Last week we began discussing the different components that should be considered when selecting music for corporate worship. Having examined the textual components, let’s turn our attention to the musical and associative components.
Ultimately, the text is not the only aspect of a song that communicates. Music communicates and expresses emotions. It can be utilized to express God’s Truth in a way that resonates with our minds and hearts differently than simply stating truths. This is where the musical aspects of melody, harmony, tempo, rhythm, form, instrumentation, etc. come into play. Just as text should be understandable, music utilized in congregational worship should be singable and accessible.
A congregational song should be singable melodically, rhythmically, and intervallically (the distance between subsequent notes). Many songs written for the radio do not have these qualities. They were specifically written with the performer in mind. This performer spends ample time learning the ins and outs of a song before recording it in a studio that cuts out the blunders and splices clips together in order to present a perfect rendition of the song. In congregational singing, we desire to minimize sections that could easily cause musical blunders because it distracts from our purpose: glorifying God and edifying each other.
The melody should be understandable and somewhat predictable. The range should not extend too high or too low. The rhythms should not be overly syncopated (that is, movements should not be unpredictable or jagged). And the distance from one note to the next should not be difficult to gauge. All this ensures that the entire congregation is able to participate.
This term needs clarification by the standards of today. Accessibility is often associated with immediacy. When I say a song should be accessible, I do not mean that it should be immediately caught onto by the entire congregation. Accessibility simply means that it is learnable.
It takes time, focus, and repetition for a new song to be fully appreciated. Intentionally listen to the musical components. Reflect on the text. Consider the truth that both are presenting and you may find a new favorite song!
These components are often overlooked in the daily lives of believers, yet they should be considered heavily. Association affects both the textual and musical aspects of congregational song evaluation. Also, what is appropriate to express to a holy God?
Careful attention should be given not only to technical definition of words, but also associated meanings in the time and location in which they are used. Vernacular changes with time. Just as using terms like “groovy” are no longer customary, we should be diligent to guard against colloquialism within our singing.
These cautions are equally given of musical presentation. It is also important to realize that musical expression is, at its foundation, a form of communication. God may have created pitch and other musical components, but it is man who orders them. Seeing as how man orders music and music is a form of communication, it follows that music (just like any other method of communication) is not free from the corrupt touch of the Fall.
If one were to put “Christian” lyrics to a popular song that contained suggestive content or explicit language, the immediate thought that goes through the listener’s mind is to harken back to the original lyrics. The same can be said for love songs, rock ballads, and anything else! What is the music associated with? We must steer clear of associating worship with any negative, worldly elements.
Finally, as we guard against worldliness in the theology of our text and the communication of our music, we must validate that both are appropriate to bring before a holy God. Do the lyrics describe the relationship between a righteous Savior and His purchased people or do they speak more to a romantic love between a man and a woman? Are the references to God’s deity respectful and awe-inspiring or are they overly comfortable and familiar as earthly friends might be? Does the melody, tempo, or rhythm match the message? Is the gospel truth trivialized in the attempt to express a lively beat? Is the same reverence achieved by the text complimented by the musical elements?
The truth of God’s Word is worthy of song! We are commanded as His people to sing His praises. As a command, it is just as important as praying together, reading Scripture together, taking communion together, hearing the Word preached, and any other biblically mandated activity for the gathered church. It is important to weigh what we sing by Scripture textually, musically, and associatively. Who we worship regulates how we worship. How we worship reflects Who we worship. This should impress upon us an urgency for personal and corporate evaluation.