or Using your training
Once in a while, infused into the study and practice of music from a cultivated tradition comes the practice of music more founded in the moment. In other words, music based in popular, relatively ephemeral¹ styles may be blended with “classical” music.
Such is the case in some public schools and universities near the Mexican border. Mariachi music, a popular- and folk-based style, holds interest for some of these students who otherwise would not come in contact with it in an educational environment, given their studies in the “cultivated tradition.” There are academically trained experts in the broader musical world who can teach and refine — even in a pop style such as mariachi — because of their understanding of the larger musical world. What is the outgrowth of this merging of folk tradition and cultivated tradition? Presumably, a more technically refined — and yet still culturally appropriate — brand of mariachi music.
Experience in the larger world of melody, harmony, and rhythm may lead to a certain amount of expertise in handling church music, too. All other things being equal, the more decades of experience, the more likely the expertise may be helpful. In the judicious merging styles and traditions in a local church context, technical refinement and accuracy may be brought to bear.
Who needs refinement, you ask? We all do. Every church can benefit from refinement in terms of the elements of music. A cappella churches could start with the simple, rhythmic synchronization that is frequently lacking. All churches need help with harmony and melody; rhythm instruction is most necessary for churches that don’t use instruments.
Just stop, now. Stop writing off what I’m saying as the useless musings of a musical purist. I may be a purist in some respects, but the meat of what I’m is anything but esoteric or iconic; it is bound, to a significant extent, by natural, acoustical principles as well as to centuries of tradition. Organized musical sounds are common to all of us. One doesn’t just come in and change the basics, willy-nilly, without a loss of quality. Speaking of which . . . merely skimming over the pages in 15 seconds, I can spot 4 musical errors in Hallal Music’s arrangement of Twila Paris’s “The Joy of the Lord,” and a dozen in Young’s original “Thomas’ Song” (and that doesn’t count the dubious punctuation in its title!). Would that these arrangements had received review and technical help by someone with more training.
Such losses of quality come into the picture when
- a song in the key of Eb is ignorantly, carelessly pitched in B
- some well-meaning but unaware soprano soul sings tenor an octave higher
- parallel octaves and fifths are used without knowledge or purpose
- someone leads “You Are My All in All” without knowledge that the “Jesus, Lamb of God” part is supposed to start a beat before the “You are my strength when I am weak” part
This is why congregations — if they use music at all — needs as much musical expertise as is available. Technically trained people who have expertise and experience in combinations of sounds ought to have input, if not “say-so.” Ask questions, and discuss the range of possible answers. Explore and apply. It is insane to expect improvement if we continue in the same footsteps that yield mediocre or poor results.
Let us use our training — and, let the non-musical church leader take heed — let us use those who can use their training! This employment of gifting/experience will help us move toward better, and better-feeling, offerings of musical worship and edification.
¹ For some readers, the question of time-testedness may be raised. Despite the ubiquity of “classic rock” stations and placing “oldies” in the category of “songs that have stood the test of time,” there are styles and musical languages that are far more lasting than Glenn Miller, the Beatles, or the Eagles. Could it be that the musical language of, say, Grieg or Mozart is understood by more people than the language of Kiss or the Doors or AC/DC?