Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Words + Music

As a pastor, I got an earful about the music we chose to use each week in worship. It was:
  • too loud
  • too fast
  • too slow
  • not enough hymns
  • too many hymns
  • hymns - but not the way I know them
Those of you who lead worship know exactly what I'm talking about.

What I'm about to do here may or may not help you - but it was a major issue for some of the older folks in one of my former congregations, so I did some research and put together a presentation to explain why obsessing about a particular arrangement of a hymn as the "right" way to do it wasn't necessarily true.

A number of what we've come to consider the "great hymns" of Southern Baptist life were first conceived simply as lyrics - and to which a variety of musical settings were applied. In some cases, there was a substantial gap between the writing of those lyrics and the writing of the music that we've come to accept as the "right" melody for the hymn.
  • Amazing Grace
    • words: 1779
    • music: 1835
    • 56 years difference
  • When I Survey the Wonderous Cross
    • words: 1707
    • music: 1824
    • 117 years difference
  • Rock of Ages
    • words: 1776
    • music: 1830
    • 54 years difference
  • Holy Holy Holy
    • words: 1826
    • music: 1861
    • 35 years difference
  • What A Friend We Have in Jesus
    • words: 1855
    • music: 1868
    • 13 years difference
The gaps don't make the pairing of lyric & music invalid - I find it particularly heartening to my view of God's sovereignty that Isaac Watts (the lyricist of "When I Survey...") died 44 years before Lowell Mason (the musician behind the tune "Hamburg") was born.

But it does suggest that our attachment to specific tunes and/or arrangements may say more about the kind of church we grew up in or the cultural styles with which we are comfortable than they do about "playing them the right way."

Note: Please don't use this post to beat up folks with your musical knowledge or suggest that they are "standing in the way of progress". We are called to use "speech seasoned with grace" - not arguments seasoned with facts appropriated from some yahoo's blog post.

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