A Few Personal Thoughts on Tradition and Styles of Music


Worship Hands

Edward Andrade, Unsplash

April 12, 2018

Music is the language of worship.

I believe this applies even when it is used without specific reference to the Almighty One. It is worship’s expression, coming from and touching the heart. It can be used in highly inappropriate ways. By that I mean worship of things that do not deserve worship.

God is still inspiring music to be written, and generally when He speaks to someone He is speaking to the people in whatever time in which they live! He speaks in their language. For example, King James English faded away years ago in everyday use. That language was an everyday language, but certainly not now.

I prefer music that has more than just block chords, which of course is how most hymnals are written – although some newer hymnals are less so.

For many years in my experience, except for special occasions, it was block chords, piano and organ, tending to make all church music sound very much the same – very little if any stylistic differences. Sure, there were melodic and harmonic differences, but the styles and expressions were nearly monochromatic. That can feel like we are just “soldiering through” a list of songs. Little expression, little dynamic change.

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During much of my life with the people of God, we were mostly block chord music people. I compare this to food. Mashed potatoes and gravy are good. We might get tired of them every day for 8 months.

I’m talking about the language of the music itself, not the content. One analogy is the old friend – sometimes the old friend or the well-loved aunt is still wearing clothes from the early 60’s. We love them. We wish they’d update just a little.

Another analogy: none of us speaks Elizabethan English any more. Language changes and always has. Musical language changes and always has. People do like to go see Shakespeare but it’s not part of their regular diet.

As far as I can learn, most people like a wide variety, and most people respond well to current musical language. That is people of all ages. When a high school kids says he “really liked those hymns” or a couple of gray-hairs tell me how much they “love it” when when a full band plays, this indicates you can’t really pin it down, though.

People have told me, even in more recent times, that they see our congregation as pretty traditional in our music – newer people mostly. Different perspectives. Sometimes what we call modern or contemporary in the church is actually stylistically something that’s been around for 30 years. But then if it has been written in the past 500 years, it’s still pretty new in the scope of Church history.

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When I choose music, for the most part I am going for meaning and a unified theme if possible, then try to find songs that harmonize with that. The genre or time of the birth of the song is secondary, if not almost non-existent in my consideration. However, fresh songs are being written and they can re-inject life in us by their usage. The same is true for older songs reinterpreted.

There is a concern for some that current younger people haven’t had much chance to learn some of the music we know so well. I didn’t learn most of the music my grandparents likely knew so well. And they didn’t learn most of the music their grandparents knew so well. And on that goes. That is little more than part of life and the change it brings.

As the God-inspired library grows, it’s harder and harder to keep up with the narrow range of songs that we have known and loved in our short lifetimes, unless we just focus on a band of time in the Church and call it good! Sort of an Amish take on music: pick a decade and stick with it.

(When people talk about “traditional” music, a question often comes to my mind, “Which tradition? From what era?” My guess for most of us it’s “what I grew up with”. We could hardly get more traditional than Gregorian Chant – centuries of history and still in vogue in some parts of the Church.)

Much of my personal tradition spans the gospel songs of the 50’s and 60’s (I hardly heard a real hymn/anthem until I went off to college and started going to First Wesleyan Church – the “college” church, and heard for the first time things like “For the Beauty of the Earth”) – through the YFC Singspiration choruses (“Can we know that Jesus saves us, can we know?”) – through early Jesus music and Ralph Carmichael songs.

If we went with my tradition we’d be singing “The Comforter Has Come”, “Church in the Wildwood”, “He’s Everything to Me” (both the old gospel song and Ralph Carmichael’s “In the stars His handiwork I see, on the winds He speaks with majesty..”,) “Bringing in the Sheaves”, etc.

Then, from young adult years when the faith was becoming my own, the Jesus people music would be at the top. To this day I listen to Love Song, Second Chapter of Acts, and so many more, and my spirit is lifted.

It’s interesting the different perspectives we can have on all this. Most of it has to do with preference and what touched us as we grew in knowing The LORD.

I had an educational experience at a Seattle church when we were there years ago, while visiting family. You have to understand the church had many 20 and 30 somethings, although not exclusively. They used mostly guitar/bass/drums/ with lots of instrumentation filled in around it. They used almost exclusively old hymns (in a very – shall we say – loud, intense, and thundering style – but not always), and songs written by people in their church. They avoided almost entirely what they saw as commercialized worship songs. Their worship was passionate and heart-felt.

We walked into that converted warehouse to hear a dark-sounding organ playing big minor chords. There was a post in the way. so I couldn’t see. I thought it was an old Hammond.

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I went up after the service. It wasn’t a Hammond at all but a pump organ! They had a couple of mics buried in that old grille cloth, and the knee bar (for volume) was duct-taped all the way to the right – for LOUD. Back to back with this organ was an old spinet piano. During the music we had either or both playing, plus a bass, a variety of electric guitars one at a time (looked like vintage 50’s models), a tambourine, and a glockenspiel!

The man playing the drums was using mallets like those used on kettle drums. Very strong and energetic playing, yet softened by those mallets. What an unusual combination of instrumentation and style! I wanted to hear them play all day! The passion and the expression were riveting.

This was one of 17 bands the church had in 7 locations, each with a bit different flavor, but certainly communicating in the current language of the people! Yet powerfully and passionately with Jesus at the center. I loved to go there.

That’s because you could enter in fully, loudly as you want, or just pray and not sing at all, and all was fine! There was nothing held back. We can feel so held back. Maybe that’s just my false perception.

What is the point? Music is essentially worship, and God still inspires expressions of praise.

He did not stop in 1965. Or 1945. Or 1500.

His depths have not yet been plumbed. The language changes, which introduces fresh opportunity for new expressions of praise.

His taste for variety is infinite. Just look at His creation. I want to be like Him in that way, and appreciate all He has done and continues to do.

God is at work! If you want to know more about that, contact me.


If you are interested, I wrote another article on this subject a few years ago.

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