Sunday, August 14, 2011

Contemporary Versus Traditional Christian Music

Last year George and I attended a different church every week. We experienced numerous different styles of worship and he and I each have our own preferences. We agree on most issues, but I have come to like many of the contemporary songs whereas he prefers the traditional.

The church we chose to attend this year uses just traditional. Now I have to say there are many traditional songs that I love--"Blessed Assurance", "In the Garden", "The Old Rugged Cross" and many more. Then there are the ones that are impossible to follow the tune, the words are archaic and the meaning is unclear.

We have attended week after week and I have not felt "in tune" with the worship songs often, as not many of my favorites are chosen. It was a few weeks ago when we were singing some ancient song that I whispered to George, "Look around. See how many people are NOT singing." The few that were seemed to be just mouthing the words. Is this worship?

Now, I have respect for this church and I know that finding the perfect church is impossible. I also know that it is not proper to go to a church and try to change it to your liking and that is why I have not said anything.

This particular Sunday, the Pastor (as if he had heard my whisper to George a few weeks ago) preached on Habakkuk 3:19c "For the choir director, on my stringed instruments." He said that music is a vehicle. It should be honoring, dignified and submissive to God. He quoted Colossians 3:16 saying that it should be encouraging and lifting up the word, praising God. I agree.

He said too often Contemporary Christian music focuses on self. He said that it becomes about the performer. That being said, it is true. We have seen that happen. Perhaps because the music is more of the worldly nature being contemporary-style, this is a temptation. I do not fault the music.

Let me do a comparison. From the 1800's: "Ride on! Ride on in majesty! Hark! All the tribes hosanna cry; O Saviour meek, pursue Thy road With palms and scattered garments strowed." In comparison: "Majesty, worship His Majesty Unto Jesus, be all glory, Power and praise. Majesty, Kingdom authority Flow from His throne, Unto his own, His anthem raise. So exalt, lift up on high The Name of Jesus, Magnify, come glorify, Christ Jesus the King, Majesty, worship His Majesty, Jesus who died, now glorified,King of all Kings."

The latter was contemporary. Just reading those words, what is self-centered about that? It is nothing but beautiful, pure praise and honor to God. So many contemporary hymns are personal--"I love you Lord", "I Exalt thee", "Father, I Adore you". Isn't worship supposed to be personal?

Many contemporary songs either take a direct quote from Bible verses or are based on them, ie: "As the Deer Panteth for the Water" (Psalm 42) or "Shout to the Lord" (Psalm 98).

I find it interesting that some of the same churches that have approved later versions of the Bible, New King James, NIV, Good News, cannot embrace the modern music.

The Pastor today mentioned the importance of tradition--that our children and our children's children would have the same songs. If not, each generation would be learning new songs of their own. I don't mind keeping with some tradition. I agree that there are some treasures in some of the old standards that should be kept alive. However, there are some really beautiful and heartfelt new songs. Also, who is to say what is the cut off date? I see songs in the hymnals that go back from 1700's to 1800's and possibly some early 1900's. At what date is the line drawn in the sand and we cannot cross?

This church has decided to use the word "sins" instead of "debts" or "trespasses" in the Lord's Prayer. I think this is a great thing. It is more relevant to our understandings today. It is contemporary.

The Pastor said to feel free to sing these contemporary songs at home, in the car or elsewhere, but that they did not belong in the worship service. He said that Satan is a great musician too and that music for music's sake is idolatry. I understand what he is saying. There are those (and I dare to say this is even true of some traditional church music performers) who enjoy "performing" the songs for church. It does not necessarily take drums, guitars and keyboards to be "performing", a traditional choir can be doing the same thing without any instruments at all and it doesn't take just "evil" contemporary songs. I dare be bold enough to say that in some places I've been that even the people leading the prayers are "performing" the prayers. I feel badly for saying that, but that is how some people come across.

This has not been to tear down any church that chooses only to use traditional music. I don't believe that Traditional vs Contemporary is Good vs Evil, it is just different. I do believe that Contemporary songs can be presented in such a way that they are not about the person(s)leading the song. I do believe that this music is often easier to understand and a good magnet for younger Christians or new Christians just as NIV is easier to understand than King James.

What it comes down to for me, is do I understand what the song is saying? Can I sing the words and mean them? Are they glorifying God? Are they heart felt? Isn't it as simple as that?

Make a Joyful Noise unto the Lord!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Diversion on a Saturday morning

The day started out with plans of its own unbeknown to me. The first thing I needed to do was to help my husband pick up a chair somewhere. As we were walking out the door, I grabbed the weekly newspaper to read in the car.

We had gone about a mile when I asked him, "What's today?" He replied it was Augsut 6th, to which I replied, "Shoot!"

The paper had an article stating that the former head writer of All My Children and other soap operas was going to be giving a workshop on the Art of Storytelling in Colebrook 10-12.

I was thinking maybe I could go late. My loving husband suggested we turn around and get two cars so after we were done loading the chair into the truck, that I could go on my way. And so I did although I had planned on a shower after the chair moving and now there was no time for that.

Now this is going to jump from topic to topic...

The Rock School House

First, the venue was the Rock School house in Colebrook. This historic building will be part of a restoration project in the future. A variety of old wooden desks became the audience's seats. Some were definitely too small for adults. I did not find mine uncomfortable, surprisingly.

The windows were propped open with wooden sticks and despite the heat and humidity I felt when we were moving the chair, it was a comfortable temperature with a slight breeze coming through the windows in this unusual setting for a speaker.

Soap Opera Writing

I wanted to hear Megan McTavish speak because I like to write and because I've been watching All My Children since 1979 thanks to my daughter's feeding schedule as a baby. I always vowed I would never watch a soap opera, but...As Megan noted, in reality, much of the night time shows now are soap operas for example: Dallas, Twin Peaks, Grey's Anatomy, Hill Street Blues. She feels they caused the death of the day time soap.

I was interested to learn the way they write. Megan was responsible as head writer to first come up with the idea, do a little writing and then present it to the group of breakdown writers. They would work on it and present it to the network. After that it went back to the dialogue writers and then on to production. (This is what my notes tell me and I'm pretty sure that I have it all correct). Despite what people think, it is not all glamor and fun.

I asked her if she ever felt disappointed after seeing something that she had written in its final performance. She described that the writers would take their lunch at 1pm and watch All My Children as it was being aired. She explained one particular disappointment with a couple (Tad & Dixie) that had been on again and off again for years and the viewers just wanted them together. They wrote the wonderful wedding scene and as they watched it unfold on the TV, they sat there with mouths opened. Instead of the romantic vows which they had written, the cameras moved to a couple of other characters and there was a fantasy vampire scene. Evidently the producers thought a wedding was too boring and had the scene changed..the viewers thought otherwise and let them know it. When you string on the viewers for so long, they want to see it. She didn't name names but said there were times that the actors disappointed her. Sometimes they didn't say the lines as written.

Much of the workshop was talking about writing. I will now touch on my notes from that. Those who don't write, can stop here.

Megan's Story Telling Secrets

Number one thing is to care about the characters. Make them living, breathing and realistic. Have a connection with them. The reader is investing in the story. Make the journey worthwhile. It takes time to make a reader care. Don't just declare a fact, dramatize it by events.

Suspense is a key factor too. She quoted her mentor, creator of All My Children, Agnes Nixon, "Make 'em laugh, Make 'em cry, Make 'em WAIT!" She says there should be twists and turns. You lose people with straight lines.

There should be a big pay off. Don't drag someone along the journey without a good pay off. When writing, don't limit yourself. Do mind surfing...explore many different options but not critically or you may lose the creativity. Anything is possible, you just have to figure out how to get the reader there.

Make your story relate-able. You need smaller pay offs along the way to keep them interested. The more they want something, the longer you can make them wait. How big is the "rooting value". How much do they care?

A "rooting value" has to be built. Keep them tuned in with twists and turns--pay offs along the way. If you think something can't work, think how you can make it work. Build your investment. Decide your own "rooting value."

Megan suggested seeing the characters in your head. Notice people in real life. Your character is a stranger to the audience. What do you want them to know about them?

She said to Start Strong. If you get stuck, walk away for a bit or do a "side thing"--write a different chapter or just write a paragraph about one of the characters.

Are you "in it" or "watching it"? The writer and reader should be involved. Another quote by Agnes Nixon, "If you cry when you write it, they will cry when they read it."

One point she wanted to impress was, "Give yourself permission not to write in ink." You can always change it. Get the ideas down and then worry about it.

So, that is how I spent my Saturday morning. I felt like it was an impromptu come as you are party that you drop everything to go to. I'm glad I had this Saturday off from work and my husband's quick thinking of how to get me there. I am very glad that I got the opportunity to listen to Megan McTavish. She is a very interesting and entertaining presenter. I look forward to possible other workshops that she might offer.