Thursday, March 19, 2009
Thursday, March 12, 2009
What I'm getting at here is basically this; a song, no matter how theologically rich and wonderful the words may be, must have an appropriate tune to carry it. I like to think of it this way; music is the vessel, or cup, that carries the lyrics, which is the liquid contained. Now you can drink wine from a styrofoam cup, but a more appropriate vessel is a wine glass. The glass was specifically made to complement the wine. I feel like a lot of the older hymns have suffered because of this. So many great lyrics have been paired with trivial, boring, or just plain wretched melodies it is no wonder why many people cringe when they hear the word 'hymn'. Wine in any old cup is still wine, but it cannot be fully appreciated and fully enjoyed if not contained in the proper vessel, namely a wine glass.
The flip side of this idea is no matter how beautiful, majestic, catchy, or pleasing the music may be, it means nothing if the lyrics are simply weak theology and mindless dribble. To continue the analogy, if you owned a beautiful ornate goblet, fit for a king, would you drink chocolate milk, or kool-aid out of it? If you are 10 then yes, you would. But for anyone else it doesn't make since to do so. The reason is because kool-aid, though sweet and tasty, is not complemented by such a cup. The reason I don't drink kool-aid from a wine glass is the same reason I don't drink wine from my child's sippy cup.
Here are a few practical examples. Let's look at the most well loved English hymn, Amazing Grace. The words were written by John Newton in the 1700's but the tune, NEW BRITAIN, was written in the mid-1800's. Before the tune was composed Amazing Grace was just another ordinary song in the hymnal. Nothing special really, other than good poetry. Now, take the words to Amazing Grace and sing them to the tune of Gilligan's Isle or House of the Rising Sun. Some people would say that is sacrilege! That is because the tune falls short of the lyrics. They do not complement each other. It is wine in the sippy cup.
Here's another, albeit a bit silly. The tune and lyrics of A Mighty Fortress is Our God written by Martin Luther evoke majesty and triumph. Let's use that wonderful tune to sing the following lyrics:
There was this man from Galilee/His love is like a river/He died one day upon a tree/He is the perfect giver/I raise my holy hands/and bow and kneel and stand/Just gotta worship Him/And singing without end/La la la la la la la la la. (with hand motions?)
Ok, first I must say that I feel dumb just writing that off the top of my head. I need to apologize to Martin Luther when I get to heaven. Second, these lyrics (unfortunately) evoke much of today's modern "worship" music, however I digress, that is for another post... But it serves to make my point clear. This is kool-aid in the wine glass.
This may not seem like a very important topic to some people but for the singing congregation I believe it is vital. Trivial music paired with truth-laden lyrics will cause us to trivialize the truth. Wonderful, beautiful music paired with weak, senseless lyrics will cause us to believe that what we are singing is the core of the gospel, when in fact we may be happily singing heresy!
So let us be cautious in what we sing by understanding the submissive role music takes to the lyrics.