Monday, March 08, 2010

Musical Authenticity

I've stood in the midst of worship wars (generally between so-called "traditional" and so-called "contemporary" music, the former often being led by a choir and/or a worship leader and accompanied by piano and/or organ, and the latter being led by a praise team and accompanied by some combination of guitar, drum, keyboard, and bass), and I've come to a conclusion.

Actually several conclusions.

One is that sometimes we can get distracted by the accompaniment to the extent that we don't remember that the worship songs are for us to sing! This can happen with a great band that puts on a great show (complete with strobe lights and smoke machines) or with a fantastically polished orchestra or choir. Sometimes it seems like we church people have missed the point of the music in our corporate worship.  In the preface to our hymnal, there is a page reprinted from John Wesley's Select Hymns, 1761, in which we are directed to "Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength." and "Above all, sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature."

[as an aside, I remember when a former church was going through the process of hiring a new organist, and as I was on staff, I got several comments and questions about the potential organist - would he play as loudly as he did when he subbed for us?]

Sometimes we let the "professionals" do worship for us.  I've been in churches that don't sing, and it's pitiful. I love being in churches that sing, and it's not so much about the style of music that's being sung or the decade (or century) in which the songs were written; it's about how they're being sung.  My first Sunday that I was "in charge" having been appointed to my first church (as associate), the music director asked me if I wanted to pick songs.  I picked (among others) And Can It Be that I Should Gain, a Charles Wesley hymn that was an Asbury Theological Seminary favorite.  (Though I honestly didn't attend chapel all that devoutly), I was used to hearing the (full) Estes Chapel reverberate with the joyful sound of seminarians belting out Charles Wesley's words.  But this song wasn't a familiar one at Stonybrook in Gahanna (and it hasn't been familiar in New Knoxville or in Millersport, either) and the congregation barely mumbled its powerful words.  I was so discouraged.  Truth was, architecture had a lot to do with the problem; Stonybrook's sanctuary sucked the sound out, while the New Knoxville sanctuary's acoustics amplified the sound of singing.

But this wasn't where I was going.  So let me get back to my point.

Another conclusion I've drawn from the worship wars is that I'll take authenticity over about anything else when it comes to worship leadership.    I don't mean I want someone who can't sing a lick to lead singing, just because he's heartfelt.  So let me explain what I do mean.

Yesterday in our first ("traditional") service, we had special music sung by two really dear women of the church.  One has become a personal friend of our family, and the other I have gotten to know through the new member class.  They apparently have gotten to know each other better through the choir and through the women's retreat.  Anyway, before they sang, one of them told us that this song would be sung in honor of her father; it was his 80th birthday, and it is his favorite song.  They proceeded to sing "In the Garden."  They blended nicely, and the song is a favorite, but that wasn't what made it so good.  What made it so good was that it was heartfelt and the interaction between the two singers.  They looked like they were completely enjoying each other's encouragement and the opportunity to sing God's praises.

This was in the back of my mind as I was reading an article my sister-in-law posted on Facebook (about Come Down and Meet the Folks, "a twice monthly gathering that has become the epicentre of a scene with, as yet, no name. Some call it country, others roots or Americana; many have settled on the oxymoronic UK Americana") - one of the points of the article (and of the whole (yet unnamed) movement) is that typical Nashville popular country music is overproduced (even described as "sanitized") and, thus, inauthentic. 

When I worship, I want to be led by authentic worship leaders. But what I want them to be authentic about is the LORD.  I don't just want someone to "lead singing" - I want to see that they mean what they are singing, that it means something to them, that it's more than just "what we do."  This goes for the best-produced church band/orchestra/choir as well as the little country church singer.

1 comment:

Chad said...

Wow agreed. We have issues with this in our little town church. Its never about hte actual style or whatever, its about the authenticity and the intimacy displayed. Is the leader opening their heart up? Are they being flexible in what God is asking of them?
I lead and I find it difficult wehn there is just no expression coming from any person that i can see. What offering is that? How can God work in us if we cant humbly offer ourselves?