MWM: Teaching a new song (2 of 2)

Last Monday, I suggested that it’s possible to teach a new song in the vein of group worship.  In other words, the activity of learning a new song need not be relegated to some lesser-attended occasion seen as “instructional.”  Rather, learning something can be quite worship-filled and inspiring.  Now for a description of a methodological mode.

This method is not one that I’ve had much recent opportunity to use, but I have worked like this some in the past, and I’ve been in enough different leadership and worship and assembly situations that I believe this is both valid and viable.

The method, put simply, is to line it out.  In other words, break it up into short segments.  It’s more than segmenting, though.  It’s learning how to infuse “instructions” with exhortations to worship.  This doesn’t have to be a pedantic or overly technical activity.  Learning a song can actually be simultaneously satisfying on both emotional and spiritual levels.  It can enhance congregational esprit de corps.

img_20160307_093938_093.jpgWith a song text that’s as concise (the whole song is pictured here) and full of meaning as “We Praise Thee, God,” nothing is really sacrificed when individual lines or sub-phrases are sung separately.  Each expression can stand on its own.  (It’s a little different—easier, in a way—when using a song with more regular rhythm; then again, there is more to teach in a song longer than the one used here.)

The instructional time could go something like this (blue/bold is sung by leader; purple/bold/italicized are all-sing lines):

“Listen to the first line.  It goes like this:”

We praise Thee, God.

“Now sing it with me:”

                                We praise Thee, God.

“Great.  We can say that together with ease and with heart.  Sing it again with me:”

                                We praise Thee, God.

“Yes.  Now here’s the next line:”

We acknowledge Thee to be the Lord.

“This one is a little harder, but not much.  The rhythm is a lot like it would be if you simply spoke the words.  Listen again:”

We acknowledge Thee to be the Lord.

“Now sing it with me.  Don’t worry about missing a note; just sing it to God:”

                We acknowledge Thee to be the Lord.

“OK, good.  Some of you went up on “acknowledge,” but it actually goes up on ‘be’ instead.  Think of it like an emphasis on the fact that He is the Lord—we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord.”  Here’s how it goes:”

We acknowledge Thee to be the Lord.

“Hear how it stays on the same note until the word ‘be’?”  It’s not a big deal if someone hits the wrong note; I do that sometimes, too.  But it’s good if we try to be as ‘together’ as we can be when . . . “

We acknowledge Thee to be the Lord.

“Now let’s sing it again together.  We’re saying something important directly to Him.”

We acknowledge Thee to be the Lord.

“Good.  Ready to put it together?  Even now, we can praise God in a way that’s pleasing to Him.  Let’s sing the first two thoughts:”

We praise Thee, God.

We acknowledge Thee to be the Lord.

“Great.  Now we go higher, both musically and conceptually, expanding the praise:”

All the earth doth worship Thee.

“You can almost feel the strength of the collective praise in this line.  Together now. . . .”

All the earth doth worship Thee.

. . .

You get the idea.  One might call this “didactic worship leading,” teaching the music along with the concepts.  I would use the method next Sunday if I had the opportunity.  Can you do this in your church?  Probably . . . although you’ll have to deal with a few naysayers.  (Instead, you might deal directly with the purported leaders who are afraid of the few naysayers.)  Personally, I had the most “success” with this kind of methodology in working with a) younger Christians in b) settings that were seen as relatively informal.  This observation begs several questions:

  1. What makes a setting “formal” or “informal”?
  2. Who determines the above, and why?
  3. Why were young people more likely to experiment freely than older people?
  4. Am I even correct in asserting that worship occurred in others’ hearts in the “didactic” context?
  5. Am I right that times intended for “learning new songs” are never as well attended as other assemblies?  Am I also right, then, that learning new songs on other occasions could contribute to the further marginalization of some people?  In other words, if only those who consider themselves the “singers” of the church learn the new songs, the rest of the people are left out more decidedly.  Why do things in such a way as to divide singers from those who consider themselves non-singers?

I’ve never been sure why there seems to be an obsession with the relative newness of songs.  As is often said, “at some point, ya learned the songs ya know now.”   In other words, everything was new at some point.  Why do we need to worry about a little discomfort in learning something new?[1]  Obviously, a trained, highly literate, broadly experienced musician will be comfortable with new music, and most others are not.  Still, the leadership method and the (sense of the) setting are key factors.

I will say that some songs are more singable than others.  Some are more tuneful than others.  Some may be introduced with more ease and an instant “catch-on” factor than others.  So, some discretion is advisable when bringing new songs to the church in this way.  We shouldn’t proceed with a devil-may-care attitude about new songs.  On the other hand, with an attitude of comfortable experimentation, perhaps those who are naturally resistant to new songs may be ushered, in a worshipping mode, through new expressions into more comfort.

The idea to “Sing a new song to the Lord” was never about separating the more musical men from the boys, making the less literate feel uncomfortable.  To my knowledge, no scripture passage suggest that any times are more, or less, appropriate for singing new songs than other times.  The regular introduction of new songs can actually imbue the praising God with newness, energy, and life.

I have long wished I were part of a group characterized by comfortable, purposeful experimentation.


[1] The answer, it seems to me, lies in two areas:  a general laziness found in most people, and the over-zealousness of some leaders in pushing too many new songs at once on a group.

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4 thoughts on “MWM: Teaching a new song (2 of 2)

  1. Diane Emmons 03/14/2016 / 6:46 am

    Brian,

    Thanks for this new post. I can hear your voice teaching the example. I remember the gentle way you could explain how to play instrumental music in such a way that we could understand how it was intended to sound. What an encouragement!

    I flew to Florida for a cold and rainy but enjoyable week with my sister who lives in Jacksonville. Here on Tucker Hill, spring is arriving early and we have several new neighbors who have arrived with “new songs” to share with us here in Houghton. Will I insist on “singing” the tried-and-true melodies or will I welcome the new tunes? It’s a matter of trust.

    Blessings,

    Diane

    ________________________________

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    • Brian Casey 03/15/2016 / 7:35 am

      Diane, it does my heart good to know you remember my orchestra explanations as kind-voiced. I was periodically frustrated inside with how things were going but did try not to show that very often, and maybe you never heard one of those moments. Love the way you blended ideas here. Seasonally introduced “songs” may be birds on your hill, or new human friends, or emotions with songs of their own. Yes, trusting is always helpful….

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  2. Steve 03/14/2016 / 1:09 pm

    During the mid-90’s my (then) wife and I hosted a Wed pm life group–and we had an agenda! We invited a significant core group of those who attended church that we knew were both good singers/sight readers and who led singing. Half of our time together was spent going through the song book singing songs that most did not know but were good songs that needed to be added to our regular assembly repertoire. (at least I thought they did!) We did not tell the group our agenda, but it was effective. Within a few weeks, I began noticing “our new songs” starting to crop up in the ‘assembly song line-up.’ It was a most sneaky–and quite effective way (per 20/20 hindsight) to enlarge the song selection for the church. I recalled this just yesterday as we sang (now 20+ years later) in our assembly (in a different city) one of the songs that was introduced during one of those Wed evenings. So–the great theological concept of “there are more than two ways to skin a cat” proved true. 🙂

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    • Brian Casey 03/15/2016 / 7:38 am

      Enjoyed this very much. I understand the having of the agenda, and I appreciate that you shared it so freely. That sounds like something I would have done. And I would also have remembered a song just in the way you did — years later, an experience comes that puts me in mind of a certain time with a certain song. You are an acutely aware bio-theologian!

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