Tag Archives: songs

Thinking About Kids Music – VBS, Worship and The Sacred

We’ve got a great volunteer who has directed the Children’s Choir for the last couple of years. She also helped with VBS this year with the songs. Both of these are quite below her skill level as a Eastman Grad, but we are very glad she takes the time.

We were thinking a bit about the contrast and crossover between what we sing during VBS, what we sing for worship, and what others do. VBS tends to reflect Christian Contemporary usually with a couple of older hymns and spirituals updated. To date, especially with younger kids, we’ve kept the choir singing simplified hymns in unison. As we started to look at the upcoming choir year we mused a little on what we were trying to do with those young voices and characters.

First, what we as adults give our kids to sing and read is telling them what is appropriate. We are giving them the social scripts. They will receive others and get some that sneak under our noses, but whatever we give them tells them “this is what we expect”. Second and following on that, giving them most modern songs laced with guitar riffs to be sung in worship I think flattens their world. It obviously flattens it in regard to time joining in with the general world treating anything older than 1990 as inaccessible or “boring”. But it does something worse I think. The Sacred gets flattened into the mundane. To replace that feeling of “holy” we amp up the emotionalism through 60 hertz sounds, syncopated rhythms and guitars. But that isn’t the entire story.

There is always the question of why are Negro Spirituals not in that CCM category, or why do they feel proper where others don’t? Why is it ok to sing Go Tell It on the Mountain or Were You There compared to much white CCM? My general thought there is that context matters. Those songs came from a people who six days a week were slaves. On Sunday they were free. Why Did David dance naked (2 Sam 6:14) and it was appropriate? Because he was bringing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem. Something that doesn’t happen every day. Like those negro spirituals. Most CCM is just rich white people bringing what they see, hear and live everyday into a holy place with them. Instead of the songs of deliverance, it becomes the songs of acceptance.

So, part of what I think we’d want to try and teach, the social script that we’d like to give our kids, is an extra dimension in life, the sacred. The sacred doesn’t have to be stiff and formal, but we should be aware of the fact that this is Holy Ground. And being aware of the sacred, they can gain an appreciation for sacred music as an art and expression of its own and not just level the world to what is on 93.3 FM. Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the grace of Christ. Are we singing “exciting” songs because the world wants us excited so that we are good consumers, or are we singing exciting songs because we are free in the presence of Almighty God? The context makes the choice. Are we forcing the excitement through music tricks and performance, or is it a natural wellspring?

We might have a few VBS style songs this year, maybe a tradition arrangement paired with a VBS arrangement, but the point is to teach the difference and why each has its place. And to know and understand what that place is.

A Few Links, and a few Seasonal Grumps

a short meditation928_0570The Children’s Christmas Pageant (ours is 12/23 @ 10 AM! …

The religious pageant, that peculiar intersection of liturgy and theater, traces its roots to the Middle Ages. Christian clerics in Europe introduced drama into the Mass (a dramatic event in its own right) as early as the ninth century to enrich the faith and understanding of worshipers. Over time these performances evolved into cycles of plays that told the whole salvation story, from the fall of humankind to the nativity to judgment day…

On the church. Point 1: Christ instituted a church. You (normally) don’t get Christ without a church. And If you don’t get Christ, you are still in your sins. Point 2: I’m a little sick and grumpy today, but I’ve reached my fullness of things like this. I’m tired of ever so cool people making their hay beating up on mother church. An atheist or one outside can do what they like. There are internal conversations and knowing laughs about the church in the way that siblings talk about mother but rarely in her presence. But for ministers to go bad mouthing Her in public, It’s a “yo momma” joke without the joke part. This guy explains the connection very well.

Christmas Songs: I inherited a tradition from my brother. Cleaning out his place I think we found a Christmas album for every year. Imagine a 6’6″ guy with a beard listening to some Celtic sprite sing Ave Maria. He liked Carols and Hymns vs. songs, but you could tell that he was reaching in the later years; getting tough to find singers cutting albums with such tracks. Out and about I caught an interview on NPR. I never caught the names, but I’m willing to bet its one of these: Tracey Thorn 1, Tracey Thorn 2, Tracey Thorn 3. The part that caught me in the interview was talking about what a studio expected in a new “Christmas Song”. The list was roughly: no mention of the word Christmas, no religious images, major key, upbeat tones and rhythms, 2:30, preferably with either a mention of Santa, snow, reindeer, or some other “traditional” element. (The artist was trespassing several, although I don’t think the religious ones. We know what the third rail is). Yes, I’m religious, but come on: 1) It is Christmas and 2) you don’t get something White Christmas with the original first verse (“in Beverly Hills, LA…”) or Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas if everything deep and meaningful has been drained out of the time. It is almost enough to make you as grumpy as this guy.

Hymns we Sing #1

I’m a numbers guy. I hold firmly to the truth that if it isn’t measured it isn’t done, or said another way, the things you really care about, you attempt to track. The big problem with being a numbers guy is that the numbers never tell a full story, and they are often tracking the wrong things. They might be tracking a nominal number when a percentage or an indexed number might be better. In light of the stewardship series running, an example of that is total offering to a congregation. That is a nominal number. It is important to the congregation, but it tells you little about what you really want to measure which is something of the spiritual health of the individual. A percentage or an index that most congregations have no way to track would be better – like percent of gross income given in charity or the percent contribution as an index of when the Christian life started (i.e. baptismal year = 1). The percent tells you something good and makes it more broadly understandable as there are widow’s mites that mean more than ruler’s talents. The index would tell you even more. It might tell you the heights from which you have fallen (Rev 2:5) or it might say to you that you have not just buried the mina given you (Luke 19:20).

One of the things that I track is the hymns that we sing together. Part of our vision as a congregation is that we teach the apostolic faith and that we encourage depth in that faith. The hymnody of the church is a big place where that happens. If our typical church service is 45 mins (and here it is), about 12 of those minutes are sermon, but about 20 of those minutes are singing. The hymns carry a larger burden of the word for that day than the pulpit. And while people might exit thinking about a line from the sermon if it is very good, more often they will exit humming a line of the last hymn. The music is sticky. It is very easy to fall into a pattern of singing the same hymns once a quarter or more often. That might be very comforting to a section of the congregation, but it is not a good signal of spiritual health or vitality. In fact it is probably the opposite. It is a statement that we as a people don’t want to engage the faith in any way deeper nor learn anything new. So that is one of the big reasons that I track and keep an eye on how many times we’ve sung any particular hymn. It would be rare to hear the same hymn in our congregation more than twice in a given year. God has more to say that that.

What I intend to do in this series to walk through some of the “new staples”. These are hymns that are newer in vintage that we have sung multiple times. I want to flesh out their teaching and give an explanation why they deserve their role in our congregational life. The first one that I will discuss in Lutheran Service Book #782 Gracious God, You Send Great Blessings. We will be singing this hymn this coming Sunday. Tomorrow I will walk through it as I’ve used up my words today for an introduction.