Friday, May 09, 2008

This one's for the Worship People

I've been reading (slowly) through Her Heart Can See, a biography by Edith Blumhofer of Fanny J. Crosby, the prolific hymn writer.

On pages 128-129, Blumhofer shares Six Points for Congregational Singing propagated by Lowell Mason, a contemporary of Crosby and songwriter, speaker, and publisher in his own right. These were part of a speech delivered by Mason in Boston in 1826. His six points were:

1. Church music should be simple, 'chaste,' 'correct' (meaning, to Mason, conforming to contemporary European scientific standards), and adapted to the performance abilities of congregation or choir. 'Let there be simple, easy, and solemn tunes selected for use in public worship,' he urged.

2. Care must be given to text as well as to tune. Text should be heard clearly; text and tune should 'fit' and convey the sae mood or idea. . .Text 'sung amidst unrestrained levity and folly' in singing schools did not prepare singers to assist in worship. Rather, it tended toward 'making an exhibition of musical acquirements' and 'drawing forth the applause of the people.'

3. Congregational singing must be promoted. 'Every member of a congregation ought to feel an interest in the singing,' he insisted.

4. 'Judicious accompaniment' was 'indispensable to complete success.' Good vocal music required instrumental support, especially organ accompaniment.

5. Music education for children was the cornerstone for congregational singing. 'A thorough and permanent reformation in church music. . .cannot be effected, but by a gradual process. Children must be taught music as they are taught to read. Until something of this kind is done, it is vain to expect any great and lasting improvement.'

6. Congregational singing as a corporate act is composed of individual acts of devotion to God. 'Mere musical talent' did not suffice for effective playing or singing of church music.

I'm a little impressed by how applicable most of these points are in today's church. We might quibble with the "European Scientific Standards" part, and would probably expand the "especially organ accompaniment" to include piano and guitar, but overall I think his ideas hold up well. The first two mark the cornerstones of many of the complaints against "modern worship" - either "it's too hard to sing" or "the words are trite" or "the music is too loud and I can't hear the words." #3 - I currently have the pleasure of serving in a church that values singing, in which the majority do join in with their voices. But in the past I've been in churches where many simply stand (or sit) with scowls on their faces and their lips pinched tight. #5 - there is genius here. Schools have taken away many of the music education opportunities, and any music kids pick up is computer driven or simplistic 3-chord pop music or the solo stylings of American Idol. Is there a place for the Church to become a bastion of music education, teaching the fundamentals of reading, writing, and engaging in music as an act of worship to God? What would it look like if the church took music education seriously? And #6 is true as well. I've been "led" in worship by people with amazing talent but no real heart of devotion, and while I was amazed at their technical skills, the lack of passion dampened any real hope for worship. Perhaps in an "Idol"- driven society, the Church might have a call to raise up humble worship leaders with both talent AND a heart for the Lord.

What do you all think? Would you agree with Mason? Disagree? What would you add or take away?


Kim said...

Wow, Dan! What a topic! You could do a 6 part series on this one. #1 - I think I need to read this book. #2 - I'm finding I agree (much to my surprise, rebel that I am) with these 6 points. There's just too much running through my mind at the moment to even begin to comment.

Linda Anderson said...

Music and singing are essential parts of the worship experience. We are truly blessed at LCC, where God has brought together a worship team that ministers in the joy and freedom of the Holy Spirit. There will always be those who don't like change, think it's too loud or don't want to repeat a chorus more than once or twice. They don't get it yet. Keep up the good work--it's blessing many.