Somewhere in my queue of non-time-sensitive articles to write—yes, it’s been there a while—is one on the history and practice of making theologically significant changes to traditional American songs. Not just line-level edits like neutering/diversifying gendered language or using “love” in place of “wrath.” I mean re-imagining songs in a thoroughgoing way, while also preserving much of the existing imagery and language patterns. (I posted some time ago about one historical example.)
I write songs and play traditional music, but I haven’t actually tried this approach myself.
In the evangelical subculture of my youth, there were three categories of pop music. There was secular music, the avoidance of which was, as with alcohol, a nonessential of the faith. (My parents’ approach was more tight regulation than outright ban.) There was Christian music, the Nashville-industry pop records that we heard on Christian radio during our school carpool and then saved our allowances up to buy. And then there was worship music, which we sang at church.
I will be the first to argue that good church music can be old or new, classical or pop or folk or whatever, content dense or repetitive, celebratory or somber. And as I've pointed out before, the best critiques of praise-band music usually come from within that world, not from outside haters.
Anyway, this "How to write a worship song (in five minutes or less)" tutorial from Blimey Cow is a heap of fun.
Eileen Guenther, the national president of the American Guild of Organists, reveals behind-the-scenes church struggles in her new book, Rivals or a Team? Clergy-Musician Relationships in the Twenty-First Century.
Along with my work at the Century, I work part-time as a church musician (at Christ Lutheran on Chicago's northwest side). While my writing/blogging is in general less ministry-oriented than that of many other Century contributors, I do get into worship and music stuff from time to time.
In one of his earliest hymns, Brian Wren wrote that "we will not question or refuse the way you work, the means you choose, the pattern you weave." Yet in the 40 years since he wrote this verse, he has used his poetry, teaching and writing to question the way in which the church questions, names and explores God's ways in the world through corporate worship and Christian song.