Posts Tagged music
In November, I will be teaching a series called “Singing Theology.” We will be talking quite a bit about music and worship. Over the years, my thinking on this issue has swung back and forth a bit.
On Sunday, our congregation sang people’s favorite hymns. Generally, we worship using music from many different ages. We cherish the great hymns of the faith, but we also include music from our own era as well. There is both depth and breadth to being familiar with all of them.
What was curious to me was the responses. For some people my age and younger, the older hymns must be boring by default. They have no appreciation for the beauty of their melodic lines and the intricacies of their lyrical composition. For others, who are generally much older than me, hymns are “how you worship” and the idea of including anything else is just unthinkable. They might even dismiss all modern music as “choruses” – a word they utter as if having to eat overcooked asparagus.
The message of the Gospel takes many forms, and will take many more before Jesus returns. Some are majestic, others are earthy. But all are glorious when the Gospel is at their core. In fifty years, the people who find hymns “boring” now will be complaining about the modern music of that era. It is a never-ending cycle.
“The Doxology” and “Just As I Am” were once controversial. There were churches who refused to allow the piano as part of their worship, and others who would not accept any song not from the Psalms. We just go around and around on this issue.
1. That God is glorified through Christ.
2. That we worship in spirit and in truth.
3. That our worship is theologically sound.
Everything else is flexible.
Recently, someone showed me a “new worship song”. They were so excited about the way it made them feel closer to God.
The “new worship song” opened with a pretty, melodic piano piece and was then followed by a single phrase – something like “I want to see you” – repeated five or six times before a big build and then a statement of all the ways the singer feels good when they are worshiping.
This is not worship.
Let me put this in context. Let’s say I wrote a love song for my wife and it went like this:
I love you.
I love you.
I love you.
You do the dishes.
You scratch my back.
You take care of the stuff that I don’t want to do.
You give me sex whenever I want it.
You make me feel good about myself.
I love you.
I love you.
I love you.
Maybe my wife is different than yours, but my wife would haul off and slug me. Then she would not talk to me for at least the rest of the evening except to strongly suggest that I sleep on the couch.
Worship is not about repeating myself and commenting on how great it is that God gets to love me. That is narcissism, not worship.
People might say, “But it comes from the heart!” to which I reply, “Then your heart needs some adjustment because this tells me you are self-centered at heart.”
When we read the Psalms, the greatest book of worship songs ever written, we find a constant theme of God’s glory – very little of which involves the worshiper. Sure, the worshiper speaks a bit about himself from time to time, but then he turns it around and worships God in his divinity, transcendence and power. That bit about the worshiper – that’s not worship, it’s just context. The worship is the part about God.
The content of worship needs to be deeper and truer than our own emotional responses. That’s not to say that worship is not an emotional thing, but when all we can think of is our own emotions and responses, then it is actual self-worship and not God-worship.
Let me encourage you to pursue deeper content in your worship – musical or otherwise. Do not content yourself with putting on a Christian appearance for your sentimental journeys. If you need assistance, just pick up a psalm or two. They will feel unnaturally “deep” but they are after all God’s inspired worship.
When I was learning the guitar, my dad had a whole bunch of blues tablature books. There were some modern players like Jeff Beck and Jerry Garcia, but most of his books were about acoustic, finger style blues.
I cut my teeth on stuff like “Black Snake Moan” by Lemon Jefferson and old, old Mississippi blues. My dad used to tell me that the blues was the backbone of all American music, whether it was rock or country or even jazz. For awhile there, I forgot about the blues but lately I have been finding a lot of old stuff, like this video of Lightnin’ Hopkins above.
What drew me to the blues was nothing so noble as desiring to learn the true nature of American music. I read a line in one of his books that went something like this: there are no wrong notes in the blues, just wrong times. I liked any form of music that involved having no wrong notes!
The blues essentially has only two structures. There’s a 12-bar version and a 16-bar version. The 12-bar blues are by far the most common form, and it works like this. In the blues, the most common key is E, so let’s do a twelve bar blues in E.
The musical alphabet consists of seven tones, each with a letter from the alphabet: A B C D E F G. There are also a number of semi-tones. If you’re getting the semitones by raising the pitch of tones, they are called sharps (#) and if you’re getting them by lowering the tones, they are called flats. The semitones are: G#/Ab, A#/Bb, C#/Db, D#/Eb, F#/Gb, G#/Ab. That’s it. You have twelve tones and semitones, and they are the basis of all music.
Almost all blues are in what is called 4/4 timing. That means a bar is equal to four beats. If you stomp your foot four times, that’s four beats.
To play a 12-bar blues in E, you start with an E chord (which is the tones E G# B) and play it for 16 beats or four bars. Then, you switch to an A chord (A C# and E) for eight beats. Go back to E for eight beats, then to B (B D# F#) for four beats, to A for four beats, back to E for four and then to B for four. That’s your 12 bars, or 48 beats.
After that, you just find notes that sound good over the 12-bar rhythm. That’s pretty much all there is to the blues. It is an ultra-simple style of music, and yet I have been playing it for two decades now, and I never get tired. There’s always something new to try, some combination of tones that makes a completely different tone.
You can play 12-bar blues progressions for hours, changing rhythms and leads, putting crazy lyrics to the rhythm and watching where it goes. There’s just no end.
Don’t believe me? All I can say is that 12-bar blues is the basis of all good rock music, from the Beatles to Led Zeppelin to Roy Orbison. It is the foundation of punk, country, folk and even something as unexpected as bluegrass. It is even the foundation of most gospel music. That’s how influential this one style is.
This Sunday, Nichole will be “debuting” a song she wrote called “Why So Downcast?” based on a psalm and it is built on a simple 12-bar blues. I am challenged and excited by the chance to play with her because I think true blues reflects the penitence and longing of so many of the psalms from Scripture. I think it is worshipful, even though it isn’t your typical church worship song.
See you Sunday at The Road!
This is from November 2010, right before the merger. It is interesting in a couple of ways – not just how the stage and band has been shuffled and reformed but also the congregation that is gathered (although we can only see the backs of people’s heads).
I love our musicians and cannot wait until my wife is singing again!
Worth watching and considering.
Kurt Willems shared this from Tim Hawkins. It made me laugh.
Yesterday, the Acoustic Gurus presented a song I wrote using Psalm 1 for lyrics.
If you have a songbook with 150 different lyrics that you claim is inspired by God, why do you sing songs by less inspired authors?
Like it or hate it, I think our primary source material for music should be the Scriptures. Most people who know me also know that I have little tolerance for “prom songs for Jesus” – songs written to Jesus but sound like you’re channeling a teenage girl – and 7/11 songs – seven lyrics repeated eleven or more times.
So, rather than just complain about the sorry state of worship music, we have set about writing new tunes for the most ancient worship songs we possess. The video above is the first of several we are working on.
One of the first things we did in forming Bedford Road Baptist Church was get rid of the title ‘Worship Leader’. We did not make a big deal about it, and only the elders and the music team we told we were no longer using the title. We just dropped it from our vocabulary.
Over the past few months, people have begun asking, “Who is the worship leader?” and my most common response is, “The pastor leads the worship gathering.”
Consider this quote from D. A. Carson:
I would abolish forever the notion of a ‘worship leader’. If you want to have a ‘song leader’ who leads part of the worship, just as the preacher leads part of the worship, that’s fine. But to call the person a ‘worship leader’ takes away the idea that by preaching, teaching, listening to and devouring the word of God, and applying it to our lives, we are somehow not worshipping God.
This is a worthwhile observation. In the postmodern church, it has become far too common to distinguish ‘worship’ as the music of the worship gathering. This simply is not Biblical.
We abandoned this title of ‘worship leader’ and instead have a team who work together to take us on a worship journey – from the band who plays accompaniment for the congregation to the elders who lead in prayer to the preacher, we are all leading worship.
if you would like to read more about this subject, this series of articles from Bob Caughlin of worship matters.com are worth considering.
Hey everyone out there in the blogosphere!
My wife, Nichole, is going to be having surgery on her thyroid on Monday, September 14. It is kind of a big deal because she is our music director and, to be frank, the most emotive singer I’ve ever known personally.
There is a potential for damage to her vocal chords – actually to the nerves that control pitch and tone in her voice. This is a huge prayer request for us. We believe our Sovereign God has given her this voice, this tool to bring glory to him and we’re trusting him to protect her voice so she can continue to lead our church in worship as only she can.
Here are a couple samples of her singing (which she is going to kill me for posting because they are candid and really unedited.)
(Also, as a side note, pray for our finances. The cost of the surgery is pretty hefty. We’ve already racked up a couple thousand dollars worth of bills just with consultations and tests.)