Monday, September 21, 2009

The KPIs of Music in Worship

The Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Word:
Wisdom 2:12-20 (Let us beset the just one, for he is obnoxious to us)
Psalm 54:3-8 (The Lord upholds my life)
James 3:16 - 4:3 (The fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace)
Mark 9:30-37 ("If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all")

(NOTE: The book of Wisdom is not included in most non-Catholic editions of the Bible. To read the excerpt, as well as the other selections of the day, go to this link:

I've been a pastoral musician for forty years now. That and five bucks will get you a Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks (for a limited time only).

Having said that, though, I've come to understand some of the nuances about this vocation. I won't admit to being an expert as it would automatically discount my experiences. But I want to share just a few thoughts in this area of service.

I might draw some ire from a few, yet it's my belief that the people who serve as pastoral musicians, especially the volunteers, fall in the definition mentioned by Jesus and recorded by the evangelist Mark. I cite as some evidence of proof for this a quote from (Saint) Augustine of Hippo, who wrote that a person who sings "prays twice." (Some of the perfectionists among us like to add the word "well" as an adverb.)

Forty-five years ago, the Second Vatican Council defined the place of music within the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Mass, and the importance of developing and maintaining a repertoire of works, as well as the personnel and attitude required to complement the action of prayerful worship. (At present the Catholic Church in America is on the cusp of establishing a 'universal' hymnal for use in the US, as most of the other Christian Churches already have in place.)

John Wesley, who co-founded the Methodist Church, found it appropriate to write some "Directions for Singing" in 1761:
"IV. Sing lustily and with a good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard..."

"VI. Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature.
In order to do this, attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve here, and reward you when he cometh in the clouds of heaven."

John had not to worry about musical content, as his brother Charles would write more than 200 hymns over the course of his life. On the other hand, neither John nor Charles were likely concerned about the potential for burnout from having to plan and execute multiple services on any given Sunday, let alone Christmas or Easter.

As a forty-year veteran, multiple services are part of the territory. It would be great if enough people were to volunteer to permit musicians to serve only once a week. However, it pleased God to allow the faithful to have diverse talents and levels of ability. It also pleased God to invite, rather than demand, that participation in worship include the use of the wide variety of styles presently found in the repertoire of sacred music.

Pastoral musicians are (or should be) constantly aware that there's a fine line between music as worship and music as performance, and that line is often blurred or difficult to see. People in this vocation can actually be overqualified, if you catch my drift.

All this weighs in on the person ultimately responsible for putting together the selection of music for any given service. This person is usually directly responsible to the pastor or church council to see that what's chosen is appropriate for use in worship, doesn't ruffle any doctrinal or theological feathers, and is singable by the congregation as well as the other pastoral musicians. It is not as easy as it sounds. I've been close enough to people who do it, wanted to do it, and then thanked God that it's not my job. Still, I have a certain respect and admiration for those who take up this mantle. That's the reason for this week's devotion.

When you're used to having only one service to work on (with the multiples occurring only at Christmas and Easter), and then have to ramp up to two (or more) per week, it gets appreciably tougher. Even though the services may be identical, there's usually something about them that won't be. In my Catholic circles, one of the services will be led by a visiting priest who has no idea to the way the pastor makes the other services flow. There has been disaster in the making on more than one occasion.

What's common to all traditions, though, is that those involved - who have already given up more time due to setup, warm up, take down, and comments good or bad from anyone, including the pastor - are adding that much more time. Frequently, for those in charge there's no time to decompress from one service to get ready for the next. I'm acutely aware of this and what it can do. Every moment is precious and sometimes you just have to try to simply disappear for a few minutes. Your "time alone with God" ends up being elsewhere and at odd times, and that's if you work hard to remember that and don't have a weekday job.

If this sounds remotely like you, know that I am praying for you and your families. You can use as much prayer as you can get.

I have found connections through prayer while moving/walking that helps me reset my focus. More often than not, however, I've found that the very music I sing (and some I listen to) provide much needed ministry to me. In particular, I have three texts I'd like to share as launching points. The first is a bit more traditional in nature and style:

When in our music God is glorified,
and adoration leaves no room for pride,
it is as though the whole creation cried

How often, making music, we have found
a new dimension in the world of sound,
as worship moved us to a more profound

So has the Church, in liturgy and song,
in faith and love, through centuries of wrong,
borne witness to the truth in every tongue,

And did not Jesus sing a psalm that night
when utmost evil strove against the Light?
Then let us sing, for whom he won the fight,

Let every instrument be tuned for praise!
Let all rejoice who have a voice to raise!
And may God give us faith to sing always
Alleluia! Amen.

--When In Our Music
Fred Pratt Green (1903-2000)

The second I listen to frequently, have sheet music and actually got to sing once:

He has brought us together
Each of us a different gift to bring.
We’ll serve Him forever
Even if the cost is everything.
He has called us to be faithful,
So with one heart we give this offering.

The reason we sing,
The reason we lift our voice,
Is more than just making harmony.
The reason we sing
Is to praise the one who gave His Son to be
The reason we sing.

It's more than just an emotion,
His spirit gives us joy that we can't hide.
We will not be silent,
We've got to let the world hear what's inside.
And as we praise Him with our music,
Jesus is the one we glorify.

(REPEAT CHORUS 2x with modulation and tag)

--The Reason We Sing
Melodie Tunney (First Call)

Inevitably, though, that blurred line occasionally gets crossed, whether real or imagined. When that happens, I am thankful for being introduced to this last offering:

When the music fades
All is stripped away
And i simply come
Longing just to bring
Something that's of worth
That will bless your heart

I'll bring you more than a song
For a song in itself
Is not what you have required
You search much deeper within
Through the way things appear
You're looking into my heart

I'm coming back to the heart of worship
And it's all about you
It's all about you, Jesus
I'm sorry, Lord for the things I've made it
When it's all about you
It's all about you, Jesus

King of endless worth
No one could express
How much you deserve
though I'm weak and poor
All I have is yours
Every single breath

I'll bring you more than a song
For a song in itself
Is not what you have required
You search much deeper within
Through the way things appear
You're looking into my heart

(Repeat chorus )

--The Heart of Worship (1998)
Matt Redman

Finally, I constantly remind myself (and occasionally others) that the Holy Spirit is present - and being conscious of this, try not to worry as much about imperfections in the aspects of performance. Our imperfections can be made perfect through God's grace, and we may not even be aware of it.

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