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Yesterday I shared that someone recently asked me, “How do you select music for our worship environment?” What a great question! Yesterday I shared the two main elements in song selection — the TEXT and the MUSIC. The TEXT trumps MUSIC. But the MUSIC is important too. So let’s dive into the MUSIC aspect.
Yes, we all know music is subjective. What my dial is set to may not be the same as yours. One glance at the an online music store (iTunes, Amazon) will tell you that there are lots of flavors — both of people and what those people like. So for a moment, let’s stay away from the very subjective styles and cover more fundamental issues regarding music. We’ll come back to that in a minute.
Let’s talk about the very fundamentals of music. Music is made up of time and pitch. Time plays off rhythm and speed. When it comes to pitch — melody and harmony are the main components. But which of these are most important? There is one fundamental that is the most important.
Melody is the most important element of music used in worship. Why? It’s because the melody is married to the text. Remember, the text is king — and music is queen. If the relationship is rocky between the melody and the text, the song becomes less singable. Singability is the most important factor when it comes to music in the worship environment. If people can’t (or decide not to) sing, worship doesn’t happen in the individual’s heart.
Unfortunately, even the relationship of melody and text is extremely subjective. I’ve had discussions with the youngest and the oldest of living generations. The youngest generation living feels something is singable. However, the senior generation feels strongly opposed. Switch the two around — and the young generation feels the mature generation’s melody is foreign and distracting. Who’s right? Neither.
So it’s important to use melodies that lie ‘in the land between’ most of the time — but occasionally stretch the worshiper with a challenging melody.
Let me give an example. Occasionally someone will ask me to sing more older hymns/songs. I ask which hymns they’re talking about. They usually reply with songs that were written between 50 and 150 years ago. That’s 1800-1930 A.D. But since the birth and death of Christ, almost 2000 years have gone by. Surely music was used as a vehicle during this time. But why don’t we use music from 50 A.D. to 1400 A.D. (besides not having the musical manuscripts)? Because the music would be alien (and distracting) to our ears. How many times have you left the car radio tuned to monophonic Gregorian chant? Even NPR knows its listeners’ relevance — and rarely plays a chant. Music relevance to the listener will have one of two effects — it will either contribute or distract. So let’s figure out what’s musically relevant to the majority of the worshipers — and select music styles that connect with them…truly a subjective matter.
Beyond the melody aspect, it’s important to select music that is relevant to the worshipers in the room. Keep in mind that each worshiper must decide individually whether or not to jump on the vehicle in use. There is no one way that a song will connect with every worshiper in a single setting. That is why variety can be key. But it is true that music does come with either relevance or non-relevance.
Teaching mutual admiration with both text and music is of utmost importance. All 4-5 living generations ought to have a healthy respect and admiration for differences in music and text selection. Let’s find lyrics and melodies that connect with as many as possible and engage the masses. And, for the sake of Christ, let’s honor each other, rather than calling a bitter truce…only to adhere that “our way” is the “best way.”
One can worship via the text of a song, even if they consider the music rubbish. But only mature worshipers do this. Making a conscious decision to worship in spite of a distracting environment is rare. It’s also what feeds the thought that the worship environment has to be “perfect” — which couldn’t be further from reality. Unfortunately, the current state of worship in many churches has created a set of worshipers who are waiting for the planets to perfectly align to worship — instead of deciding to worship regardless of the environment created.
In closing, let’s keep in mind that music doesn’t cause worship. While music is helpful, it’s not even necessary for worship in one’s heart to happen. Worship happens when we make a decision in our heart to honor God higher than anything else — to show that He’s worth everything, worth more than anything — worth even more than the the vehicles of worship we sometimes get hung up on.
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