Making a noise in church

I realise I probably already mentioned this in other posts, probably some time ago now, but I have a deep and well-fed love of good quality church music. Not that the music itself should be of the greatest ever quality (nice when it is, but technical perfection isn’t everything), but that it should serve the needs of the congregation and within the context of Christian church should glorify God.

I was reminded tonight that we are nearly all blessed with music from birth. Those who do not have the power of speech at all or are robbed of it by any means find that they are disadvantaged because they cannot communicate so effectively in a world where speech takes second place only to visual communication, and not always then when you think about how much interaction takes place over the telephone.

This interaction with words can be suplemented with a number of musical sounds – plain singing, harmony, discord; raw and primal shouts or refined but powerful opera singing, it’s all clear communication. If I whistle a tune to which the words are well known, it starts the song in other people’s own heads. We read on social media and now sometimes in the popular press about the earworm – a tune which won’t shift and continues to distract the “victim”.

When Jesus is on the cross, among his last words (Matthew 27 & Mark 15)are from the beginning of Psalm 22. Everybody there would have known the line, because they spoke their psalms in the synagogue, so just like the opening line of a popular hit this would have triggered the psalm and all of its content in the minds of people witnessing the crucifixion.

So, back to tonight. Tonight I led a small group of Christians in a church service. All I had was a bouzouki and a bunch of hymn books, but these folks had voices. We sang stuff they knew and could sing well becuase they were familiar. It was a fantastic thing to behold. Lyrics which we could believe in and to tunes we knew, and the whole thing blended beautifully and bounced back at us from the walls of the room we were in and the solid wooden flooring. It was truly a joyful and glorious noise.

Contrast this against last night, when I was playing for a larger gathering in a larger place, with a larger band. We made an epic noise. We were playing loud worship music, leading a whole bunch of people in singing. I almost hurt myself playing the piano, looking for that extra margin of volume and at time unable to hear myself.

The difference in my own head might be more stark than for those engaging in the worship times, but I got a lot more out of the small acoustic session than I did out of the loud amplified one. For one I was part of the congregation, literally sat in the round. For the other I was part of a band, facing in rather than towards the people, and there are plenty of other factors which could have influenced it.

But it strikes me that the major difference is the voices. I could hear the voices of the people tonight, and we had joined in together. Last night I couldn’t hear anything over my foldback. The personal and direct influence of the human voice raised in song cannot be underestimated. From the football terraces to the choral evensing, it’s a fundamental aspect of our corporate communication and identity.

It strikes me that sometimes we turn up the band too much. I don’t think it’s always appropriate to drown a congregation in a wall of sound from the band when they could be carried and lifted by the voices around them.


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