Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Singing at the fore

There is an interesting article by Steve Thorngate over at Christian Century. It is a study of four congregations in Chicago that are moving beyond the worship wars. It includes musical samples, so I encourage you it check it out. I was particularly struck by the description of a small Methodist congregation in Rogers Park. Its music director, Mark Bowman believes in congregational singing.

When Bowman leads a song, the congregation follows him readily and ably. Typically he splits the room up by location rather than vocal range. Assisted by other leaders he's trained, Bowman teaches music by rote and quickly produces rich, full part-singing—made all the fuller by the octave doublings of low and high voices.

He is clearly influenced by Jon Bell, both in method and in his understanding of the importance of congregational singing.

That's "what worship is all about," he insists, and it's a practice that excludes no one. With singing at the fore, genre matters less. Bowman laments that "people get hung up on the worship wars—'we do the traditional music; we do the praise music.' That's not the issue. All forms of music have a legitimate place in worship, but neither a blaring organ nor a blaring praise band is conducive to leading singing."
Cohesive programming matters; so does the overall quality of material and execution. But in church music of any style, the values of excellence and inclusion ultimately can't be separated, because whatever one's aesthetic standards, the musical form itself is a participatory one.
"The question," says Bowman, "is this: How do you get the congregation to lift its voice in praise?"
The idea that "with singing at the fore, genre matters less" strikes me as very important and actually corresponds with our experience at Ashland First UMC. I went snooping around on the church's web site and found they organize regular workshops on leading worship. This multi-ethnic congregation is one I'd love to visit.

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