There are many things to consider when writing a song for a large group of people to sing, but which is paramount? Which needs to be the primary focus and consideration?
I reckon probably the words. You can write almost any old rubbish and set it to music. It doesn’t matter how neat and pretty the music is, the words are still rubbish. [you can put lipstick on a pig… it’s still going to be bacon]
Go to a football match or watch it from the comfort of your own home. Sit in the pub and watch, or even record one to watch later. When you hear the fans sing, how many football chants and songs have funky key changes, “modern” scales or melodies that jump about all over the place? Very few. Most have simple rhythms and melodies that are easy to pick up and hum along with, even if you can’t (hear) or won’t (repeat) the words.
It’s the same with cheerleading. The chant is based in a simple rhythm and follows a predictable pattern.
Funnily enough, national anthems tend to be easy on the ear, simple melodies with no sudden shocking changes in rhythm or pitch.
The most important thing in each of these cases is not the delivery but the content. The delivery can be bog-standard and predictable, but the lyric is treasured and heartfelt. it is crafted and considered. Even the most insulting football chants are in a rhythmic scheme of some sort, and the lyrics are chosen carefully to cause the maximum offence within the context of the performance.
I long to be presented with a musical tradition in the “Modern” western church (I’m kind of Protestant myself) that does the same with its new songs. I don’t have a desire to sing (with due respect to the authors of such things) lyrics that don’t scan, rhymes that are forced or difficult, lines of more than 14 words, or songs that feel like they were written to a deadline.
I want easy melody, simple words that communicate effectively and (please, so help me) a bit of predictability. Two out of three would be nice. I sang one last weekend that scored nil.
For anyone who thinks this is a bit of a rant in favour of older hymns, check the hymn book. Half of the contents have references or words in them that hold no meaning in these times. I can skype a guy on the other side of the Atlantic. VOIP as a common desktop PC tech isn’t even as old as my car. Most hymns can look forward to a well-earned retirement and the bliss of being forgotten. The good ones live on.
If you care (and there’s no reason you must), write me a new song. Make it relevant, make it simple and make it good.