Thursday, September 14, 2006

Singing in Church (1) Song Choice

HT Sam Allberry for making me thing about this at this particular moment. I must do some posts about church music, so let's start here. Obviously I'll need to fill in some gaps of the theology at some later stage - other posts forthcoming - but for now:

How do you chose what songs to sing / not sing at church?

(NB: I'm not talking here yet about planning a service / choosing and order of songs / etc... just which songs to have on a playlist at church.)

I think that I think the key thing for music is that it fits the words. God hasn't given us the music to the Psalms, but the words. Music is a vehicle for the words' tenor, if you like (I'm not a linguist, but the way, but I believe this to be a useful distinction; tell me if not).

So, on looking at a song I ask some things like:
  • Is it true?
  • Is it helpful?
  • Is the tune singable?
  • Is the music playable?
  • Does the music fit the words?
  • Do other songs do it better?
The answer 'no' to one of these is not a straight veto - except the first. But then there are many many grey areas even on that one: can it be rightly understood? or: can it be misunderstood? are questions asked by the two different sides of that issue. For me neither solves the problem, because the former may be too generous, and the latter is impossible - the Bible can be honestly misunderstood, it seems to me...

But anyway, there's my one big idea, and those are the sorts of things I ask myself about songs.

Thoughts anyone?

Edit (4hrs after original post, having had another thought!)
Probably I'd add 'Is it biblical' to the list somewhere - because obviously singing something true from the bible is preferable to singing something true without the Bible's own phrases, illustrations, pictures, etc... (so I mean biblical in a different sense to the common usage analagous to 'faithful' or 'ture' or whatever - I just can't think of a better word right now!).


Blogger Ros said...

One of the things I've found helpful since I've been in America is that, as a rule, hymnbooks have the music printed in them. Which is particularly helpful for visitors and new people who aren't necessarily familiar with the hymns but can still join in.

I wonder if another worthwhile question is 'Is it distracting?' So a tune could be singable, with words that fit perfectly, but because of other associations or just something inherently funny, end up being a distraction. Like singing 'O Jesus I have promised' to the tune of the Muppets or 'Why don't you put your trust in Jesus' to the Match of the Day song - ask Mark (D) Wallace to sing you this one...

2:26 pm, September 14, 2006  
Blogger Andrew said...

I certainly agree - though perhaps it is covered by 'does the music fit the words'. I think I'm generally more sympathetic to a poor tune than poor words: some words are so good that the tune's imperfections may be forgiven, but a tune can never be good enough to excuse untrue words, and very rarely (if ever?) be good enough to excuse weak words...

Amazing Grace to There is a House in New Orleans (The Rising Son) is a particular personal favourite!

9:34 am, September 15, 2006  
Blogger matthew said...

Andrew, this is really helpful. Thank you.

I think I'd want to add "Does it fit the tenor of the particular meeting in which it's being sun?" I think there probably should be a qualitative difference between e.g., a prayer meeting, and the Lord's Day covenant renewal service.

Also, does it fit the tenor of the part of the liturgy in which it is being sung (though this might be a subset of the "does the tune fit the words" criterion).


3:53 pm, September 16, 2006  

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