A better terminology, and a top 11 list

I resent this:

Screen Shot 2012-10-25 at 5.50.32 PMIt’s a screenshot from the checkout page at JW Pepper.  I was purchasing octavo music for our children’s choir, and couldn’t help but notice these 3 categories, of which I was forced to choose one. I resent it because blended worship as defined by our dear friends at JW Pepper (and perhaps evangelical sub-culture’s common subconscious) is not where I want it to be.  And for that reason many folks rightly dismiss it.  In my mind, blended worship ought to draw from not only both column A (the “hymns of the faith” from circa 1600-1950) as well as column B (CCM from 1970-2012…hopefully more towards 2012), but ALSO from – if you can consider – any of the music of christendom from the first 1500 years?  It should also be as willing to celebrate classical repertoire (choral or instrumental), as much as the current most cutting-edge popular music styles (not just anthemic U2-esque rock).

But we quite naturally look for patterns and categories to sort and filter our experiences – and here we are with A, B, and now A+B mixed together, homogenized, compromised, and, for lack of better term, blended.  I have yet to see any terminology that accurately portrays what I’m looking for.

The best way to describe it? Remember the melting-pot metaphor for our American multi-ethnic culture?  I remember learning in Jr. High that melting-pot was the wrong term, because it implies a mixing and homogenizing. The metaphor we ought to use was the ‘fruit salad’.  Ridiculous right? Welcome to America! The great fruit salad of the planet earth! I hope you like un-ripe honeydew.

But it makes sense. Right?

So what else do we call it? “Blended” certainly will no longer do (I’ve heard some call it “mended” worship, indicating the sores and wounds from our disagreements). “Compromised” sounds defeated, “Combined” sounds a bit lack-luster. “Convergent” was coined in the last decade and is certainly a step the right direction. It implies a celebration of styles not a compromise of tastes. Can we get on board with this or is there a better term out there?

And what about my local church TCC? With a medium-sized congregation of all generations, can we become a church that embraces the old and the new? This diverse identity is one of the things that drew me to this church in the first place, and I hope and pray that music is something that can bring us together. To that end, I think long and hard about what songs will truly unite us.  What music can we all get behind? What can we all sing like we mean it?

There was an article in Christianity Today about the “Hymns that Last”, and the author made a poingant observation:

One striking observation is that the 13 hymns found in all 28 hymn-books show a longstanding commitment to the traditional understanding of worship and the Christian message. They focus on such foundational themes as the enduring triumph of the Cross, assurance in the ultimate rule of Jesus, and prayer for the continuing experience of God’s love

And now consider TCC’s most-frequently sung music:

  1. Holy Holy Holy: Reginald Herber’s 1828 hymn on the Trinity. Since the Trinity is our namesake, and our church was founded the same year, it’s fitting that we sing this song the most often. We sing this with organ mostly, but it works quite nicely with a band too. This
  2. Love Divine All Love’s Excelling: One of the best melodies to sing, HYFRYDOL, is fitting for congregational song to this marvelous text. The final line “lost in wonder, love, and praise” so vividly depicts our attitude in worship.
  3. All Creatures of our God and King: Almost everyone in our church knows this song. We most often sing it with David Crowder’s arrangement
  4. Canons: Phil Wickam’s 2007 song praising God through creation in Psalm 19.  “The moon and the stars declare who you are!”
  5. O God Beyond All Praising: A relatively new song to TCC, I taught this to the church as a “hymn of the month” back in August, and found also fitting for the Thanksgiving season. The final line, “our sacrifice of praise” reminds us that worship is not only our privilege but our duty; not only for our gain but also at our expense or loss. It teaches us that worship is, of course, not about us.  Holst’s THAXTED is also fantastic for the congregational voice.
  6. Trisagion: An ancient text with a contemporary setting, Fernando Ortega (2011) takes the 4th century thrice-holy hymn and amplifies it with a simple pulsing piano and a halo of choral harmonies. A simple yet stunning response after a prayer of confession.
  7. Come People of the Risen King: The Getty hymn-writing powerhouse mustn’t be left off this list. A rhythmically driven hymn for the opening worship proclaiming that we’re not all alike, but we’re all here to worship. “Come young and old from every land, men and women of the faith. Come those with full or empty hands find the riches of his grace.” What’s more is that verse 2 reminds us that we’re all in different seasons, some are excited to worship, others need space to lament and cry: “Come those who’s joy is morning sun, and those weeping through the night. Come those who tell of battles won, and those struggling through the fight!”
  8. How Marvelous (I Stand Amazed…): Another old-yet-new song, Chris Tomlin took Charles Gabriel’s 1905 deeply personal hymn on the passion (criticisms aside, sometimes me-centered music is glorious, and exactly what me needs.  The focus is not on me and my happy feelings, but me and my need of God’s love)
  9. O Sacred Head Now Wounded: Side note: Bach set this tune with five different harmonizations in the St. Mattew Passion. Paul Simon set it to “American Tune.” If Bach and Paul Simon both like it, we better sing it. Nothing else to say here- if you don’t know this song, go learn it.
  10. O The Deep Deep Love of Jesus: The C Minor EBENEEZER tune just plain rocks. It’s a rollicking good time.
  11. Praise to the Lord: The German chorale works really well with a folksy setting – last verse: “Let the Amen! Sound from His People again!” lets us sing at the top of our lungs.

That’s our top 11.  Why 11? Because Judas was a bad guy.  Just kidding, 11 is because these are the songs we’ve sung 5 or more times since I started working at TCC.  If your curious, here are a few other songs that we’ve sung 4 times – runners up to our top 11 songs:

  • 10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)
  • A Mighty Fortress is our God
  • Be Thou My Vision
  • By Our Love (Nichols)
  • Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing
  • Come Ye Sinners (BEACH SPRING)
  • Great is Thy Faithfulness
  • How Great is our God (Tomlin)
  • I Love to Tell the Story
  • Revelation Song
  • The Church’s One Foundation

Author: adamkurihara

Minister of Worship Arts at NSCBC in Beverly, MA

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