Saturday, September 24, 2022

Why can't we have our own music?

It is with no small amount of fear and trepidation that I enter into the debate over musical style and its appropriateness in worship.  I know that there are those who think music has no association except the one you give it but I find that to be patently false.  Everything around us has an appropriate and commonly understood musical style: (a) television and its ads and programs and gameshows; (b) wedding receptions; (c) movies; (d) the dentist office while your teeth are being cleaned; (e) the sound tracks in stores; (f) elevator musak; (g) Disney has its own music; (h) amusement venues, video games, and carnivals -- they all have a commonly identifiable and appropriate musical style!  But somehow we are told that worship does not???  That the most sacred of settings must borrow a musical style from whatever the populace or culture finds appropriate?  Really?

We all have our own playlists and preferences.  Why would God not also have His own?  Is it only about the lyrics or is music and its rhythm, sound, style, and beat also a message?  The music of worship is to be worship music -- defined not by what we find meaningful but by what it says and how it says it.  It is also largely congregational -- designed for and used for communal song in response to God and His gifts that are the core and center of what happens on Sunday morning.  It seems pretty clear from the Old Testament and especially the Psalms that God has something to say about the music of worship.  Even the New Testament references to music are not quite generic but speak to the context and content as well as the purpose of such music.  Why now do we think that your favorite radio station or your playlist ought to be reflected in what is sung (or, more accurately, heard) on Sunday morning?

For that matter, I am also not a fan of the cocktail style piano music that puts the melody to a hymn in with the same style, chords, and rolls that one might expect to hear as background music in a bar -- background music designed neither to inspire nor offend but simply to be there in the background in case anyone just might be listening.  I do not mean to offend those who write them because I am sure there is a market for them but that is not good church music.  As good as the piano is, it is not a melodic instrument designed to support the voice.  It is a rhythmic and percussive instrument that uses strings but in a very different way than a violin or cello.  If you have to use a piano exclusively, better to play it straight than to make it sound like the piano man who adds a soundtrack to your lonely sips of fine bourbon or who plays unobtrusively while you and your party laugh and drink your wine.

Hymn and chant and high thanksgiving... sings the hymn stanza penned by  Marcus Aurelius Clemens Prudentius (348-405).  Hymn and chant and high thanksgiving ought to be the norm --not canned music we listen to or praise bands to entertain us or organists who make themselves more than the music they play but the song that lifts the voices to a unity of praise and thanksgiving for what Christ has done and for the fruits of His redeeming work we now receive.  This is not simply about borrowing the sound track from secular music but also about stealing the songs from the Contemporary Christian Music station or tracks we listen to online or on our various devices.  We do not sing love songs to Jesus but sing of the love Jesus has shown us sinners who deserved nothing of His kindness and mercy but who have received more than we could ever expect or dare to ask by His death and resurrection.  Of course, worship has its own music -- the music of the Divine Service and the hymns that make the voices of many into one voice lifted to God with high thanksgiving. 


Jam sand said...

chanting is not necessary or even viable to be in the church liturgy anymore. Scriptures do no forbade it but it’s not included in any scriptures either . Like contemporary music it’s only a preference.

Anonymous said...

The piano should be banned from the sanctuary. If I have to listen to Chopin or a Methodist hymn medley during communion one more time, I will have words with my pastor. We are witnessing the dumbing down of worship.

Mark Janke said...

It's not the piano that is the problem, it's the choice of music used. If you don't like the music the pianist uses, I suggest you or the congregation look through the piano music offered by CPH and buy some for him or her. There are some beautiful preludes and other pieces offered.