Once upon a time, on a Sunday . . .
Many hyphens were missing — and just as many hyphens, duplicated.
There were ties that should have been slurs.
There were notes written off the beat that were sung on the beat (and vice versa).
There were 16th notes sung as 8ths, and 8ths sung as quarters.
(All the above is based on one song’s PowerPoint slides.)
There were poppish, me-focused words shoe-horned in with worship words.
There were underscores used in two different ways in the notation.
There was a mixed metaphor — in the same line, God was asked to reign and to flow.
The above relates to the material being used in congregational singing — material that should have been prepared with better quality. I was thankful, by the way, that there were no women singing tenor an octave too high. That over-zealous practice makes an upside-down mess of the sonic state of affairs, too.
A great deal of the problem can be summed up in these words: disconnect between the visual and the sonic/aural.
Now, I’m in a minority here, and I know it. I suspect that less than 1% of the churchians out experience anything like my heightened awareness of all this. But I also suspect that if the the visual and sonic were better connected, things would be much better.¹ Most of the other folks wouldn’t be able to identify why,but they would benefit from the new coherence just the same.
Having spent countless hours following music scores while either audiating or auditing a recording doesn’t help. Score study and close attention to detail are part and parcel of who I am. My only choices appear to be 1) deny this huge component of me, have a section of my brain cut out, and stop doing what I’m paid to do in my vocational life; 2) take over every congregational process in my path, or 3) stay distracted during musical sections of gathered worship. Since (1) and (2) really aren’t viable options, I’m kind of stuck with (3).
In the real-time working out of some of the songs referred to above, on that isolated-but-oh-so-typical Sunday morning, the pulse was destroyed by constant, visual beat-division that not only distracted but also slowed several songs down. The leader might have felt the congregation was dragging, but his own arm was the main problem: he was turning on its head a basic principle of the visual evocation of musical pulse.
This problem is often seen in lesser-trained band conductors, not to mention a lot of cheer-leadery song leaders who’re desperate to get things moving, while ironically having the opposite effect by “pumping things up” with their arms. For an example, see this video from the Harding University lectures last fall, and notice
- 1:08-1:22 (“The Battle Belongs to the Lord”) — not a bad tempo, really, but way too much division of beat
- the beginning and ending tempos of “Marching to Zion” (which begins 3:12) — radically slower toward the end, likely largely the result of an over-divided beat pattern
- the beginning of “Blessed Be your Name” near 6:35
In pointing to that Harding lectureship leader, whom I do not know, I am not intending to be unkind. He appears to be strong-voiced and enthusiastic about good things, and I’m sure he loves God. He is simply unskilled in the use of the hand/arm to evoke musical sound, and he unintentionally creates a disconnect between the visual and the sonic.
For my part: I find it nearly impossible to worship when stuff is so mixed-up and disconnected.
Please don’t bother suggesting, “You need to chill out.” That would be unhelpful.
B. Casey, date undisclosed (but it wasn’t 6/28 or 7/5)
¹ This Rx begs an acknowledgment—namely, that another disconnect is far more eternally significant: the disconnect between 1) what we read in scripture and 2) how we live.