Welcome to 31 Days of Homemade Music! This month we are exploring how and why everyone can benefit from being an active participant in music making. To read more posts in this series, click here.
If you are remotely musically inclined and a churchgoer, chances are at some point you either have been or will be asked to participate in music in some way. Depending on the type of church you attend, you may be able to join a choir or a “praise band,” or be asked to lead music in some capacity (cantoring or leading congregational hymns). Or, perhaps you will be asked to perform “special music,” which is basically a solo in church for you non-Christianese speakers.
If you’re new at participating in church music, it can be kind of intimidating at first. So whether you’re just starting or just open to rethinking how you do church music, here are a few ideas for you.
1) Keep it meaningful. Text first. Always look at the words of a song before you choose it for church music. Is it God-glorifying? Is it well-written? Are there any wonky lyrics that you’re not sure you should attribute to God or the church? Is it clear? Picking well written words helps the congregation to stay with you mentally and in spirit.
2) Keep it simple. Now is not the time to try to show off. Ideally, you want to be leading others in worship- and being purposefully cocky or overly impressive is a surefire way to distract from that purpose. If you’re doing a solo, you will have a little leeway for performing with your own interpretation, but if you are leading the congregation in song, you will want to keep it simple and singable so that everyone can join in easily. (As you gain skill and experience, of course you can do more difficult repertoire- but that’s because you will be able to do it better, so it won’t be a distraction then!)
3) Keep it tasteful. During church is not the time to try to convince everyone that they should become reggae-lovers, or that hard metal can be Christian. While there is nothing inherently wrong with these beliefs, it is, once again, terribly distracting to use church as a venue to push your own musical preferences. (Believe me, I’ve walked these roads, and it all just gets muddied and confusing.) Better to keep it LESS stylized than more, or to go with a musical style that is generally accepted to be common among your congregation. Church worship should not be a divisive event. Keeping the music tasteful will help your congregation focus where they need to focus.
4) Keep it beautiful. Pick songs that you can do well so that you can do them beautifully. Again, this will help you can focus on the worship rather than your performance. The more comfortable you are with the song, the more pleasing it will be for everyone.
5) Keep it cool. If you mess up or if the music is received poorly, don’t fret. Keep your focus on the worship and you won’t mind so much if it wasn’t perfect.
Have you noticed a trend here? The idea is to always keep your focus on the worship. Unfortunately, this is not always kept at the forefront when selecting church music. A lot of times we are more concerned about ourselves- about how we will be perceived, how we will sound, whether or not the sound system worked, or if we like a song well enough- than we are about the whole point of doing church music: to offer a sacrifice of praise.
Note: I do think there is a place for high art in church music. There is not much more lovely than hearing professional musicians performing difficult repertoire very well. While “low art” highlights our commonality and encourages everyone to join in, high art lifts the mind and draws a parallel to the complexities and richness of the things of God. However, each has their downsides: If we sing all low music, we forget God’s greatness. If we perform all high music, we become disconnected. I personally think that a balance between the two is the most appropriate way to go.
Come back tomorrow for some helpful church music resources. What do you most appreciate in your church music?
(Whew- 31 Days is almost over! Are you still with me?)