David Bailey on Assimilation, Acculturation, and embracing the whole gospel

In my daily blog reading I ran into Issac Wardell’s followup post on the Bifrost Arts 2013 conference. Here you can find recordings of each of the conference talks relating to the themes of worship, community, and mercy in the life of the church.

David Bailey’s talk on “Contextual Creativity in Worship” caught my eye. His vision for music as a reconciliatory tool is uplifting. His humor on our denominational differences is refreshing. A couple key points:

  • He acknowledges that churches are incredibly diverse organizations, yet there can be unity through diversity. Indeed it is scriptural.
  • Aural culture vs. literacy culture. Not everybody learns the same way. We all have different educations, experiences, and learning styles. Yet the power of stories connect with everyone. Is my song selection is biased towards doctrine over response?
  • Hymns speed through a bunch of awesome doctrine at 1000 miles per hour. Wesley and Watts are master craftsmen at infusing congregational song with doctrine.  This is great if  you have studied the doctrine, read Romans, and know the tunes, but what about giving some time for the singer to digest and meditate on one point entirely? (skip to 37′ for his discourse on this.)  I am often skeptical of the ‘retune’ choruses that Tomlin et. al. splice into hymns (Amazing Grace + ‘My chains fell of…’ is a classic example). Why mess with perfection? But Bailey made me see the value in these additions.
  • We have our denominational emphases: Evangelicals, the cross and personal salvation; Mainline, the kingdom of God and social justice; Baptists, the resurrection and the power of the Gospel over sin; Charismatic, the holy spirit; to name a few. But we have the Good News, and it includes all of these things. What are we forgetting in our own church contexts? We need to preach the whole gospel, not our Christian tradition’s preference of the Gospel.

Check out the full talk here: David Bailey – Contextual Creativity in Worship: Practices for Diverse Congregations

David also runs an “equipping ministry,” Making A Melody:

Making a Melody is a ministry department of Artist In Christian Testimony International. We use music as a tool in the reconciliation process. Music is a great tool for connect people, cultures, and communties, creating shared experiences that can be a bridge for deeper relationships. We are an equipping ministry that provides resources and trainings for Christian communities that are commited to cultural diversity.

Check it out here: http://www.makingamelody.com/mam-questions/

When a hymn retune is needed

wow three posts in one week Adam! Good job kid!
A print from the Common Service Book of the Lutheran Church (1917), p. 406  Courtesy of hymnary.org

I’m all for the current resurgence of setting old texts to new music. It’s fantastic for us young evangelicals who seek and crave lyrical depth and historical grounding. It’s great for churches that have ‘worn out’ the top 40 CCLI songs and looking for new songs by reaching backward. A bit of ‘retrovation’ if I may implement my new favorite neologism.

Many times these hymn re-tunes are successful, and bring back an otherwise forgotten text to 21st century congregations. Other times they miss the mark. Lackluster texts with unimaginative melodies simply add to an overwhelming corpus of contemporary hymnody that confuses and alienates worshippers. It’s great for the hymn (re)writers, to gain experience composing new tunes, trying out new arrangements, and sometimes failing, but is it really effective? With new CCM songs written every day, and 90% of them won’t last more than a year.  The last thing we need is to revive an extant mediocre text.

What are the things needed for a hymn re-tune to succeed? I’ll explain them using an excellent example, Greg Thompson of High Street Hymns’ 2004 setting of “Jesus Lord of life and glory” by James Cummins (1839).  Incidentally, we’re singing it this Sunday at TCC.  Here is my litmus test

1) The text must be good. Like, real good.

I can’t emphasize this one enough. The text has to be SO GOOD, that we can’t not sing it. It has to make you look at the gospel with a new pair of glasses. Though the perspective and cultural context of hymn writers of centuries past is different from our own 21st century hermeneutic, people are always people, sin is always sin, and God is always God.

Besides the aim for gospel centric lyrics, they must also be valuable poetically, both sense and sound. The words must not only pack a theological punch, but must be pleasant to say and pleasing to the ear.

Take our example, “Jesus Lord of Life and Glory.” The alliteration of phrases such as “Lord of life,” “while our waiting souls,” and “when the world around …” roll off the tongue with ease; they’re a joy to say and sing!

Consider also the structure of the text, which lends itself nicely to our contemporary verse/chorus idiom. Each verse concludes with this final line: “By thy mercy, O Deliver us, Good Lord,” rendering all the preceding text as submission to God.  It’s especially poignant in his fourth verse:

When the world around is smiling,
in the time of wealth and ease,
earthly joys our hearts beguiling,
in the day of health and peace
By thy mercy, O deliver us, good Lord.

2) The original genesis of tune use must be fragmented

(see pie chart)

Exhibit B – Who’s ever sung ST. RAFAEL anyway?

The OLD hymn must use a tune (or tunes) that are relatively unfamiliar to the typical worshipper. If a tune is too readily recalled it will be near impossible to remove the conventional wisdom of the past. Especially if the old hymn exists in the existing pew hymnals. “Why can’t we just sing it the old way! I knew that one!”

Check out this pie chart – Exhibit B.  “Jesus Lord of life and glory” shows itself to be a promising candidate for a hymn retune. Not only are the most commonly used tunes unknown (ST RAFAEL and ST AUSTIN…wut?), the “other” category is just as big as the other two. This essentially indicates this text is not tethered to a certain tune, and can be freely re-set to new music.

3) Original tune (or tunes) must be unfamiliar

(see bar graph)

HymnUse graph
the hymnal stock market…

This is perhaps more like #2a, as it is similar to point #2. Not only must the current usage be fragmented, the usage must be low. The graph on the right shows a very low occurrence in hymnals from the hymns original publication, no large spikes or even any increase in use. It also hasn’t died away, but seems to be hanging on in one or two hymnals. Today it is listed in the Trinity Hymnal, #569, and no others. Perfect.

When these three factors align, the new setting might just ave a shot at succeeding. We haven’t begun to discuss the compositional decisions that need to be made – we’ll save that for another blog post.

All this to say, I’m loving the re-tune by High Street Hymns.  Check it out online here:

Buy the track here:

Or come to TCC this Sunday and sing it with us!

[repost] Don’t do it for the youths: Why 20-somethings aren’t in fact seeking modern music

Thanks Ginny for sending this to me.

The Episcopal church’s “Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music” produced a report about the support or lack thereof for a revision in the Hymnal 1982. The most striking surprise (though I, for one am not surprised) is that the young adult demographic is in favor of keeping traditional hymns and have less desire for music that reflect their personal tastes.

A few highlights:

Respondents in their twenties and younger are statistically different than the rest of the respondents, reporting the least interest in desiring worship music to reflect their personal musical tastes. This proves counter to the “common knowledge” theory that younger congregants are looking for a more modern or popular-music experience at church.

And also:

Perhaps most significantly, there is no pattern in which youth correlates with a particular movement towards new forms of musical expression. To revise the Hymnal must in some way be a project that is a gift to the next generation. Gaining some clearer sense of what the worship music of that generation will look like will require a longer and more careful period of discernment

Full Article: http://thecuratesdesk.org/2012/05/15/dont-do-it-for-the-kids-of-hymnal-revision-and-young-adults/

The full report can be found here:

I wordle’d my blog

Wordle is a really spiffy java applet that generates word clouds from whatever you feed it; chunk of text, website, or rss feed.  It is interesting to see what I talk about most.

this is what I like

Here are some thoughts:

1. Though I am not surprised by many of the words, one of the larger words below “worship,” “church,” and “music,” is the word “experiences.”  I think this says a lot about the kind of Christian I am.  I understand and relate to Jesus when I experience his love, his compassion, his majesty through music.

2. I’m glad that music is about 5 times bigger than words.  That’s all I’m going to say about that.

3. Jesus and Bach are the same size!  Of course they are.  That’s not bad theology is it?

Great post on infusing corporate worship with experiences of art

Artist and pastor in North Carolina (and a Regent alum!) shares his thoughts about the current difficulties congregations have with art, and steps to overcome such difficulties.

If we offer good teaching and expose our congregations to good examples of art, over the time there is a good chance that the culture of our churches will mature and that the gospel will be deepened. We might even have a small-scale revolution of culture-making on our hands. My prayer regardless of the practical outcome is that our corporate worship would irradiate the glory of God.

read the full post here:
A Landscape of Church & Art Questions: Part 2: Corporate Worship & the Arts

Hymn of the week

This may or may not become a weekly occurrence, but perhaps a little bit of structure in my blog posts will help keep my ideas flowing.

I got a few shivers up my spine while singing the third verse of the opening hymn at Cathedral of the Holy Cross (my catholic guilty pleasure).  It’s not nearly the same to read the text alone, so you’ll have to imagine a hearty German choir and organ with soaring phrases that rise and fall with each line.

Then all my gladsome way along, I sing aloud thy praises
That all may hear the grateful song, My voice rejoicing raises
Be joyful in the Lord, my heart, Both soul and body take your part:

To God all praise and glory!

We sang four of the original nine (yes nine … lutherans loved their hymn singin!) stanzas, which all end with the stately refrain “To God all praise and glory!”.  Check this blog post for an explanation of each stanza, which praise God for one of His many characteristics.

Christianity 2.0

One of my favorite gadget and technology blogs, Gizmodo, had a rather unusual posting today about the intersection of technology and church.  I’m borrowing a phrase in the comments for my post title.  Here’s the article:

The Church of the Sacred Hologram


I do appreciate this article for abstaining from typical comments attacking one side or another, which many people (myself included) often partake in.  The comments are, for the most part, hearty and contribute positively to the discussion.  Those that aren’t helpful … well, at least they’re light hearted and funny.  That being said, let me now thesis-ize…

One thing that struck me is a quote from the designer of churches for the new millennium.  Sifting through the technical discussion of the sweet 3D projection setup is this quote:

“It’s important that the technology doesn’t overshadow the message,” Houston Clark says. “But it’s also important that the performance adequately uses the technology to best get the message out.”

Does it?  I took a peek at Clark’s flickr photostream and immediately formed my own opinion.  The famous quote coined by Marshall McLuhan comes to mind.  In this context, “The Medium is the Message” says that despite the honest intensions of mega-church designers, they cannot overcome the message built into the fact that the service is framed with colored lights, fog machines, and now 3D holograms.

And what does that message say?  To me it speaks of the function of the church, and for these churches, it is entertainment.  Its saying, ‘the gospel we preach needs to be surrounded with high tech effects in order for people to pay attention.’  I don’t think these church designers are intending to be malicious or manipulate their congregation audience, but whether they intend to or not, they are.  If we believe it, The Message should stand for itself.

But read the article (and the comments) for yourself!  What do you think?

Chant of the Day


I don’t want this blog to become another re-posting blog, but I had to share this (more than hitting the “share” button in google reader) and say something about it.  I only wish I could read chant notation to get the full understanding of his final paragraph.  In my research on Messiaen, I’ve learned that he, like many composers, believes the only true organic music is in chant.  In my experience from studying it and listening to it performed sung, chant is upwards pointing music.  By that I mean music that is not concerned with style, context, or function, but solely about illuminating the divine.

I heard some chant performed by santa barbara’s Adelphos ensemble, in a concert of sacred music spanning many centuries.  Their program opened with a good chunk of Gregorian and Orthodox chant, which to many peoples discomfort were not followed by applause.  My friends around me were wondering why nobody was clapping, and at the same time they themselves were not clapping.  I replied to them by attempting to explain that this kind of music does not request an applause.  It doesn’t end with a dramatic authentic (or heck, even plagal) cadence in the tonic or dramatic ritardando, but with a simple cessation of line, just as when someone recites a bible verse.

The beauty is in how the words illuminate the text.  In the link above, we see how a well crafted musical phrase can articulate realities of the christian faith.  For this chant is quite fitting, as the single melodic line is crafted not into a particular style, but natural organic monophony.  I love it when music, existing in our physical world, teaches us something of the divine.

We might say that this musical turn it is unexpected. A surprise. We have traveled a direction that we might not have anticipated. The singer even notices a near loss of breath. It is a subtle but powerful effect. If we follow Christ we must be prepared to go places that are unusual, places that do not fit in with our plans, places that are unfamiliar. But they always end in our true home.

Musical irrelevance

Sophisticated music that doesn’t reach out directly to its listeners — that doesn’t depend on their response — bears the seeds of its eventual irrelevance. One reason classical music struggles as it does today lies with the several generations of composers in the last century who demanded that audiences understand them rather than the other way around.

But music written solely for the comfort of its audience is equally irrelevant. Pushing ethnic buttons as a form of quick access to the worshiper’s attention is only advertising. Easy familiarity acts like the door-to-door salesman’s foot in the door, the prelude to making that sale

This short quote is taken from an article in the New York Times from a few years ago.  I forget how I found it, but five bucks says it came up in my “recommended reading” from google reader.  Man that thing is great.

But anyway, I’m talking about music not software and gadgetry…

Should church music be influenced by the culture in which it exists?  Though I long for it, I can’t exctly imagine the opposite.  What is that sweet spot between art for arts’ sake and comfort for comforts’ sake.  Either extreme is wasting our time.  Intrestingly, the article lists two examples of the “ideal” music in the article: Verdi and gospel music.  I don’t see why those two examples reperesent the ideal, but I understand his intension here.  We need to uphold two things, beauty (read: more than 3 chords), and participation.  So how do we have the entire audience participate and make it beautiful?  I think thats why we have pipe organs.

But in all seriousness, the sound of a congregation singing anthems in unison can be incredibly powerful when done correctly, and horribly dissapointing when not.  Composers of church music, should seek to write idiomatically for a congregational voice.  It can be simple and it can be beautiful.  What is done with that simple and beautiful melody is where true art can be made.  Bach did it well (I also think it shameful that he wasn’t mentioned in that NYT article).  He took commonplace melodies of the Lutheran church of his day, written by the previous generation composers such as Praetorius or Schütz, and enriched them with craft, counterpoint, and creativity.

A great example of this, and incidentally a piece that I’m currently obsessed with, is Bach’s Cantata 118, “O Jesu Christ, Meins Lebens Licht.”  |  Boring history.

Why I think its so fantastic for christian worship (this was actually funeral music, but you get the idea), is that the original melodies remain unhindered amidst the complex polyphony.  Its no longer a chunky hymn setting, but a real work of art, and the congregation could still sing along with it.  This has, on numerous occasions, brought tears to my eyes just from listening to it. Joy.

What is our equivalent to Bach today?  Though they pale in intellectual comparison, I’m a fan of folky arrangements of American hymns.  You know, the ones by Issac Watts, Charles Wesley, and the like.  David Crowder Band (yea they’re still around) does some good ones.  I like his because rarely if ever does he change the melody.  We can do hymns with electric guitars, old people are happy, young people are happy.  The congregational voice takes priority over any fancy (and wickedly awesome) face melting synthesized accompaniment.  I can sing along, and so can my grandma.  Joy.