Wednesday, May 30, 2007

More on Music

My colleagues in the local Baptist church now have a music-free Sunday evening service. It simply consists of, I believe, an opening prayer, a Bible exposition and study time in groups.
Church for people who don't like music, or don't want to sing is a serious question for us to get to grips with.

That said, anybody leaving a church because they don't like the style of musical worship has just not got a grip on what it means to be a Christian.

I met such a person the other day but I didn't tackle him on his views as he raised them during a compassionate visit. This is so often the case and frustrating. If people in the depths of grief or illness say stupid things you just have to listen, not challenge. Diarying a visit in six months time for a row is rarely an edifying thing to do. You have to let it lie.

The person concerned left his church's morning service when they introduced new, modern songs. He started attending in the evening but then they introduced these new songs in the evening too so he stopped attending. The church in question rarely sings anything less than 20 years old. It is a slow-changer for sure.

He also had a go at me that one of the church buildings in our Local Ministry Group has been re-ordered and chairs put in. Actually that re-ordering involved removing a couple of johnny-come-latelys in the building's history - a gallery and pews. The re-ordering has restored it to its original 15th century style to a large extent. I did point this out but felt that I had crossed some line and was becoming vulnerable to the accusation of, 'Arguing with my Dad in his current circumstances.' I prayed and left.

So what does your perfect church look like? And if you join it, will it still look like that? I don't think I know anybody (follow the link and let me know) who would find themselves drawn into worship by the improvised Scandinavian jazzfunkdub of jaga jazzist, but I would. If I found a church full of people who were captivated and wanting to pray because of it I would want to join. I wouldn't play it in any of my current congregations because I know it would be divisive. Lowest Common Denominator music has been the bane of lower church life where we just don't have the talent of cathedrals or large congregations full of members of the music industry. On the odd occasions I have felt that I broke out of the mould the short-term enjoyment of the moment has been followed, almost inevitably, by having to deal with a complaint at the end of the service.

So a church without music may be a good idea. I'd love it. It would enable us to concentrate on a whole different tranche of problems. Anybody else in? Where? When?



I remember attending a meeting of ministers where the speaker asked the question: "What did Jesus say about Church music?" Naturally, we all looked pretty puzzled, wondering if there was a bit of the New Testament we hadn't come across yet, till he put us out of our misery by answering his own question: "Love one another." You don't have to love the kind of music someone else loves to love that other person. A bit of mutual respect for different musical tastes would be a small start in learning to love one another.
Anyway, it was a very interesting post. Do you mind if I use it in our congregational magazine some time?

St said...

No problem Iain. Anything I post is public domian and fair game for copying with acknowledgement.

Matt said...

Best Church musc story i ever was when visiting the church that is joined by vicar to the one i work with here. The service had just had a music group introduced as opposed to a organist, th guy who was organist was involved he was a piano teacher and a drunk. So music was so so new wine standards with a hymn or two shoved in. Then during communion as people were going up and taking (the church was full as it was a locality service) they played something like be still for the prescence of the lord or the like with no singing. Anyway communion took so long that most of the musciscians had stoped playing bar are young drunk piano teacher who then proceded to play the song through with as many stylistic variasions as possible, we had a jazz arrangement, a barogue arrangement, a romanitic arrangement, a bach esques arrangement, they kept coming for another 10 minutes.
He was in short a genius, and very much had my respect, providing me with some of the best church music i've ever experienced.
A few months later it was agreed that he should no llonger be in his position.

St said...

It could have been me Matt, it could have been me. Pianist? Drunk? Hmmm.

fotofill said...

I find these questions extremely tedious and boring. Not for the fact that they shouldn’t be asked but as you say “anybody leaving a church because they don't like the style of musical worship has just not got a grip on what it means to be a Christian…”

A Christian’s worship should be personal as well as public. These can take many forms. Whether in small house churches to stadiums. A person worship is giving glory to their creator and redeemer. Not to excuse giving praise to God that sounds like two cats screwing and I am not going down the route of “well he is tone deaf so anything goes…”

Praise should be heart/soul/holy spirit filled. Whether it is in a cardboard box with a violin to a cathedral with a kazoo.

Anonymous said...

Anyone had their organist leave because they replaced the real organ with an electronic one? That's what our organist has said he'll do if we do it...

Matthew McMurray said...

Organists eh?

I don't tend to really mind different styles of worship music. My church is a wannabe cathedral with a fairly good choir but...

I used to quite like having a good jam with a good and competent worship band but sometimes I might have lost the focus.

Yes, I don't mind modern worship songs but telling Jesus that I am in love with him seems a step too far for me!

When I was a worship leader at St Thomas', I used to get complaints if I put a traditional hymn in but I got complaints about the modern songs as well. I soon conluded that I shouldn't take it personally and make a concerted effort to make sure that I look like I am taking their concerns seriously!

Mike Peatman said...

One of the dilemmas for me is that my musical tastes are contemporary. Although I'm quite musical, classical/choral doesn't connect with me. Unfortunately the onyl people producing significant amounts of contemporary Christian music are evangelical / charismatics

So here's the puzzle. Why are theologically conservative people more musically progressive and liberals more liturgicalls conservative. I generalise of course.

I'd just love to see what liberal / open contemporary worship looked like (other than Iona, which tends to be a bit folky for me)

Jez said...

Hello All.

I'm a musician, and just played a gig yesterday in St David's cathedral down in South Wales- which is a gorgeous building by the way and well worth checking out should you be around that way. It was a bossa nova band, led by a cellist.

Too far for me to drive back to london as tired as I was, I booked a b and b. At breakfast this morning both tables either side of me happened to be talking about the gig the previous night. Couple to my right: "I know why the cellist had to be amplified- it's because the young have cloth ears. The only music worth listening to is older music, bach brahms etc, because it's stood the test of time". Couple to my left: "Loving older forms of music doesn't mean you have to throw out the new." Cue polite argument.

Argument carried on. Over my table whilst I was trying to eat breakfast. Slightly irritating, and when I could stand it no longer I introduced myself to the conversation as having played last night. Gentleman to my right: "There was a moment last night when your drums sounded like you were hammering tacks into the floor".


Whilst this was a church we were playing in, it was a secular gig- part of a festival. But the same conversational lines were being held to there as are held in church, with very similiar degrees of tact... I enjoyed the exchange, but I imagined sharing going to church with these people later on the drive and thought it would be hard for us all. These conversations are everywhere, and they are part of music whether inside or outside church- you can't get away from that.

It is a challenge. However, a crucial step which is not being taken is this- when you're playing, or leading, or sound engineering, or preparing music of any description,or expressing an opinion about it, can you answer the questions "what are you doing and why?" I don't believe many people making music in and around churches can do that, just as the bloke offering his opinions of the music last night this morning couldn't either. Doesn't make his point of view irrelevant. It just means that his point of view is unknown to himself because he's mixed it up with all sorts of other things unrelated to the music. What tangled beings we are.

A service with no music is answering many questions very directly. Perhaps also it is allowing some "don't know" answers to hang in the air, and to be meditated on or held. Music can do that too. But you need space, and time to reflect in order to play or hear music like that. Know what you're saying, how to communicate it, how to bring people with you. It sounds hard but it's not, it's just that starting out on that road is a vulnerable place to be.

What does it look like when people make the music they are desperate to make, to say the things they long to express rather than what's allowed or that they can get away with? Mike Peatman says "So here's the puzzle. Why are theologically conservative people more musically progressive and liberals more liturgicaly conservative. I generalise of course."

I realise you generalise Mike, sorry to pick this comment out. But I disagree- I don't see any church being liberal. Each tradition has a style, it's a narrow band and woe betide the person that steps outside of it...
But taken as a whole there's a lot going on (ish).

I did a gig last weekend with the choir of St John's college Cambridge. Holy Cow... I don't care what you're into, if for you life begins and ends with Rage against the Machine, the Spice Girls, Squarepusher or Elvis- you have to be dead not to feel something when they sing choral evensong.

It's not just their ability, it's their INTENTION.

Intention is everything, whether you're Johnny Rotten, Jonny Greenwood, Johnny Cash or Johan Strauss. If every piece of music in church hit you between the eyes with a personal expression of intention, then I don't care about quality- we'll all be engaging not detaching.

Sorry it's such a long comment. It's only music. I'm just off balance this way, and that's that.

Jez W

Jez said...

Flipping heck- I've just driven 260 miles, and I think it shows... I think I just summarised a very succint paragraph by Steve into a guff filled essay. Maybe I should get ordained.

Sorry all.

Mike Peatman said...

Actually I think you're right Jez, the vast majority of congregations are musically conservative, in that they are pigeon-holed into a genre

Rich Burley said...

Tis all part of our culture, I think. In the secular world, most people don't play music live unless they've very good, or go to see live music unless who they're seeing is very good (acoustic nighters excepted). It creates a big gap between performer and audience, so we expect a lot, and consume and critique by nature.

Big Christian events have the same gap, both in big tops and cathedrals. They set the cultural norms for church music, smaller churches try to mimic them, and usually don't do very well.

I'm not hot on specifics, but I think what we need to develop is a culture of church music which works best with small to medium sized groups of people - songs that don't go too high, a forgiving congregation, and where you can be a musician and develop your skills without having to be grade 8 to start with. A bit like an acoustic night perhaps...

Matt said...

I would say allot of alt worship started leaning alot more liberal rather than charismatic and evangelical,

The other thing is that the live music scene is full of crap bands weather their 16 yr old that can't play instruments or weird indie bands that play music with no melody. Thing is not many people go to see them theres kinda the three steps of live music, crap local groups playing to their freinds and live music scensters, rising bands touring small venues playing to avid musos scensters and people mainly between 16-25 who are into the live scene, superstar bands stadiums and massive annonamous homogenous crowds with no identy

much like the big piture of church in this country but with less people

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