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Musical Hospitality

This morning I went to the daily chapel at Western Theological Seminary.  I always dig it.  I learn new songs, get pointed toward Jesus, stay grounded in my theological bent, and see some/make some new friends.  Along the line of new songs: I learned a new one today that made me think of hospitality.  In my opinion, a song for worship should have a number of important elements, and toward the top of the list is that the tune should be hospitable.  By this I mean it should be singable, and almost intuitive.  Now, I’m not a songwriter, and so I don’t know how difficult or easy this is to do, but I am a person…so I know when it is not such.

Today’s song was 90% singable…which is pretty good.  The musicians played through the melody on a recorder and piano before we sang the song…so that was hospitable and helpful.  I had the tune in my brain going in…always good.  The plan was to sing the song 4 times: Men alone, women alone, then twice as a whole.  Sweet.  I love that – something about the differences between male and female voices that brings about a different worshipful feeling in me when contrasted next to one another.  I’m game to go first – after all I had Marc Woolridge’s music theory course with all its aural testing…I can sight read pretty well – plus I just heard the melody.

We begin and the song is splendid.  Words are great, very singable.  Then I notice that the time signature changes in the middle.  That’s a little funky, but the flow isn’t interrupted (which makes me wonder why they had to do it in the first place)…oh yeah I’m worshiping…back to the song.  The men’s voices are geling together and it sounds beautiful.  Then it happens.

Right when you are expecting the song to keep its flow, the songwriter (and subsequently the pianist and recorderist) put a pause on the first beat of one of the later measures.  Now, it’s the first time through this song, so I don’t know the lyrics…I’m reading th lyrics and don’t notice this unexpected rest until it’s almost too late.  But I do notice it; and I stop in time.  But not everybody does.  A few scattered voices jump ahead in the lyrics while everything else rests.  Awkward.

The men finish their verse and the women take over.  It’s angelic.  And I’m watching the music and lyrics better as they go through.  They don’t make the same mistake the men made because…well…they are smart and they learn from our mistake.  I am now getting ready for the third time through and I’m a little nervous because I’m going to be going into verse three and I don’t want to be the lone voice during the rest.  So, I’m not really thinking about the words, just the upcoming rest.  I don’t fail, but some other poor sucker does.

Now for the fourth time through.  I’m feeling confident and so I notice the words I’m singing.  They are all about finding rest in God.  I botch the rest on the fourth time through and find such irony that I was all uptight through the whole song about finding rest, and the rest in the middle of the song about rest was keeping me from resting.

I did not find this song to be hospitable.  I judge this song and its writer harshly.  Now I’m all jumpy.

Leading worship is tricky.  People come from different places with different needs and different abilities to worship in different ways.  The worship leader must somehow find the path of least resistance without losing a meaningful direction toward the God we come to celebrate.  And it must be more than just catering to the lowest common denominator in the crowd (the person who is angry at God or someone dragged to church by a parent or the person who has never attended worship before or the person who has nothing but contempt for anything that sounds “liturgical” to them).  Leading worship is a dangerous work with high stakes.

Here’s a good place to start: musical hospitality.

But I’ll be back.  I love it there.  If you live anywhere near WTS, you should come and join me.  It’s rich worship: thoughtful, compelling, concise, and points me toward Jesus.

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