Music vs. Lyrics, Part 2

Written by ryan on
big music

If you haven't had a chance to read part 1, check it out here.   Now, let's get into the musicality of congregational worship songwriting.  The way I see it, music offers great strengths in three main areas: emotional context, cultural context, and preparation of the heart.

Emotional Context

When done well, tasteful instrumentation and production behind a song become the terrain on which the heart travels.  The lyrics become the steady vehicle of truth, while the music provides the dips, climbs, on-ramps, off-ramps, and straight-a-ways on which the truth glides.  Consider these different approaches to the popular worship song, How Great is Our God: bigger studio version, somewhat acoustic version, totally acoustic version, and a gospel rendition.  Each work-up of the song tends to motivate different approaches to the same lyrics, which invites the congregation to follow different roads of expression as they worship the same great God.

Chris Tomlin, the songwriter here, wrote the song in 2004 on an acoustic guitar.  I wonder if he had any idea how much of an impact his simple song would make as it traveled across the world on the backs of musicians in every country and culture.  Same song, different music.  The point?  Write your songs such that the content will always hold, while offering musical elasticity to be taken wherever God needs it to go.

Cultural Context

And this brings me to my second point: creative and relevant music can bring the same message of the same God to people of different nationalities and ethnic backgrounds.  Most of us will write within a very limited perspective: our own.  Into our songwriting, we carry our individual life experiences and the styles of music that speak most to us.  It would be quite difficult for us to write considering the congregations on the other side of the street, city, county, or ocean.  But the good news is that we don't have to.

Again, write your songs such that the content will always hold, while offering musical elasticity to be taken wherever God needs it to go.  Craft your songs as inspired by the Holy Spirit, led by the great truths of scripture, and feel the freedom to leave the musicality to others.  Now, in your setting, you might be the one that also has to make the song musically-relevant to your community.  Great!  But try not to allow the creation of musical intricacies get in the way of pursuing lyrical integrity.

Heart Preparation

Another note on musicality.  From what I gather, there are two types of worshipers that enter the sanctuary on Sunday mornings: those who are ready to worship and those who aren't.  It's often not their fault they're not ready - it's morning.  For church singing, music provides structure and pleasure behind lyrical content that can otherwise be prose and dry.  It supports the whole congregation, encouraging group singing that would otherwise be unapproachable, especially by the not-ready crew.

Looking back to my college days, I can remember the 8am classes well.  It took a good 15 minutes for my mind to wake up to the professor's instruction, and maybe 30 minutes for my handwriting to become legible...enough.  These early-morning lecturers make the mistake of force-feeding their students intellectual steaks and shakes right off the bat, while a more subtle approach could be more palatable.  Some hors d'oeuvres, perhaps?  Maybe some casual dialog to stimulate the mind?  Anything that could help a consumer prepare to take part in something of greater substance.

The same holds true for worship gatherings, early or not.  Scripture is rich and packed with truth, as it should also be with the songs we write.  Before we can expect our congregations to dive into this rich fare, we need to provide a backing that helps open the door.  Music can be this backing.  The point?  Write your songs such that worshipers can participate with your lyrics at the heart-level.

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