Songs Without Notes: A Meandering History of Hymnals and Vocal Music, with Rant — Part 5

CrownHimWithManyCrownsRant

In many Churches of Christ, the kinds with “worship leaders” rather than “song leaders,” we’ve rejected hymnals altogether, replacing them with projection of the lyrics on a screen (actually, a very good idea) backed by a waterfall scene.

For a while, we projected the notes with the lyrics — but this is becoming unfashionable on the theory that visitors will not know how to read notes and will feel intimidated. Besides, Willow Creek doesn’t project the notes. And they’re big.

As a result, we’re now back to where the church was before the Protestant Reformation, with songs that are often unsingable by the church members, no hymnals, and no notes (all in the name of making our music more accessible to visitors).

Of course, this theory reflects a rather low opinion of the musical gifts of our visitors (we’re just a little too full of ourselves on this point) and surrenders one of the biggest advantages we have because of our Church of Christ heritage: we sing beautiful four-part harmonies. Why do we want to throw this away?

Is it the empirical evidence? I doubt it. I’ve heard many visitors speak of how much they enjoyed the singing, the harmonies, and our obvious delight in the song service. No one has ever said, “I’m just so intimidated by those notes on the screen. I’m never coming back until you project a waterfall!”)

Evangelical fashion-ism

Several years ago, a famous evangelical preacher wrote an article on the Internet arguing, utterly without evidence, that people were no longer reading their Bibles because we were projecting verses on the screen rather than making our members brings their Bibles to church. Soon, we had preachers and elders issuing edicts to stop putting verses in the PowerPoint — just because a famous author said to.

Go visit a megachurch, and you’ll find they have no notes projected on the screen. But they will likely be part of a denomination that has no recent history of four-part harmony. They used to drown out their singing with organs. Now they use guitars and drums to overwhelm the congregation.

Oh, and they have a waterfall picture. Because someone wrote a book about bringing art and creativity to the assembly. Now, I agree that we need more art and creativity in every aspect of our church lives — but a waterfall picture is not going to draw in crowds of bohemian artists from across town. Hint: if you’re buying it, it’s not really being creative. You can’t buy me love, and you can’t buy me art.

We are so desperate for the right formula, the right gimmick, the right paperback book of solutions that will make us grow that we’ll fall for just about anything anybody wants to sell. And we forget about the basics.

No, it’s not that PowerPoint slides of waterfalls damn. They won’t. It’s that we’re trying to put lipstick on a pig. If we really think such superficialities will turn our church around and save a dying world, then we’ve completely bought into American marketing and forgotten the gospel. We’d may as well be offering discounts on tithes every tenth visit — or indulgences. We’re just so far removed from what people really care about and need.

One thing that really matters to visitors is to see in the members the joy that Christianity brings to our lives. Standing there and barely mouthing words while the band or praise team drowns out a church that doesn’t know the song doesn’t get it. My conservative brothers badly over-reach when they accuse all others of seeking entertainment rather than worship — but there is an element of truth to it. We need to evaluate the music, not by how close we get to Willow Creek or Saddleback, but how the members are impacted. If the visitors see the members moved, they’ll be moved, too. Skip the members and go straight for the visitors, and you’ve forgotten why we’re there in the first place.

Remember: 1 Cor 14 says we’re there to edify each other — not to watch visitors edified by the praise team, worship leader, preacher, or anyone else. Each other. And that happens best when the church gets to sing full-throated in heavenly joy — which means they can’t be struggling to know or sing or harmonize the tune. Or even to hear each other.

Campbell was wrong. We need the notes.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
This entry was posted in Songs Without Notes: A Meandering History, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Songs Without Notes: A Meandering History of Hymnals and Vocal Music, with Rant — Part 5

  1. Bob Brandon says:

    To run the porcine metaphors into the ground: we’ve bought a pig in a poke, but it’s always hard to convince the victims that they were ever swindled.

  2. Bob Brandon says:

    Put another way, edification is sacramental as well.

  3. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Bob wrote,

    Put another way, edification is sacramental as well.

    Exactly. In fact, I’d add “… and especially.” That is, we take the Temple worship and unconsciously incorporate Temple worship into our template for the purpose of the NT assembly — by unspoken assumption. If you limit yourself to the NT texts, you find that the assembly is not the NT analogue to the Temple. The NT uses Temple language with regard to daily living. The assembly language is far more analogous to Israel journeying through the wilderness together, following the Presence of God in the cloud. It’s the wandering-in-the-wilderness passages that refer to Israel as God’s ekklesia.

    Or to put it more practically, God does not have self-esteem issues. He doesn’t need us to worship him to satisfy some divine need (contrary to pagan religions). Rather, he calls us to assemble for our sakes. The NT passages place far more emphasize the horizontal aspects of the assembly over the vertical elements. 1 Cor 14 very heavily focuses on mutual edification. The only reference to “worship” is worship by a visiting unbeliever!

    Just so, we have —

    (Heb. 10:24-25 ESV) 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

    This passage will surely be included in the “Church of Christ Preacher Greatest Hits” collection — and yet it speaks solely toward the horizontal elements of the assembly.

    Call us together so that we’ll be together — which is the best way for us to edify and encourage each other. We worship because we love God and, being together, find the desire to praise our Lord irresistible. It’s not we don’t worship in the Sunday morning assembly, but that worship is the natural product of our being assembled for mutual edification. In truth, one thing we do to edify each other is worship — because when I see my brothers and sisters praising my God with joy, I’m drawn in to join them. But the edification/encouragement of the assembly is much bigger than that.

    And so one of the problems with many assembly patterns is their over-emphasis on verticality. If I can’t hear my brothers and sisters sing, the leaders respond that God can hear us sing, and that’s really the point. No, it’s not. I can sing to God in my car all alone. And the guys on the Christian radio station are better than the worship leaders at my church. I can listen to Andy Stanley or Rick Atchley on my iPhone. But I can’t encourage and be encouraged in my car all alone.

    (Matt. 18:20 ESV) 20 “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

    Do we want Jesus to be among us? That would indeed be sacramental. But that requires that we gather together. But being “gathered” doesn’t mean standing next to a stranger listening to a song leader or preacher.

    We find the word translated “gathered” in —

    (Matt. 25:35 ESV) For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,

    Again, it’s a word with a heavy horizontal connotation.

    And yet we have members who take offense if we talk to each other while awaiting the beginning of church services. They consider it “irreverent” — as God would take offense at talking in his sanctuary (oops: auditorium). Of course, the loudest, most boisterous place in Judea was the Temple.

    (Hab. 2:18-20 ESV) 18 “What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless idols! 19 Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake; to a silent stone, Arise! Can this teach? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in it. 20 But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.”

    The command to “keep silence before him” isn’t speaking of the Temple service. Rather, the entire world is commanded to be silent. Why? Because unlike the pagan idols, our God speaks and we need to be listening.

    The Lord is in his holy temple: this refers primarily to the Lord’s “temple” in heaven rather than to the Temple built by Solomon in Jerusalem (compare Psa 11:4; Micah 1:2). So his holy temple in this context means “the temple in heaven which belongs to the Lord.”

    The appropriate response from man to the holy God is silence: let all the earth keep silence before him. TEV makes it explicit that all the earth means “everyone on earth,” and that before him means “in his presence.”

    David J. Clark and Howard A. Hatton, A Translator’s Handbook on the Book of Habakkuk, UBS Handbook Series, (New York: United Bible Societies, 1989), 112.

  4. Profile photo of Kevin Kevin says:

    “Campbell was wrong. We need the notes.”
    Wrong indeed.

    My mother-in-law is baptist. Wonderful, wonderful woman. She attends worship with us at the CoC whenever she visits. We project the songs on the wall with notes, and for Christmas, we had a packed house (about 700). We are an acapella congregation with GREAT song leaders and A LOT of great singers, so the singing really raised the roof.

    Anyway, my mother-in-law was deeply moved. She had never heard singing with really good and really loud four-part harmony.

  5. “One thing that really matters to visitors is to see in the members the joy that Christianity brings to our lives.” A M E N.

    I can walk to churches in my community where they have an organ, and people are NOT lined up around the block to get in the doors. Substitute “have an organ” with “have a rock band,” “have a woman speaker,” “have a coffee shop,” “have zumba classes on Wednesday,” and any number of “have a…”

  6. Charles says:

    Many years ago I attended the funeral of a very sweet lady who had connections with both the Church Of Christ and the Baptist Church. Not many people were there but a fair number of us were COC members, and a COC song leader had been asked by the family to lead singing. When the associate pastor of the largest Baptist church in the city got up to speak, he commented that he was thinking about how beautiful the singing was. “Then,” he said, “It dawned on me — y’all are Church of Christ.”

  7. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    [Comment by Ray Downen, who cannot post directly for some reason]

    I “liked” this study with one possible exception: “Baptists were Calvinist before the Civil War, but most Southern Baptists today are not — except for their insistence on the perseverance of the saints. John Piper is leading a resurgence of Calvinist thought among Baptists, but Calvinism remains a minority position today. It was the majority position in the first half of the 19th Century, as the Baptists took their theology, other than regarding baptism, from the Puritans.”

    As I understand it, Calvinists believe in salvation by grace alone and also by faith alone (although that makes two things and not only one) and never teach that the baptism required by Jesus is to be required by us who today love and serve Jesus. That is, in His commission to the apostles regarding the church age (not prior to that time) Jesus included that converts were to be made by telling others about Him and baptizing those who believed.

    Baptists I’ve discussed this matter with do not agree that baptism is necessary for salvation. I personally know not ONE Baptist who fails to believe in salvation by faith alone. They assure me that the purpose of baptism is to make an already-saved person a member of a particular Baptist congregation. And many in Christian Churches/Churches of Christ are now being taught that the view of Calvin (salvation by faith alone) is correct, which makes their congregations into Baptist congregations rather than Christian congregations, it seems to me.

    So I’m suggesting that many in “our” churches are now being taught that Calvin’s doctrine is to be preferred over apostolic doctrine. Shouldn’t a church which teaches Baptist doctrine wear the name of Baptist? And am I wrong in thinking Baptist doctrine IS Calvinistic as concerns conversion?

  8. Johnathon says:

    “Of course, this theory reflects a rather low opinion of the musical gifts of our visitors (we’re just a little too full of ourselves on this point) and surrenders one of the biggest advantages we have because of our Church of Christ heritage: we sing beautiful four-part harmonies. Why do we want to throw this away?”
    Probably because we, as fallen creatures, have a strong tendency to remove the good when we are excising the bad or as the saying goes: “through the baby out with the bath water.”

    “My conservative brothers badly over-reach when they accuse all others of seeking entertainment rather than worship — but there is an element of truth to it.”
    Thank you for admitting this. One of my pet peeves are complaints of exaggeration. And I try not to be bothered by exaggerations, though I am fail miserably at it, probably even more than I realize. Exagerating is wrong in the sense that to willfully and knowingly overstate something is to be dishonest & all dishonesty is a sin. But, it is not always a given that the exaggerator is aware he is overstating something. In order for there to be an exaggeration there has to be a very real element of truth that is overstated. And from the exaggerator’s perspective this element of truth may not appear to be overstated at all. Whenever someone exaggerates something about us, rather than complain, it may be better to attempt self examination in order to try to determine if this element of truth about ourselves is greater than we at first realized and therefore may need correctional.This self examination will not be easy, for it is more difficult to examine oneself than other selves, or pleasant, for to look at ones failings and shortcomings is at the very least uncomfortable. If the process is not uneasy or unpleasant we are probably doing it wrong.

  9. Alabama John says:

    Jay, the teaching that until you break the water coming out of being baptized you are not saved is not taught in many of the Churches of Christ today. See Al Maxey for one.

    Remember when one came forward, made the good confession and we formed a procession of cars front and back, drove very carefully to the creek, lake or a church that had a baptistry fearing if there was a wreck or accident of any kind and the person was killed they would burn in hell for all eternity? Remember the matches lesson once a year? I sure do.

    Today we believe in unusual circumstances God will take those situations in consideration in His judgment.

    We teach today a far more loving God than was taught in my day by the Churches of Christ. Fear God and keep His commandments was the theme back then.

    Confessing your belief in Jesus is far better and affects your present life in a far more positive way than living in constant fear of God watching your every move waiting to send you to hell. That thinking and preaching actually ran more off then it kept.

    Baptism being a command to do by dunking if possible is required but not a requirement to going to heaven. Faith in Jesus’s grace and love is.

  10. Bruce says:

    We do use just the words on the screen but for those that desire we have other options electronically. The service is online and for songs not in the book you can click on a pdf file to bring up the sheet music. There is also a learning music library available. Each song is available in different mixes so that you can listen to your part in one ear and the complete song in the other ear. The program is available before Sunday so an interested person can see what songs will be used or if they find one they liked during the service they can look it up at their leisure.

  11. Jeremy says:

    Hi Jay,

    I’m more musically trained than hermeneutically oriented, which is probably why I enjoy learning and studying your blog so much. I’m thankful for my CoC upbringing, because I did learn 4-part harmony, chord progressions, voicing, false cadences, meter, and Nashville numbers, even if I didn’t realize all of these had a name.

    I’ve led songs, I’ve led worship, been part of a seated/mic-ed “worship team”, been part of a standing-up-front “praise team”, and also played piano/keyboard at another church.

    I used to be a 100%, I need the notes on the screen, kind of guy. A few things really frustrated and discouraged me, however, and I’ve softened my view somewhat.

    Life was very simple when we had a hymnal or songbook, and we all sang the same old songs. I had it pointed out to me that most of us learned a few songs incorrectly and had sung them that way for so long that it would be impossible to sing what was actually on the page.

    With projection systems, the number of new songs available to learn and sing has really broadened. But it has also led to several problems:

    1) Lots of musical folks do and publish their own arrangements. The ZOE Group, Keith Lancaster, Hallal, in addition to people who print hymnal addition packets. The problem that comes is when the projection software shows one arrangement, and the praise team rehearses with another arrangement. It’s like a responsive scripture reading from two different translations. It was so frustrating to rehearse for 1-2 hours on a newer song, only to be in worship and find that the notes weren’t what I had been practicing! Now… if just the words were projected on the screen, this is not an issue.

    2) The needs of a praise team (who has probably memorized music) and of a congregation (who probably hasn’t) are different. Most projection software can account for this, giving a praise team only lyrics (we just really need to know the first 3 words of verse 2, and we are good), but giving the whole congregation the lyrics and the notes. From a practical standpoint, you would need a large display for a praise team up front to be able to see both lyrics and music. In my experience, the “confidence monitors” or “feedback monitors” that the praise team use were so small that if you projected both the notes and lyrics, you couldn’t see anything and they were of zero value.

    Jay, you said: “As a result, we’re now back to where the church was before the Protestant Reformation, with songs that are often unsingable by the church members, no hymnals, and no notes (all in the name of making our music more accessible to visitors).”

    I have to disagree with your point because we have a *gigantic* advantage: the radio. Spotify. Apple Music. YouTube. Pandora. Internet radio. When people turn on K-Love in the car and sing along with the songs, they have no words and no notes. With greater exposure to new songs, people become more familiar with them. Acappella music in the Churches of Christ have a disadvantage because it takes time for the Brandon Scott Thomas, Keith Lancaster, Scott Young, Shane Coffman, DJ Bulls, Jonathan Vest, and Randy Gill’s (among many others) of the tribe to produce acappella arrangements. And frankly, some songs with instrumentation should not be “acappella-icized.” Those particular songs are just too complex and you lose too much in the translation. It becomes a very poor imitation. But today, we have media distribution methods that everyone uses and consumes, and I think that makes a huge difference over even 10 years ago, let alone the Reformation.

    Another complaint that I have (this is a ranting post, right?!) is that we tend to de-prioritize excellence. I’m not suggesting that we make excellence our goal. But I feel that there are a lot of things that are done last-minute, haphazardly, unprepared, and off the cuff that it comes off poorly when executed. As some churches transition from the “song leader” kind to the “worship minister” kind, communication, delegation, and planning become a lot more important. You have to make sure more people are on the same page. And in any transition, taking the time to do things well and clearly communicated is vitally important. The more you do, the better you have to do it. Or else, you shouldn’t be doing more. I’ve spent some time at a megachurch behind the scenes, and I’ve learned that you can have people who get the excellence without losing the meaning, the heart of worship and the purpose for which we all worship. It’s just not an either/or thing.

    I think you are 100% correct about the joy that Christianity brings to our lives being the focal point. As we look for ways to bring the Gospel to unchurched and post-churched people, this is what really makes a difference. Not the music, or the preaching, or the style or whatever. It’s the people that matter.

    Thanks again Jay for your posts.

    Jeremy

  12. Dwight says:

    Yes, it is strange, but I learned many songs by listening and singing along to a group called the MeisterSingers on cassette tapes, and as we were using an old song book I wouldn’t have the notes for those songs in a new song book until many years later. I didn’t learn my parts by notes, even though I heard them and could replicate them vocally, but mainly I learned the melody.

    As noted one song book may differ from another song book in words or notes, and it may cause confusion, but that is only if we let it cause confusion. Just sing what you know or follow the crowd.
    Sometimes we make things harder than it has to be.

    What we count as excellence may not be what God counts as excellence, meaning that in our strive to gain excellence we almost always isolate those that aren’t excellent or those who will never be excellent by our standards. Only the best song leaders get up to sing or lead. I went to one small assembly and there was this one song leader there who wasn’t that technically great, but he would sing and do it with such exuberance that it didn’t matter.
    I’m not suggesting we strive to sound horrible, but that our goal shouldn’t be to sound perfect, but rather to sound like we mean it and to declare it.

    There are two coc in our area and one is bigger than the other and ours sounds much better than theirs. When a few of our congregation would visit and do a lesson over there they would come back and say, “man, they just don’t sing” to imply that they have no zeal, but in reality they sing, but just not to the standard that they were used to as they are not classically trained . I have to comment that if you took out a large portion of our singers and put them over there, they would sound much better and we would sound much worse. And yet we judge their desire based on their sound. It is easy to get caught up in what looks or sounds holy vs. what is holy by intent and effort.

  13. Dwight says:

    One more thought: I think the move towards “professionalism” is what has moved many towards the stripped down “home church” scenario, which is more what the early church looked like, where people don’t go feeling like they have to perform in front of others, but rather to associate with others.

  14. Robert B. says:

    Is there anything wrong with just using recorded music (as done in some weddings) in place of a lack-luster praise team? As part of worship, the congregation can still sing along. In other words, does the music have to be “live”? If not, the congregation can sing along with the versions they’re used to listening too already.

  15. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Robert,

    I grew up in North Alabama, which elevated legalism to great heights of hair splitting. The rule was: recorded music is just as damning as live music, except at weddings. When an elder’s daughter gets married, she may use recorded music because it’s not worship. But this rule is only invoked when the first elder has a strong-willed daughter and wife. Before then it’s a damning sin.

    PS — There was once a non-denominational devo held in Birmingham on Tuesday nights, as I recall, and they used Apple laptops to play the instrumental sound track off a pre-recorded CD, stripping out the vocals. The words were led by live song leaders. The target audience was teens and college students, and it was hugely successful.

    I never attended, but my kids did and loved it, even though some are musicians themselves.

  16. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Jeremy,

    THanks for your counter-rant. Here are further thoughts.

    Life was very simple when we had a hymnal or songbook, and we all sang the same old songs. I had it pointed out to me that most of us learned a few songs incorrectly and had sung them that way for so long that it would be impossible to sing what was actually on the page.

    Difficult, maybe, but not impossible. In my experience, if the song leader either tells the church to sign how they know it (pointing out the difference for visitors) or else ask the church to follow the notes on the screen, again pointing out the difference. There is no right or wrong. Churches and song leaders are free to modify what’s written in the hymnal — and our song leaders often do this.

    With projection systems, the number of new songs available to learn and sing has really broadened. But it has also led to several problems:

    1) Lots of musical folks do and publish their own arrangements. The ZOE Group, Keith Lancaster, Hallal, in addition to people who print hymnal addition packets. The problem that comes is when the projection software shows one arrangement, and the praise team rehearses with another arrangement. It’s like a responsive scripture reading from two different translations. It was so frustrating to rehearse for 1-2 hours on a newer song, only to be in worship and find that the notes weren’t what I had been practicing! Now… if just the words were projected on the screen, this is not an issue.

    This is just sloppy work by whoever is in charge. The praise team needs to practice what will be on the screen during the assembly. With laptops and portable projectors, it’s just not hard.

    2) The needs of a praise team (who has probably memorized music) and of a congregation (who probably hasn’t) are different. Most projection software can account for this, giving a praise team only lyrics (we just really need to know the first 3 words of verse 2, and we are good), but giving the whole congregation the lyrics and the notes. From a practical standpoint, you would need a large display for a praise team up front to be able to see both lyrics and music. In my experience, the “confidence monitors” or “feedback monitors” that the praise team use were so small that if you projected both the notes and lyrics, you couldn’t see anything and they were of zero value.

    We actually have monitors that give the praise them whatever they need — words or words and music. When the praise team faces the rest of the congregation, it works well to give them their own screen and projector or a large monitor below head height (to not block the congregants’ view). So I completely agree with you. This is easier with modern software.

    Jay, you said: “As a result, we’re now back to where the church was before the Protestant Reformation, with songs that are often unsingable by the church members, no hymnals, and no notes (all in the name of making our music more accessible to visitors).”

    I have to disagree with your point because we have a *gigantic* advantage: the radio. Spotify. Apple Music. YouTube. Pandora. Internet radio. When people turn on K-Love in the car and sing along with the songs, they have no words and no notes. With greater exposure to new songs, people become more familiar with them.

    Of course we have some advantages, but I see Christian radio and such as a potential disadvantage. Song leader hears a great radio song, gets the sheet music, and it’s just terrible for congregational singing. Without the drums etc., the song is tedious and uninteresting. I’ve actually asked a song leader why they lead such flat, dead songs, only to be told that he “hears” the drums and guitars in his head. I had to remind him that most in the church do not listen to Christian radio and so they can’t imagine how great the song would be if instrumental.

    Acappella music in the Churches of Christ have a disadvantage because it takes time for the Brandon Scott Thomas, Keith Lancaster, Scott Young, Shane Coffman, DJ Bulls, Jonathan Vest, and Randy Gill’s (among many others) of the tribe to produce acappella arrangements. And frankly, some songs with instrumentation should not be “acappella-icized.” Those particular songs are just too complex and you lose too much in the translation. It becomes a very poor imitation. But today, we have media distribution methods that everyone uses and consumes, and I think that makes a huge difference over even 10 years ago, let alone the Reformation.

    I agree that lots of great instrumental songs do not translate well to a cappella or four-part harmony. And the skilled song leader can tell the difference.

    There’s probably a technical word for this, but songs where there’s no new note on the 1-beat (the note from the 3 or 4 is stretched over the bar to continue through the 1, and the new measure starts on the 2) are very difficult for the church to sing with no rhythm section — drums, bass guitar. But we keep getting these imposed on the church — because they sound so great on the radio sung by a professional with 80 hours of practice.

    Another complaint that I have (this is a ranting post, right?!) is that we tend to de-prioritize excellence. I’m not suggesting that we make excellence our goal. But I feel that there are a lot of things that are done last-minute, haphazardly, unprepared, and off the cuff that it comes off poorly when executed. As some churches transition from the “song leader” kind to the “worship minister” kind, communication, delegation, and planning become a lot more important. You have to make sure more people are on the same page. And in any transition, taking the time to do things well and clearly communicated is vitally important. The more you do, the better you have to do it. Or else, you shouldn’t be doing more. I’ve spent some time at a megachurch behind the scenes, and I’ve learned that you can have people who get the excellence without losing the meaning, the heart of worship and the purpose for which we all worship. It’s just not an either/or thing.

    I couldn’t agree more.

    I think even a cappella services with a praise team require a “director” — a volunteer who makes sure the sound balance is right, that the mics have fresh batteries, that the song leader cuts a verse or song when going overtime, makes sure there’s grace juice in the cups and enough cups for the crowd, who fixes feedback issues, etc. Quality control has to be covered in real time.

    With text messaging, it would be easy to communicate with the sound board operator, the projectionist, the song leader, and the preacher in real time while being invisible to the church.

    PS — If the praise team can’t sing the song well on the very first try, why on earth do we think the congregation could? If it’s hard to learn, trash it — or sing it without congregational participation, just the praise team. Don’t ask us to sing a song that much more skilled people, with more training and more practice can barely sing.

    Again, thanks for your thoughts. Very helpful.

  17. Jeremy says:

    There’s a song which does what I think you’re describing is “Never Once.” The instrumental song by Matt Redman is very driving with percussion and piano, and there’s no question about where the beat is. However, if you only look at the vocals, the lyrics start on beat two, and not beat one. The downbeat on beat one is still very present and it is important because it provides the chord change for that next line of lyrics. In the version that ZOE has recorded on subsequent lines of the chorus, the vocalists hold out their notes over to beat one to provide the chord change for the next line.

    I love the message that the lyrics of this song deliver, but the transposing from instrumental to acappella loses a little something in the process, and it would make things difficult to sing congregationally.

    Syncopation is big in some of the newer songs. That’s where you have chord/note/rhythm changes on the off-beat. So if it’s a 4/4 song, you might have changes on the “2-and” or “3-and”. I’ll give you an example: on the ZOE song “Sing Sing Sing”, the phrase “… and make music with the heavens …” is syncopated. It’s off-center from where you would normally “feel” the beat. The difficulty isn’t so much in the syncopation itself, it’s the context switching between syncopation and non-syncopation. It feels like there’s an extra beat in there that shouldn’t be!

    You said: “Of course we have some advantages, but I see Christian radio and such as a potential disadvantage. Song leader hears a great radio song, gets the sheet music, and it’s just terrible for congregational singing.”

    That is true, and that goes back to your point about skilled song leaders being able to tell the difference between what works for congregational singing, and what doesn’t.

    I gave up drinking soda several years ago. One of the most difficult parts of that process was experimenting with soda-like drinks and then feeling that they did not satisfy quite like that Coke did. I was trying to find a replacement, and it was failing miserably. What I had to learn is that when you compare, it will never quite measure up. Instead, I needed to find something I liked about each drink, and enjoy it for the drink it was. We can look at song arrangements the same way. The better route to success and acceptance may be better served *not* making it sound as close to the original, but molding it into something that is easily sing-able by the congregation, while edifying, which is the whole point.

    I love your idea about a director. There should be a point person who helps coordinate and handle issues quickly as they arise. They should be trusted and empowered to make quick decisions, because some things can’t (and shouldn’t) go before a committee.

    Another fantastic tool is Planning Center Online. It’s primary purpose is to slot volunteers into whatever assigned role they have and organize the order of worship, but it also has a “chat room” where the sound guy and the powerpoint person, etc can communicate in real time. It would be helpful to have a person not assigned to a specific role already (sound, audio, etc) that could quickly help with these things. It serves a dual-purpose to bring silo-ed people (audio, communion, etc) all under one roof, serving together.

Leave a Reply