On the Subject of Music

From my 2015 Journal. I was raised on the great hymns of the faith at church, Gospel choruses at boarding school, Pioneer Girls camp songs (thanks, Miss Pat), and my mother’s favorite Gilbert and Sullivan record albums. (I memorized all the lyrics to “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General” by the time I was 10.)

We had no electricity in our little African village, so record players had to be hand-cranked or run on low-quality batteries. I wasn’t exposed much to secular music or American culture until I was in high school.

Is it any wonder, then, that I struggle with contemporary worship music here in the USA? As hymns have been tossed out of our churches like old, worn-out socks, I find myself also tuning away from Christian radio stations and gravitating mostly to classical music when I’m alone in the car. Unlike the repetitious lyrics (I kid you not, I counted 38 repeats of one phrase this Sunday*), my preferred music soothes my soul and draws me upward.

I try not to judge you for your taste in music. Life would be boring if we were all alike. My eldest daughter sings along to every tune played over the intercom at Wal-Mart (there was music playing?). I respect your desire to listen to what matches your mood and gets your foot tapping and draws you into worship. But I prefer music that makes my soul relax. Am I weird? Is this temperament, personality, or a cultural or generational footprint that stamped itself on my soul?

As the music wars play on, I ponder what kind of music we’ll hear in heaven.** What will God’s voice sound like when “He quiets me with His love and rejoices over me with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17 NKJV)?

I do know that our churches would do well to vary their worship styles to draw more people in—from different generations, yes, but also for different temperament types. Not all of us are sanguines. We melancholies need something different for our souls. Just sayin’. (Though I’ll make an exception today and let you sing “Happy Birthday” to me.)

*A 2020 update. Recently our worship leader addressed the repetition issue. He explained that some people need positive reinforcement to solidify a truth in their heart—the same principle but opposite effect of writing lines for punishment at school (I speak from experience). For those of us who already know this particular truth, we can use the extra time praying for those who still need to hear it. I can now give more grace to my fellow worshippers instead of harboring a critical spirit.

**I just finished reading Imagine Heaven by John Burke, amazing accounts of near-death experiences. These people were incapable of describing the sound of angels singing or the thousands of human voices in many languages blended in harmony. There will be no music wars in heaven!

Sing with Me

Singing

From my 2008 Journal. You know what I miss? The focus of music in some churches has shifted from the sound of the congregation’s voices blending in harmony under the leadership of a song leader or musician—to a group of performers on stage. Now I know they’re not called “performers” and I know that’s not their intention, but . . . I personally find it a little distracting to watch what’s happening on stage. Critiquing performance is my natural tendency instead of focusing inward and upward. I know that my focus needs to be on God, and I know that I can become distracted by any number of things—so sometimes I just have to shut my eyes during worship.

I also acknowledge that the temptation with singing old familiar hymns led by a choir director is to sing with the lips and not from the heart. I get that. I know it’s not what’s happening on the stage that counts, but what’s in my heart. But certain environments are just more conducive to worship for me than others. We recently visited a liturgical church where the organist, hidden out of sight, led the congregational singing. I could hear my own voice blending in harmony with the voices around me. I found the experience quite refreshing.

Okay, I’ve said my piece. Now let’s sing!