January 8, 2010

A New Song

Today a committee of five of my colleagues gathered to judge the student entries in a Song Contest. The goal had been to elicit a song to be sung by the congregation of thousands that gather annually at our institution's winter conference.

We judged each song on these four criteria:
1. Support of the Conference theme
2. Strength of the lyrics
3. Integrity of the music
4. Singability for a general audience

The judges were unaware of author and composer's names.

What came out of our deliberations were the following shocking and realistic truths about the drought of creative lyric and melodic artistic expression in the current generation of young people. The following are short descriptions of factors we discovered in the pieces as we judged them:

wrong theme and focus
inappropriate thoughts and language for congregational singing
incomplete thoughts
text phrases that were nonsense
pointless lyrics
lyrics not elevated nor elevating
archaic and awkward language: "fervor," "fathom," "bosom," "inaugurated," "status," "traitor's stead," "allured," "whet my appetite," "burn the snake out from its hole," "sin the feces, I the fly."
lack of rhyme
incorrect word accents
unrememberable melody
pitch paucity (not enough variety of notes)
harmonic clashes / melodic cross relationships
obviously poor harmonic movement
musical illiteracy
notational incorrectness
lack of logical form (unity, variety, balance)
love song mentality
melodic range issues (too low / too high)
theological issues
lyric and melodic doodling for a bar-stool crooner

To say that young people today are unaware of the wealth of high language and melodic art is to put it lightly. I am always devastated to get no positive response from a group to an acquaintance with a standard hymn.

I sense no antagonism to the awesome body of hymnic resources. It's just that our congregations are choosing to go in another direction to the great distraction of those whose desire is to worship in the spirit of holiness.

Finely crafted and divinely inspired songwriting is a gift to the Church. Pray for artisans who will lead the Church out of its mindless music, faithless fashionistas, and sissy singing.

March 17, 2009

Two popular hymn-related, on-line sources

If you spend as much time doing hymnological things as I do you have undoubtedly run into two of the sites that will give running loops of music examples. For any hymntune you search and which these sites find you may immediately hear a digital playing of a 4-part (SATB, hymnbook-style) version.

One is The Oremus Hymnal at http://www.oremus.org/hymnal/ which is being migrated to WIKI format at http://hymnal.oremus.org/hwiki/index.php/Main_Page.

The other site is Cyber Hymnal (now known as NetHymnal) at http://www.cyberhymnal.org/.

These two sites are very helpful with biographical information on authors and composers. There was the "annoying" part of the constantly looping hymntune playback at less-than-human expression and often with full tremulants.

If you are looking for source materials you will probably find them here.

March 13, 2009

Hymn resource

One of the best sources for hymnological study is the Calvin Hymnary Project http://www.hymnary.org/.

I use it every day to find texts, tunes, authors, composers, hymnals, meters . . . it's all there . . . like having a stack of hymnals and encyclopedias at my desk. I still do have a stack of hymnals that I'm using all the time . . . 18 at last count.

March 10, 2009

Singing to Live

Since April 2008 my daily "diet" has been psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. That was the month and year I began the consuming task of "engraving" over 400 songs for our proposed church hymnal.

As a school teacher there was no three-month summer vacation in 2008. The days were often twelve or even fourteen hours sitting at the computer inputting music. In fact, I worked on the project every day of Christmas vacation (even on the Chicago - Los Angeles - Chicago flights to visit family).

So why do I submit to this "torture" (as my chiropractor calls it)? Because I believe in congregational song and will give what I can to encourage its survival.