Monday, March 01, 2004

Church Music: Less is More?

I intend to discuss church music at a later date. But my experience yesterday was a textbook case of its pitfalls. I want to get it off my chest out there while it’s fresh on my mind.

In the morning, I went to my current church, which I still love, by the way. There was a string ensemble up front. I enjoyed listening to them before the service. And their music put me in a good peaceful worshipful mood.

But then the service began. Oi vey! The vocalist who led the congregational singing was fine. The thing is his mike was as hot as a fire cracker. I must have grunted from the pain inflicted on my ears.

The sound guys do this to us all the time, unfortunately. I think they must have high-frequency hearing loss. In any case, I had to close my right ear (which is very sensitive to high, loud noises) a lot. Needless to say, I could barely hear the excellent strings. The vocalist and his over-amped mike drowned them out.

My ears were so assaulted, it took me a while to get my bearings back and concentrate on the sermon, much less worship. Sadly, I didn’t, really couldn’t, worship much at all.

Late in the afternoon, I went to St. David’s, a traditional Episcopal church. As I walked in, quiet organ music was playing.

The service was very liturgical – Rite I Evening Prayer with Communion. It was the first time I’ve participated in Evening Prayer. The service, especially the liturgy and taking communion, really helped me worship.

Now, the music was very spare. There was no singing at all and no instruments other than the small, very traditional pipe organ. I can remember that being played only before and after the service and during the offering and communion. And even then, it was played in a restrained manner. Nothing really fancy or complex. It was played very well, but not in a way to grab your attention.

In a modest way, the organ helped me to worship. It certainly did not distract me from it, very much unlike my experience that morning. And yes, I liked it. I even lingered behind to hear the organist play the postlude.

I mentioned my first Ash Wednesday service (also at St. David’s) had no music at all. I liked that, too.

I guess I’ve been bombarded with so much bad church music that I enjoy restraint, even a complete lack of music. Instead of being helped to worship, I find myself having to overcome a lot of church music in order to worship. So the musical restraint at St. David’s is very refreshing to me. It really is music to my ears, you might say.

Now, I’m not a scrooge when it comes to music. Heck, I have 3 gigs of (legal) music on my hard drive, ranging from speed punk to techno to classical. I enjoy playing with my new Garage Band software with my non-existent keyboard skills. But...

[rant mode]
It’s become clear to me that many (most?) churches need to rethink how they handle music. So much of it is so awful or performed (or amplified) so poorly that it is a serious distraction from worship. No music at all would be better.

Many churches wouldn’t dream of worshipping without music. But maybe some should try that or at least less music for a time as they rethink the role of music in worship. The need for change is that great in some churches.
[/rant mode]

Like I said, I’ll rant even more about music sometime. Feel free to flame me comment.

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