Approved hymns, limits on creativity

I spoke with a friend this evening at the pub. We meet regularly, over a pint (admittedly, mine usually a pint of water due to the new regime) and we talk about most things.

He told me that his church has approved thirty songs for use in worship on Sunday mornings, to use for a season in the church.

I’d like to explain briefly why I think this is nuts, and invite responses.

  1. As a musician who leads music in church, I value the creative freedoms afforded by knowing a few hundred songs by heart, and being able to use them as I see fit in accordance with the mood, theme and spirit of any given moment. Approving a limited subset of songs implies that creativity is subordinate to lyric or theme and not a partner.
  2. Most musicians who lead worship in church have a different background to their colleagues. My own is part Baptist, part free Evangelical. This means I have a subtly different musical heritage from which to draw. This should be a point of celebration, to be exploited. Limiting the choice of songs reduces the options for a musician’s past to influence the present.
  3. Limiting the songs which may be sung under approval stifles new material. I have not often written for the moment or the day, but on occasion I have turned up to an evening service with a piece of music written that afternoon. I don’t claim this material was necessarily any good, but it was genuine and heartfelt and sometimes truly inspired. A limited song list prevents this.
  4. Pre-approval limits the dialogue between spiritual and musical leadership. I realise I may sometimes have made light of this, but it’s important that both ministers and musicians exercise their gifts in this.

I’m quite sure that the leadership at this congregation have their reasons, and I’m also certain that this has not been entered into without due thought, but I cannot agree with this course of action in principle, because I believe it undermines core values and competencies of the musicians who are obliged to work under these conditions. I know I would find it difficult.

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