Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Future of Worship Music?

This post is inspired from a post made earlier by the Worship Guitar Guy on the same topic. He makes one important point about the definition of worship (borrowed from Louie Giglio) that it is our whole life response to God for who He is and what He's done (and continues to do) in us - waaaaaaaaay much more than music and song. Then he poses a bunch of questions to his readers and asks them to comment...

1. How will songwriting change (for you writers out there?) One criticism of some worship music is that it seems very “me-centered.” Should songwriting be more community focused and how can writers be more open to that thought?

I'm not sure if we will see any significant change in song-writing in the immediate future. I think it would be cool to see more lyrics of "we" and "us" in congregational worship. I think it's cool to be singing as one body and united as once voice and I would support a more community focused lyrical movement. I know that there are songs out there that you could sing to your girlfriend/boyfriend if only you replaced Jesus with their name (not very profound). However, it's tough and maybe unfair to criticize someone's songwriting inspiration because it could have come from a very personal and touching moment between the writer and God. For example, one song that comes to mind is "You Are My All in All" written by Dennis Jernigan. I remember reading that his inspiration for writing the song came from how God helped him through his struggles with homosexuality and helped him to find purpose, love and reassurance through Jesus Christ. I think it's very fitting that the song be personally centered on that intimate relationship between the believer and God and that there should continue to be a place for these "God-and-I centered" types of songs as well - maybe like a personal prayer to God.

2. Also, another issue suggested is that songwriting has been very simplistic in its thoughts and lyrical content. Do you see songwriters embracing much more “vivid imagery” in writing? Can you see more complexity in lyrical content or should lyrical content remain simple?

I have mixed feelings about the balance between simplicity and more complex "vivid imagery" in songs. I'm not sure more imagery is the solution. The words need to be simple enough for a congregation to catch onto quickly, remember and sing with ease (here i'm assuming that these are praise and/or worship songs that are written specifically for congregational use). If you have too many syllables crammed into each line and words that you need a dictionary to understand, people aren't going to connect with God during the singing. Getting the words flow easily with music is the trickiest part. You can have the best lyrics possible (pull a Psalm directly from the bible) but if you don't set it to a singable, catchy melody then it can be impossible to use effectively in corporate worship. Ultimately, you can't separate the words from the song and the music has to fit. I find Hillsong United songs are some of the easiest to learn, love and sing along to.

Recently, I've been listening to Valley of Visions by Sovereign Grace Music and the lyrics are pretty solid in all of the songs. Some songs are easier to sing along to and some are just...well...awkward. For example, I liked "In the Valley" and "Let Your Kingdom Come"; I did not like "I Come Running", "It Was Your Grace", "Heavenly Father, Beautiful Son", "It Was Love"...actually most of rest were pretty tough to catch onto (nevermind lead in church). I think if I need to listen to song more than 5 times before I can figure out how to sing it, it's too complicated. That means the song will have to be introduced and sung at least 5 times in service before the average person with a bit of musical background can sing the song comfortably without struggling through. Maybe it would work if everyone listened to the songs at home and/or to and from school/work throughout the week so that they were familiar with them come church service time. I love it when I can close my eyes, sing a song, and really focus on God because the melody and words are familiar.

This is where the really gifted songwriters stand out. Chris Tomlin, Paul Baloche, Matt Redman, Reuben Morgan - all have written many great, fairly simple, memorable, singable songs that are used in churches all over the world.

3. How will the role of singers and instrumentalists change? Are there additional ways we can begin to “decrease” so that the confessions of the songs and the focus on God “increases?”

Hmm...I think variety is good and that having a huge band/choir is not necessarily the best way to go all the time. Sometimes simple is good. One idea that I remember reading about was to remove the stage-presence of the music team, put them in a pit or maybe off to the side/back, and just stick a big cross at the front. That way people aren't potentially distracted by the singers or instrumentalists (what they're wearing, what they're doing, what kind of guitar they're using, wow that riff was neat how did he just play that <watch his fingers>...) and can instead focus on God. But I guess this has it's problems too because the leader needs to be seen to lead...

4. Bono is quoted as saying “Gospel tells us where we’re going, but the blues tell us where we are.” 2/3rds of the Psalms deal with issues of darkness and despair (obviously) faced by the psalmist. Is there a place for darker more introspective worship in a church setting? Can “the blues” (not necessarily the genre, but the thoughts behind it) become a greater part of corporate confession?

I remember hearing Tim Hughes speak at Breakforth 2006 about laments and how there are very few modern laments written. Reason? Well, it's probably cuz they're sad and depressing and people don't go to church to be sad and depressed...or do they? I've been pretty upset and depressed in church before and sang songs that didn't truly express how I was feeling at the time...I remember crying in the middle of a sermon once and having to leave to recompose myself because I felt that there was something wrong with being upset or showing negative emotions. My guess is that when we sing songs like "Oh Happy Day" there are heaps of people in the congregation that may not be feeling so happy at that moment. Why not give these people an opportunity to cry out to God in their struggles and sorrows? I would like to see a place and context for laments and songs that may not be all happy happy joy joy in corporate worship - a "holy blues" perhaps?

One thing is for sure, there sure won't be any shortage of fresh and new material coming forth. I am confident that we will continue to "Sing to Him a new song" as the psalmist writes...

My humble rig down under: G&L Legacy --> Ts9 --> Echo Park --> Blackheart 5W Class A tube head + 1x12 Eminence speaker cab

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow Matt, thanks for sharing your thoughts on these questions!

10:13 PM  

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