Saturday, February 25, 2012

Monday, February 6, 2012

practice for the renewed earth

My school district today observed a wonderful yet pointless phenomenon called "early dismissal."  It was wonderful.  The day went something like this:

1) See a bunch of children for a small amount of time.
2) Try to impart something musical to said children.
3) Take a long lunch.
4) Sit through an excruciating in-service on a subject worlds away from your content area.
5) Work at you desk for a while.

Number 5 is my favorite, because I get to enjoy some quiet time in a room that represents chaos.  I backed up my planning with a nice youtube playlist of congregational hymns sung by Britains in some of their finest sacred spaces.

Because of my ADD and my constant need to analyze the harmonics of music I'm hearing (i.e. "Was that a German or an Italian augmented 6th chord?!?"), working was a bit difficult, but the fantastic tunes were so beautiful, I let it continue to play. 

Here is one of my favorites:

I obviously have no idea of the actual spiritual condition of these congregants, though I would imagine it would be representative of what one would find in the Church of England as a whole.  That being said, this group is an example of good hymn singing in several ways, which I would like to highlight.

1) They are singing good theology.

This post is about text only as it relates to the singing, but nothing (for better of for worse) influences a church's theology more than what it sings.  It is a sobering responsibility to be the one who chooses what a congregation will sing.

I'm always stunned when I sing "life is naught without thee, aid us in our strife."

2)  Everyone is singing.

This goes back to the very present problem for us: as a whole, we are music consumers, not music makers.  But we are called to be the ones "doing" the music.  We shouldn't need to have it pulled out of us.  We shouldn't just be humming along like we would with the radio in the car.  We shouldn't need to have a song-leader say "If we really, really love Jesus, we'll sing this."  It should be organic for the body of Christ, regardless of innate musical gifting.

Of course, this will take a huge culture change.  We are fighting with a very powerful industry, both Christian and secular, that wants us to merely sing along with a performance.  But we have to start somewhere.

Here's a little example.  I am an elementary music teacher to K-4 children, most of whom are poor, are raised by uneducated parents and guardians, and are to some extent English language learners.  Four years ago, I marched in and started having my littlest children interact with the masters of classical music.  What did they do the first time they heard it?  Some laughed, some rolled their eyes, but few really were engaged.  They couldn't really relate to what they were hearing.

Fast forward to today.  Those children are now (mostly) in 3rd grade.  Most of them can aurally identify instrument voices.  Many of them can spot basic differences between Bach and Beethoven.  A lot of them can verbally move from the nuance of what they hear into a concrete concept.  Best of all, they don't laugh or roll their eyes anymore.   It's no longer strange to them.  It may not be on their ipod, but it's at least in their "funds of knowledge."  And they're better students and people because of it.

So, teach young children the art of music making.  Explain to new believers why music-making is important in the Kingdom.  Do the same with mature Christians who haven't yet been taught.  It's not all their fault.  Society, the Church even, has failed them.

3) There is a seriousness to what they're doing.

This isn't always easy to measure, but I think it's safe to say that these congregants are singing with intentionality and purpose.  Sure, some are happy, joyful, emotional, moved, etc., but they are well aware of the seriousness of their task.  This is important stuff, folks.  If we feel an emotional or personal connection to what's going on, that's great.  If not, we still need to do it as a matter of principle.

For Christians, singing isn't just a hobby or pastime.  It's a divine calling.

4) It's an age-inclusive congregation.

There are many that would say hymn singing isn't for the young.  I recently even heard a well-respected theologian say something like, "You're fooling yourself if you think 17th-century hymns are for kids."

Check out the diversity in the video and others like it.  These congregations answer back a resounding "why not?

The truth is, congregations need to make music as a unified body, at least a portion of the time. 

Somewhere around 9th grade, I went to the Minister of Music at the gargantuan church my family attended and asked if I could join the choir.  I was a fluent music-reader, Jr. High and High School region choir member, and had a voice that comfortably sat in the "bari-tenor" range.  He was nice, but responded with a three-fold negative response.  First, if he let me in, then he would have to let everyone in.  Second, the changing voice is a nightmare.  Third, I'd surely have trouble being "one of the guys."  Therefore, I should stay in the youth "choir," which bellowed contemporary music with recorded tracks. 

I don't know what our music-making will look like when we join the heavenly chorus, but I seriously doubt there will be age-segregated gatherings.  We will all be part of the same choir.

If anyone notices anything I left off or would like to challenge something I wrote, please feel free.