Wednesday, January 30, 2013

How to read music?

This is sort of a continuation of my rant against what is called "Praise and Worship" music in the Christian world.  It is called "Praise and Worship" music, but it doesn't sound like that; it can sound like a couple of hamsters singing Dave Clark Five oldies, it can sound like elderly hippies reliving their Newport Festival days (post electric, of course), it can sound like someone scratching their fingers on a chalk board, but it has never sounded like praise and worship music, or any kind of music, to me.

And as I have said before, I have nothing against pop music.  If Beyonce songs or Barbra Streisand songs or especially Ramones songs were being sung by "worshippers" who had some talent, that might be fun!  And if the words of those were changed into something that is meaningful to Christians, great!

Nor am I suggesting that "Praise and Worship" ers lack talent.  I see their talent whenever they let the odd hymn slip into their repertoire. I've heard singers who can belt it out like Marian Anderson and I've heard guitarists accompany a funky version of "Jesus Loves Me" that rivals not onnly Phil Keaggy, but Eric Clapton segue into a piece that recalls all the spiritual oomph of a spoonful of Splenda.   I just don't like the songs. The melodies are predictible, the lyrics inane and repetitive.  Bob Franke, a folk songwriter who is a Christian (as opposed to a Christian folk-song writer) coined a phrase, "Jesus-is-my-girlfriend music."  Yup, that's what it sounds like.  A bunch of metrosexual young men and a few bubbly, smiley young women singing "Lord I love you, i just love you, Lord I love you, I just love you....."

And even though the melodies are hopelessly predictible (I've never had trouble singing songs with the band whihch I'd never heard before, I guess where the next note is and there it is!), no one sings them.  No one sings them because they don't know them if they're over 30, and no one besides me is foolish enough to risk singing the wrong note.  Even though most churches have some way of "teaching" the songs (which involves Power Point, an overly enthusiastic "praise and worship leader", and featuring the same song weekly for awhile), people don't learn it.  You will never here a great congregation spontaneously erupt in a chorus of "Blessed Be Your Name" the same way they will sing "Christ the Lord Has Risen Today" or "How Great Thou Art."  Now, maybe that's because people over thirty often grew up hearing the older songs every Sunday morning.  But there was one huge difference:  they had hymnals.

Hymnals are very handy.  If you've never seen one before, think of a book with a bunch of tunes written into it.  Not just the words, not just the letters of the guitar chords, but the tunes.  On what is called staff paper.

Oh, you say, I grew up in church that sang hymns, and I never learn to read music.  Yes you did.  It's not all that hard.  When you were standing by grandma and looking at the words and notes to "Nearer My God to Thee", and you weren't quite familiar with it, it soon became obvious that as the notes got higher on the page, so did grandma's voice.  I was lucky enough to have a grandma who sang alto, and if I sat between her and my mom, I could see that her voice sometimes went down when mom's went up....and that the top notes (moms) and second to the top notes (grandma's) corresponded.   I'm not saying that you could have gotten up in front of an audience at Carnegie hall and tried to sight read a new song, I'm just saying that  the business of hymn singing, which often involves picking up that hymnal book thingy and looking on as you or the next person sings, exposes us to the fundamentals of reading music. When you combine the act of listening to a melody, one that might be quite unpredictable and therefore more memorable, with those fundamentals, it's a lot easier to learn how to sing hymns.

More importantly, Praise and Worship music doesn't do that, and until it does, I think it is doomed to be music that is performed for an audience rather than something a congregation sings together.  

Saturday, January 05, 2013

When did Bonhoeffer know? and how?

I'm not going to say anything in particular about the recent mass shooting that everyone else is talking about in the last month, except to say I don't know what needs to happen to prevent things like this from happening.  In fact, I don't know how we'd know if such a tragedy was prevented.

Statist culture, and in particular, liberal culture, can defy logic.  But to really reach the heights of nonsense, it takes a union.  And the politicians indebted to unions.