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.


Bear, to whom things are brought.
Bear, to whom things are brought.

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
  • etc.

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?

5 thoughts on “Expertise

  1. Robin Bledsoe 12/02/2013 / 12:39 pm

    My husband recently resigned as deacon of worship at the _____ _____ Church of Christ in Lee’s Summit, MO. He has done the song leading, scheduled song leaders (some not qualified at the behest of elders) and created Power Point w/ music notation for nearly 20 years. For the past three years the leadership has systematically harrassed him about songs the church doesn’t know etc. When this church was formed (from a split of course) our vision was to incorporate a variety of old and new to the worship service. Our daughter lived with us for a year and wanted to have a singing class. She lived with us for about a year and has Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in voice performance. Initially they refused to let her teach anyone based on the “authority” over a man scripture. Finally she was able to assist her dad and collaborate on a class. It was a good class with focus on unfamiliar songs that we wanted to incorporate in the worship. This is really the only thing the leadership has allowed to learn the “unfamiliar” songs. They had previously decided to rate the songs by looking at the audience and seeing if they were singing or not. The song leaders and elders would give songs ratings each week in hopes of pulling out the songs the church supposedly did not know. Bear in mind -there is your bear again – that none of our elders are trained musically or even sing well. My husband has fought this for 3 years including some very un-Christian treatment by men we thought were friends and brothers. My husband has been leading for nearly 35 years. He was mostly self-taught using shape notes and getting a lot of critique. He also played a little Blue Grass guitar with a friend years ago. He has attended several seminars, classes just about anything he could get his hands on to improve quality and quantity of the song service. It is so sad to see what is happening again, especially when we thought this new/old song thing had been conquered. His dedication has been unwaivering – including – putting songs into Finale so 4 part harmony could be maintained. He isn’t very confrontational so most of the membership does not know why he resigned. The eldership is now asking each member to give their 3 favorite songs and even though that would be up to 700 songs, they are going to compile a list of 100 songs to be sung in worship. Just thought you needed to know that the ignorance about music and failure of leadership is alive and well. Robbing Christians of joy in worship is alive and well.


    • Brian Casey 12/03/2013 / 8:30 pm

      Robin, thank you so much for this heartfelt comment from obviously personal experience. Your husband’s resignation is an indication of the sad state of affairs in many CofC congregations. The short-sightedness of leaders who don’t understand that every song was “new” at some point is incredible. This is all very sad, and I’m sorry that you and your family have experienced this. Personally, I’m sad to say, I don’t think I would have lasted 3 years under such a situation, much less 35.

      P.S. I have to ask whether your husband might be related to Darrell Bledsoe. We were in the KC area for 4 years (Atchison KS and Sedalia MO) but never visited a church Lee’s Summit. I gathered from a short time in that part of MO that the CofC climate is a bit strange — narrower than the aggregate norm across the country; some influenced by Ketcherside but not up to his standards and shunned by others; more factionalized and smaller groups, mostly. We were part of a church in the Northland and found a different sort of disconnect with worship there.


  2. Robin Bledsoe 12/03/2013 / 8:58 pm

    We aren’t related to Darrell Bledsoe. I have to agree there are lots of little churches which sure would make a great mega church. As for our church it seems like we are moving backwards from where we once were. It is hard to watch and not sure how to fight it. My husband and daughter and I have been inspired by your articles and comments. It has been so helpful…we will pray for wisdom and comfort. Worship is so personal, even corporate worship, so when things aren’t right it is discouraging. Keep up the good work where you are and perhaps your encouragement will reach others as it has us.


    • Brian Casey 12/05/2013 / 9:49 am

      Robin, I’m grateful to have been used in some small measure, to encourage your family. (I’ve responded to your husband, as well.) Churches moving backwards? I’m afraid that’s a little too close to home for me, too. Sometimes that seems to happen when new elders/ministers/leaders have new or renewed agendas. Other times, it’s inexplicable. Always difficult for those of us who are, as another reader often puts it to me, “intentional followers of Jesus.”

      Personally, I need to be worshipping personally a lot more, because there is so little opportunity for corporate worship where we are now. Let’s stay in touch!


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