Monday, July 24, 2006

Worship music vs Praise music

It has been well documented that music can unite people. Think of the patriotic marches on July 4th, or Woodstock, or Take me out to the Ballgame. Think about the songs of your generation. The songs you and your friends danced like maniacs too. "Your song" as a couple. Music is meant to touch chords deep within us and trigger something. Sometimes that is love, sometimes sorrow, or joy or pain. Sometimes it is fun and silliness, sometimes it is serious and deep. But whether it is Bach or the Beatles, Mozart or John Mayer, music triggers an emotional response.

Sometimes, however, I think that music is just as likely to divide people as it is to bring them together and sadly that is what I currently see in the church right now. There has been a continual debate over traditional worship - hymns, traditional liturgies (LBW for example) vs contemporary worship - praise bands, contemporary liturgies (if there is a formal one at all). Some churches have faced this battle with equality, all services doing the same thing but the format changing weekly or monthly or per season. Other churches, like my own, offer a variety of services catering to the individual styles. At my own church, we offer 4 weekly services. A meditative on Sat night, traditional LBW at 8:15 on Sundays, blended worship (Typically With One Voice) at 9:30, and contemporary at 11. (Summers is only 2: Traditional and Contemporary). For the most part this works out well. There is some chopping up of the congregation, with those who prefer one style only attending "their" service and thus sometimes it feels like we have 4 different congregations to work with, but for the most part it does work.

So what is my complaint? It is the attitude of the people on each side. Those who find comfort and worship to be in traditional music scoff at those who enjoy worship in a contemporary way and vice versa. I admit that if forced to choose, I enjoy traditional worship. That is what I choose if I really want to worship. It is the music that touches me deep and gives me comfort. It is the stuff that swells my heart and makes me glad to be a part of the church and joy in the gift of grace that God gave us in Jesus Christ. That being said, I respect the contemporary worship scene. The music has improved over the years and some of the texts are getting to have the same depth as some of my beloved hymns. And I don't deny that it is fun. I even sub with our praise ensemble, and from time to time add some jazz trumpet to the mix.

But what I find happens in my church and others, is that they do one of the worship styles well and the others are pieced together. At my church, our music leader is clearly a contemporary worship person. Which is fine. I respect her and her work in the church and she does a good job. However, since she is a contemporary person, she naturally spends more time and effort making that service top notch. The praise band is excellent and the music is always carefully choosen. She really makes an effort to pick music for worship. The problem: since she does not understand, internally, the sense of worship that people can get from a traditional style, that is often left uninspired and less creative. Where their can be beautiful organ variations or twists on classic hymnody it is often plowed through hymns done without much sense of finesse. (She is not the organist though, so it is not entirely her fault). But it seems that if we remain committed offering both styles of worship we should be taking the time to do them both fully in order to both worship God and allow others the joy that comes from participating in that worship.

I'm not particularly bitter, but I would love to find away to have the church do both styles of worship with the same respect and effort. And I know that my church is not alone in this problem. I know churches who do traditional incredibly well, but would be hard pressed to put a well done contemporary service on.

At the moment, we are looking for a children's music person for the church. The position was held by a contemporary sort. Is it too much to ask that I find a person who can do both styles with respect and admiration? Who can teach the children that both forms have their place in worship? I don't know. I suppose that my first goal should be to find someone to do the postion first, otherwise I'll be trying to lead a children's choir this fall, which could be highly amusing.


Emilie said...

This is interesting, Liz. At my church, we used to have an "upstairs" liturgy and a "downstairs" liturgy — literally and figuratively. The upstairs (11:15) was in the main church and was more traditional in style and music, and it wasn't very social. The downstairs (9:15) was in the basement, which had been fitted up with pews and an altar, and featured a close-knit group of parishioners (a LOT of families and kids) who preferred the more contemporary guitar music, etc.

All this went into upheaval more than a year ago when we got a new pastor and when the parish council began discussing accessability issues and the fact that people with disabilities are unable to get to the downstairs area because there is no elevator. So the pastor brought everyone upstairs, and the music minister began to mix up the music.

Oh, did people complain. Some even left the parish to find a new home. It was bitter, bitter, bitter. It's amazing how big of an issue this can become!

Lutheran Zephyr said...

I used to lead a liturgy that was thoroughly tradition in shape (Confession, Kyrie, Hymn of Praise, Prayer of the Day, etc. etc.), yet fleshed out with contemporary music (everything from praise to modern Roman Catholic hymnody to ramped-up versions of traditional hymns). This was a wonderful service that actually spoke to a diverse group of people. Naturally, the church canceled it.

I like the welcoming feeling/nature of contemporary services, yet probably prefer the music and tradition of traditional services. But the thing about traditional services is this - God forbid a child cry (I have a 3 year old daughter, and another one due any minute now), the pastor smile, or latecomers be welcome to find their seat during a reading without glares from ushers and worshippers. The attitude of most traditional services is such a turn-off that I'll take the warm (if shallow) approach to worship in most contemporary services any day.

Sorry for the rant. Thanks for the post.