Friday, October 14, 2011

ten post-bob thoughts on church music and stuff.

Okay. So Tony is up to part 3 of his twist posts. Philip takes over after this. He'll have positive and useful things to say.

But here are some of my thoughts. In list form, because I like lists.

1. If a song has nothing good or substantial to say, why would we sing it in church?

2. If a song makes me feel nothing, if it stays just words, why would I sing it in church?

3. Even when singing the best songs, it's hard to get into it if you feel exposed.

4. I feel exposed at church when there aren't many people, when we are spread out, and when we are poorly led.

5. I find it easy to get into the singing and think about what I'm singing when I'm led well - by the song leader up the front, by the musicians, by the sound guys, and by the people around me. (Twist pastor's conference last friday ticked all these boxes for me.)

6. I've been reading up on right brain / left brain stuff. All fascinating. Here's a pop psychology table about left-right hemisphere stuff.

This is not completely right, but it's true to some extent. What is undisputed amongst psychologists is that the left brain does verbal and the right brain does visual-spacial. Singing has verbal stuff, so the left brain is involved, but metaphors, images (and the music) fire up the right brain as well. I think this is why God wants us to sing. More of us gets involved...

I have no patience at all with any singing (or life) experience that remains left-brain. Words need to be transformed into something else... a picture, a possibility, a dream... for them to belong to me. But we are not all the same. There are many people out there who are strongly left brain dominant. Such people will need much less right-brain involvement to be satisfied.

7. I wonder if many of our arguments are actually just us expressing our left or right brain preference.

8. A really good song will have stuff to satisfy left and right brain dominant people. Take 'In Christ Alone' - There's a beautiful chain of logic to grip the left brainers, but there's also compelling pictures to draw in the rest of us.

9. In a doctrine text book, singing belongs in the 'church' chapter, not in the 'worship' chapter. It just does. (But let's not be smug about it.)

10. Singing in the new creation will be superb.


  1. Are you suggesting Philip's input will be a contrast to Tony's?

  2. I disagree with 9. I think it's odd to have a worship chapter. The whole book should be called "worship: being God's church"... this whole trying to define worship to exclude singing, or trying to define worship to exclude church is bizarre and reactionary against people who have tried to define worship as either church, or music... and it ends up elevating the Sunday service to an unhelpful position- why would the singing chapter not belong in the "what you do every day as you respond to God's grace" chapter? Why can I only legitimately sing at church?

  3. I don't know about doctrine textbooks but I suspect they shouldn't have chapters. That must be a right brain comment, hey?

    Many of the activities that go into creating music or songs (writing your own or playing other people's) are very strongly left brain. Gustav Holst said when he composed he felt like a mathematician solving an equation. However, a good musical performance is only acheived when you get past this and are operating on your right brain, seeing and performing the whole, and it should then reach the right brains of the listeners/participants. Have you ever noticed that if you forget the verse of a song, once someone gives you the first line - or the first word - the rest of it will flow? That's your right brain, remembering it as a whole, not as a sequence of individual words. But if you make a blunder in the middle of the song, or it has a jarring element to it (like an inverted sentence, for instance:)) their left brain will kick in and ruin everything.

    Punchline: Sometimes we confuse this process with worship. We feel that if our right brains are engaged we are in the "zone" and that's worship, but if our left brains get involved the worship is ruined. But really, it's just our brains.

  4. Anon - No. I'm not saying that.

    Nathan - Of course I think that everything we do is worship. But if I had to put congregational singing into a category, I'd group it under church, not worship. Like I'd put the sacraments in the church category. Don't want to have the worship argument here because it's boring.

  5. I'm bored with the way old people tackle the worship problem. It's weird that the argument against BK's position is reduced to "music isn't worship" - which it is, it's just not the whole of worship. Operating as a corrective is stupid...