Last week’s article focused on why we sing together, but there are many different options of what we can choose to sing. Throughout much of Christian history, music has been vocal chants and psalms, while our liturgy will typically use hymns and praise songs for our group singing.
Martin Luther and the Wesley brothers, who composed many new hymns as part of their evangelism, leaned heavily on melodies and musical structures that were already enjoyed in their society. Their emphasis was on singability so that people could participate in their language and ability.
Similarly, many songs composed in the 20th Century follow a Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus-Bridge-Chorus-Chorus pattern. Contemporary music generally centers around a short phrase (called a “hook”), sets of four segments, and is percussion-centric. Every musical pattern can be brought into worship as the structure for artistic expression which transforms into sacred music.
Music is, after all, a product of our human cultures, and one of the primary ways in which people bring their whole selves to the Church and see themselves accepted as part of the community.
In his book Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys, Richard Twiss describes the significance of connecting our musical culture with our Christian identities. Powwows and drumming, at times outlawed by the government and ostracized by missionaries, have begun making their way back into Native American churches. By utilizing this musical form, a greater theological point is made that someone can be fully their native self and fully a follower of Christ.
Hymns may connect us to our predecessors and new music to fresh expressions. Chants may help to focus our attention and instrumentals may open us to wonder. Each genre has its ability to shape the worship experience for meaningful reflection and participation. As a diverse community, we have the opportunity to draw from so many different forms and expressions as we develop our musical liturgy together.
Experiment: Think of one of your favorite hymns or praise songs. What are the experiences surrounding that song that creating that meaningful connection? Who are the people you associate with that song?