1. As a contemporary Worship leader I think the issue is not that I don’t know which songs might or might not be appropriate. The problem comes in with how often can you/should you introduce a new song to the congregation. Hymns are familiar and I don’t have to wonder if the congregation knows then. Picking a song like Blessings, which may be the perfect song to go with the readings and sermon, I have to consider whether the congregation has heard it, whether I have introduced too many new songs, should it be done as a solo the first time, etc.

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  2. Good points. As Dustin commented a few posts back, part of our role is educating. I know that even with hymns, I have had to introduce them to congregations over a 4-6 week period. It surprised me one time because I chose a hymn and thought “everyone knows this hymn.” But not everyone does! I had an excellent organist who knew the congregation (he had been there 15 years), and he would let me know whether the congregation had sung it before.

    I’m curious, Kathy, how often do you introduce a new song/hymn? I found a new song every 6-8 weeks was plenty.

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  3. One every 6-8 weeks is plenty. We try and do it as special music first and then try and use it twice over the next month so that they’ve heard/sung it 3 times.

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  4. Personally, I think the ability to adapt to music and lyrics is a learned issue. When I was still a non-denom pastor and before that a worship leader (and led in jail ministry as well) we had no problem dropping in a new or old hymn – everything from Celtic to Ron Kenoly to Petra.

    However, it takes time to develop people’s confidence in this. Or just a special experience. Example – on a retreat in February, the band told me there was no way guys could sing a song which would introduce one of my messages. I asked them to persevere – 4 significant melody changes over 5 verses.

    The band asked if the first melody could be done solo… sure why not.

    Cept of course the 60 guys there all just started singing. They didn’t buy it – they sang their hearts out.

    I have a general rule- press them 10 -15 percent beyond where they think they can go. Too much more… they will run.. too less, they drown in the comfort zone.

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