Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Music and the Power of Memory

Music and its association with memories is a common topic addressed in articles and blogs. It’s a beautiful, powerful thing. My dad was talking to me this week about how certain songs remind him of my mom. He’ll hear a song--and it can be any song, even a pop song--that they listened to together, and it’ll bring back memories of her. Music holds a powerful influence on our lives.

Because of this, music is one of the ways that the gospel message can be introduced and internalized in a believer’s life. I still remember Bible songs I learned in Sunday school when I was a little girl (books of the Bible in order? Go!). Psalm settings that we sing in Sunday worship help me to recall my favorite psalms when I meditate on them during the week, even when I’m driving or teaching, and I don’t have my Bible in front of me.

What are some ways to use this amazing power of music in your life and the life of your congregation?

1. Start young: sing with children in Sunday school, VBS, children’s church, and of course, at home or in the car. Whether they are your own children, or children you minister to at the church, there are plenty of ways to share the songs you know with little ones. These songs will be great for your own scripture knowledge, too!

2. Incorporate songs or hymns featuring scripture verses and quotes into worship. Make sure to sing the psalms often. You will be surprised how well you will begin to know the psalter (“Ah, Psalm 91: ‘Who with God Most High finds shelter, in the Almighty’s shadow hides?’”).

3. Along with scripture quotes and verses, include hymns and other songs that teach Biblical doctrine and a godly prayer life, such as “What E’er My God Ordains Is Right” and “Be Thou My Vision.”

I am always impressed when I visit a nursing home with a church group, and we sing hymns with the people who live there. No matter how their health or memory is holding up, they remember the words to the old hymns they grew up singing.

God gave us the gift of music, and through it He allows us to relate to Him in a way that no other medium does. As a church musician, do your best to help your congregation incorporate this gift in their daily lives.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Word of Encouragement

Do you feel frustrated as, week after week, you keep doing the same job, with no thanks from anyone? Do you ever get tired of the weekly drudge of trying to pick out hymns that somehow fit the obscure text your pastor chose (or worse, the same text as the last three sermons)? Why isn’t there a helpful hymn index, anyway? I know that for myself, it’s easy to fall into a rut of weekly frustration: “Did we sing this too recently? Not that anyone would remember, anyway….Do they really know this song? Do I feel like trying to teach them a new one this week?”
When you feel like this (and we all do from time to time), take a few minutes to remember why you’re doing this in the first place. Whether or not someone from the congregation remembers to thank you, or even acknowledge your existence (except to complain), the One who really matters always notices. The author of Hebrews reminds us that “God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister” (Hebrews 6:10). Your weekly labors toward enabling the saints to worship their King in a glorious way that pleases Him do not go unnoticed. Also, if you’re in a situation like many of us in small churches, you may be the only one who has the gifts and talents to play music for the service. When you’re not there, the church will have to rely on recordings, a capella attempts (difficult if they are not used to it)--or worse, no music at all; and they know it. Whether or not they say anything, your congregation is grateful for you. Above all, remember that you are contributing to the worship of the King of Kings, one of the most important jobs you could ever hope to have. You--as the music director, pianist, pastor, song leader--are helping to lift up the congregation to the throne room of God every week, and He delights in your efforts.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Tell Me the Old, Old Story

Each passage in the Bible has many different facets to be explored and understood. Sometimes, a pastor will preach for several weeks on the same verse. Other times, he’ll do a series based on one topic. While this is an effective way to teach and to learn, it can prove especially difficult for the music director to select appropriate music for one subject--for weeks at a time. Selecting music for only one week’s sermon requires careful thought and planning (see my earlier post), but what happens when there are only 3 hymns or songs on your topic, and three weeks of sermons?

One good technique might be to choose a “theme hymn” for the series, and sing it each week. This is also a great way to incorporate teaching the congregation a new hymn (more on that here). Theme hymns are especially good if few of the songs on a particular topic are well-known to your congregation. For example, if your pastor is preaching a series on the Holy Spirit, this is a great time to introduce your congregation to the hymn “For Your Gift of God the Spirit” (New Trinity Hymnal #339).

Become familiar with the selections in your hymnal or songbook. In general, the topical and scriptural indexes found in the back of most hymnals are extremely unhelpful. They often list just a few hymns, and may not have a suggested hymn for certain scripture passages. What if your pastor is preaching on 3rd John?? [If he is, I have some suggestions.] The better you know the songs available to you, the easier your job will be.

Be selective about where to place the topically-appropriate hymns in the service. You can spread out a smaller number of applicable hymns by placing those directly before or after the sermon. Not every song must address the week’s subject. Any hymn of praise is a good choice to open the service, and many psalms can be used for any occasion.

A little advance notice on the part of your pastor is helpful. If he warns you that there will be multiple sermons on a certain topic, it will be easier for you to plan ahead. He may also tell you the different angles he’ll be using to approach that topic (making some hymns more appropriate for one week than for another). If he doesn’t, just ask--he’ll be happy to oblige.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Psalm and Hymn Calendar

Looking for ideas for your church songs for this year? Check out this resource:
Psalm and Hymn Calendars

Having a schedule for the year is a great way to enhance your church's musical and spiritual vocabulary. If you're like me, and choose at least one song every week specifically to fit the sermon (see my previous post), you can use these calendars as a reference for opening songs of praise, and insert your own song choice as a response, or simply use the list to get ideas for new hymns to learn over the course of the year.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

A New Year of Music Begins

A New Year begins tomorrow—fittingly, on a Sunday. What music is your church using to begin the new year?
At my church, we are beginning the service with “Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah, O My Soul”—based on Psalm 46. As I was practicing this afternoon, I was contemplating the beginning of the new year, and thinking how fitting this hymn is for the occasion. The first verse begins with almost a New Year's resolution: 

Hallelujah, praise Jehovah,
O my soul, Jehovah praise;
I will sing the glorious praises
Of my God through all my days.

Of all the resolutions we usually make (getting in shape, taking more pictures, spending more time with friends...), isn't this the most important? The rest of the hymn reminds us of some of the reasons why God should be the object of our praise:

Food He daily gives the hungry,
Sets the mourning prisoner free,
Raises those bowed down with anguish,
Makes the sightless eyes to see,
Well Jehovah loves the righteous,
And the stranger He befriends,
Helps the fatherless and widow,
Judgment on the wicked sends.

Read the rest of the lyrics to this hymn at:
What hymns or songs are you singing to begin the year? I'd love to read your selections, and hear about the reasons you chose them.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Help! What If I'm Not a Musician?

So far, most of my articles have been geared toward church pianists, but what if you're a pastor or other church leader who is starting a church or who has been left without a regular pianist for some reason? Don't worry—this article is for you.
Be sure to include music in your service. You don't have to skip it just because you don't have a “normal” type of accompaniment available. Worshiping God together is one of the most important things His people do, and part of this commanded worship includes singing. In a situation like this, you have several options:
Consider carefully any musical talent you have in the church. Guitar is a perfectly valid accompaniment and does NOT limit you to contemporary music. It can provide excellent accompaniment for traditional hymns as well. Any pitched instrument can provide a tonal basis to help keep your congregation singing in the same key (more or less). “Pitched” means that it plays more than one note. Some examples might be flute, clarinet, oboe, violin, or cello. The point of musical accompaniment is not to distract from the singing, but rather to aid it; so that people do not worry about whether they are in key, but can focus on the object of their praise: their heavenly Father.
Singing a capella (without instrumental accompaniment) is very difficult; however, many congregations do it well, and many in the church have been doing so for centuries. Psalm 33:1 says, “Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous! For praise from the upright is beautiful.” It does NOT say, “Only beautiful praise is acceptable,” or “Only sing if you have had voice lessons.” Don't be afraid to jump in, and encourage others to sing enthusiastically, too.
What about recorded accompaniment? In some situations, this may be a good option. There are many different recordings available. Try to use them as a last resort, though. The genuineness of live music in worship cannot be duplicated from a cd, even if the musicians are believers and recorded the songs specifically for such situations.
What other topics would you like to see addressed? Leave your comments and suggestions!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

It's Not Elevator Music

What is an offertory? An offertory, or “musical offering,” is a piece of music played for the glory of God during the worship service. Its main purpose is to give glory to God, and it serves as a time of focus for the congregation. During the offertory, it would be appropriate to listen and enjoy it, or pray, or meditate on scripture, or otherwise prepare your heart for worship (especially if the offertory is before the sermon). The offertory is NOT elevator music. The point is not just some tunes in the background while the ushers are taking up a collection. Yes, this is happening at the same time, but it is not the primary purpose of the musical selection (unless you are planning to rewrite the song as “Bringing in the Dough”). Its function is the same as if there were no monetary offering being taken up at the same time. That being said, there are some technicalities to consider....

While the length of the offertory should not be dependent upon the amount of time it takes to collect the offering, at the same time it should take into account the fact that sometimes the length of time needs to be extended, say when the guy taking up the offering runs out to his car at the beginning because he forgot his check, or the ushers drop the offering plate and have to pick up the contents, or the pastor disappears to get a drink of water or cough drop...and yes, all of these things HAVE happened to me. Recently.