What’s on your iPod? In the 2011 biography on Steve Jobs, the iconic Apple founder pointed out the profundity of this question and the insight to a person that can be found in the answer. These days, with iPods becoming less prevalent in favor of many other devices, the question may now be, “What’s on your playlist?” Either way, it’s a good question to ask if you want to understand some level of a person’s interests if not many other things about him or her.
Now, let me just say, my playlist is not nearly as interesting as a part of me wishes it were. I’ve always been a bit envious of those who have more “eclectic” tastes in music, whose playlists include everything from Mozart to Radiohead.
If I’m being honest, I mostly listen to worship music. Not because I’m overly pious or think other music is “worldly” or shouldn’t be listened to by Christians. Far from it! I just happen to really enjoy listening to good worship music. There is something that just seems right to me when music, which in and of itself has such tremendous power to touch the soul, is combined with words that celebrated the hugeness of a Creator that gave us all things, including music. To me it just makes sense.
I have, however, a confession to make. While I very much enjoy a lot of worship music that is being recorded these days, particularly in its ability to articulate experiences and feelings about God that many of us share, I struggle with the “application” of much of it for the purposes of congregational singing.
What I am not saying is that is all bad or even unfit for congregational worship. Just, perhaps, for congregational singing. In the previous two articles in wrote on this topic, I pointed out that I think that we have in some ways departed from much of our musical heritage as a whole when it comes to the way many modern evangelical congregations approach musical expressions of worship. What I believe has gotten lost is that sense of not only the participation of the Body but in a larger sense, its shared expression of worship to God. The point being, it is not the band hoping to get the audience to participate but, rather, the worship facilitators providing a backdrop to what might be referred to as the “real worship team,” which is the congregation.
Let me suggest just a few ways that we, as facilitators might better serve the body in making this shift.
1. Choose keys that are singable by the majority of people.
It amazes me that for so long as a leader, I took for granted this simple fact. Most people in the church have not had the singing experience that we as leaders probably have and, therefore, are not confident, experienced, or trained enough to sing in the original key that the song was recorded in. (In some cases, not even close.)
Try experimenting with lower keys even if it doesn’t “feature” your range as well. This may take getting used to and may require a bit of humility but the results will be noticeable in your congregation.
2. Change the arrangement to make it work.
This may seem like a disservice to the song writer but remember that he or she most likely wrote the song with the intent of having it bless as many people as possible.
For me this has meant giving up some of the “dynamic punch” that you often get in the recorded version, particularly with the classic Second Verse Octave Jump that is so widely used nowadays to build intensity as the song progresses.
Trading these types of stylistic nuances for arrangements that keep the range a little narrower or leaving out a bridge or section of the song that has a higher degree of difficulty to sing can result in a more inclusive and positive experience.
3. Save the less singable songs for listening.
Notice, I didn’t say leave them out of your worship service altogether. The good old “special” that many churches have featured for decades still has a place in corporate worship. I would argue that these days it may even be more important to plan to include these songs as ministry to the body and not of it.
Music created for praise and worship has changed in many ways but the core objective remains the same. With some careful planning and intentionality I believe we can serve our churches well as musical curators, arrangers and ultimately facilitators of music that can serve as the outward expression of the heart within the Body of Christ.
Eric Heinrichs is a worship leader in Southern California. For more information or to connect with him please visit worshiptones.org.