Tuesday, November 27, 2012

7000 White Men Singing

Over on his wall, my facebook friend Rev. Ligon Duncan announced the release of a new album of congregational singing.
On November 27, 2012 Sovereign Grace Music will release Together for the Gospel Live II, the second live recording of the singing at Together for the Gospel.
In April of 2010 and 2012, thousands gathered in Louisville, KY, to participate in the Together for the Gospel conference. This album contains 16 of the songs they sang, led by Bob Kauflin on piano.
Go here for ALBUM INFORMATION: http://sovereigngracemusic.org/Albums/Together_for_the_Gospel_Live_II

The Together for the Gospel conference is a gathering of conservative (mostly white) evangelical pastors. They are committed to all sorts of things. Its web site has eighteen articles of "Affirmations & Denials." Among them is the affirmation that, "the teaching office of the Church is assigned only to those men who are called of God in fulfillment of the biblical teachings." If you want to know what this doctrinal position sounds like, listen to this YouTube clip.
The worship leader, Bob Kauflin, explains over on Sovereign Grace Music's website:
While we can glorify God through a variety of musical instruments, we’re commanded over 50 times in Scripture to sing God’s praise. So we left the electric guitars, drums, and basses at home for this project.
While I love this commitment to congregational singing, I can't help thinking that the guitars, drums and basses were not all that was left behind at home. 

I am not trying to score a cheap point here--this group of men make a remarkable sound and from the conference organizers' point of view, this is what seven thousand pastors should sound like. But when I listen to it as congregational singing, the absence of women's voices is deeply disturbing.

I have just finished mixing Red Team's new album and so I am perhaps particularly attuned to hearing all the voices. In the process of mixing the album I learned something new. On one track I had my children sing. They are just two small voices in a multi-tracked crowd of 50 voices. However, the timbre of children's voices cuts through the mix and completely changes the sound. The inclusion of just one voice can change the sound of a large group.

If congregational singing is "a sounding image of the unified church" as theologian Steven Guthrie claims, then I prefer my congregational singing to include everything that has breath praising the Lord. Perhaps it is a good exercise to listen out for the voices we can't hear singing in the sanctuary on Sunday morning. This musical concern might lead us to some significant ecclesial soul-searching.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Science and Group Singing

I am never sure quite what to do with neuroscientists who make claims about singing--I am not in a position to evaluate their research. However, it doesn't surprise me that there may be some biological reasons why singing makes you feel good, after all musicians have known this for millennia.

A couple of reports on recent scientific papers that turned up on the blogosphere are interesting. An evolutionary psychologists from Magdalen College, Oxford, claims that group singing releases endorphines that promote group harmony. This led me to a report of a German study conducted in 2010 of a bunch of four-year olds and the effect of group singing on their interaction with each other. "Children who had sung and marched together were more likely to help one another pick up marbles.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

From Memory to Imagination

I am tucking into a fascinating book published last month by Eerdmans, From Memory to Imagination:Reforming the Church's Music by C. Randall Bradley, the director of the church music program at Baylor University.
The book is loaded with subheadings-- in some chapters nearly every paragraph has its own heading. This certainly makes it easy to skim!
Bradley is calling for churches in their response to the current crisis in church music not to retreat to their memory of a simpler time -- rather to dare to imagine the new future for church music and worship. In the process, Bradley has some interesting things to say about singing (emphasis added):
When we sing with a group, we are joining our instrument with those of others; it is an act of intimacy. Our breathing becomes synchronized with the breathing of others, and a physical conformity ensues that is unlike that of any other human activity. The sheer power of dozens or hundreds of human bodies forgoing their own preferred breathing patterns to reconcile with others is a striking picture of community and of the  power of group singing (174).
This gives me a new insight into how congregational singing is a practice that is both the Church's testimony of God's reconciling power and also a practice which requires reconciliation.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Can You Sing With Your Enemies?

Yesterday I had the privilege of preaching at Park Street Brethren Church in Ashland OH. They have two Sunday morning services - the 9:00 in the sanctuary built in the 1920s and the 10:30 service in the gymnasium built in the 1980s. Two very different spaces and different styles of worship music. The second service is set up in the round -- and so I was spinning around like Bono on U2s last tour!

My sermon was really trying to make a theological case for why congregational singing is a constitutive practice of the church -- why singing God's praise together is a profound act that makes us who we are. (The message is streamed over at the Park Street's website). At the heart of what I was saying is that the Church is the community of forgiven sinners and reconciled enemies and that the discipline of singing together testifies to this truth. As the congregation submits itself to this discipline people are taught more about forgiveness and reconciliation and are transformed. I was preaching from Colossians 3:12-17 and was noting the proximity of the instructions to "bear with one another" and to "forgive each other" with the exhortation to "sing psalms hymns and spiritual songs." Congregational singing is the song of the reconciled and the reconcilers. It testifies to this reconciliation because--I claimed--enemies do not sing together.

After one of the services a person came up to me and said they had been estranged from their sibling for over a year (I am being vague here to preserve this person's identity). "We used to sing together. I think I am going to suggest we sing together again . . . we won't talk, we'll just sing." This person heard in my words the notion of singing as a transformative discipline which might open up the possibility of reconciliation.

I have been thinking about this and I was reminded of something the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about prayer. In his short book Life Together, Bonhoeffer talks about a “happy discovery” he made. “I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray no matter how much trouble he causes me. His face, that hitherto may have been strange and intolerable to me, is transformed in intercession into the countenance of a brother for whom Christ died, the face of a forgiven sinner” (Life Together, Fortress Press, 1996, 90–91).

Perhaps, in a similar way, one can no longer hate a brother or sister in Christ with whom one sings God's praises.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Preparing for Eternity

In a workshop I led recently, as we were discussing the future of a church's worship program, a women in her eighties said, "but what about the older people like me - we need to be preparing for eternity"

She was expressing her concern that her church might stop playing the hymns with which she was familiar. She was telling the younger worship leaders present that she needed to be singing the hymns that meant something to her. What was going to prepare her for eternity if not the hymns of her youth? Earlier this woman had told me that she played piano as a girl - she grew up in rural Ohio. "We didn't have a telephone," she told me to emphasize just how rural it had been. "But I had the hymn book and I played all the hymns.  I don't suppose people would do that today." she had said with a smile.

Her comment reveals the connection between congregational singing and pastoral care. I don't know if this woman was simply saying she found comfort in the hymns of her youth or if she was saying something more. But she is right that the images of eternity with God in the Bible certainly involve a lot of singing. And if we are to be reunited in glory with the saints who have gone before, perhaps they will still be singing the songs they learned as children. So getting back into hymn singing shape might be a good way to prepare for eternity.

I suggest "When the roll is called up yonder" might be a good place to start.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Recording a Singing Church

The reason this blog has been a bit quiet over the summer is that I have been concentrating on producing a new Red Team album. After several intense days in the studio recording the instruments, yesterday we recorded the voices. The album is going to be called Singing Church, and like this blog, the idea is that it will be all about congregational singing. I find it odd that much of the recorded music used as a resource by worship leaders is comprised  of songs led by solo vocalists with back-up singers.  For this reason, there will be no solo vocals on the new album -- its a philosophical position which will mean we won't break into the top 40!

When I started the project I thought that we would bring in Red Team's singers and multi-track a couple of passes to give us a full sound, but the more I thought about it the more I wanted to record a larger group made up of regular members of the congregation. If this is about congregational singing then I wanted it to sound like a congregation was singing!

This threw up a technical problem. We are not making a live recording -- where everyone sings and plays at the same time. We needed to play the already recorded accompaniment for the singers to hear. This is usually done over headphones in the studio but there were not enough headphones and extension cables for a congregation. One option is to play the music at low volume through carefully placed speakers - the trouble is that inevitably some of the backing track bleeds into the vocals. If you want to multitrack the vocals then this is a problem when it comes to mixing.

The transmitter and the frequency
After trawling through the arcane world of sound engineers' chat rooms and blogs, I hit on an unorthodox solution - I could broadcast the tracks in FM stereo and then ask folks to bring their own radios and simply tune in to the accompaniment. I have a little FM transmitter for my car and I found that it had a pretty impressive range, certainly big enough for a church sanctuary.

As the recording day approached I made announcements on the Sunday mornings: please stay behind after Sunday school on September 30 to have a run through of the songs for the recording. I emphasized that this invitation was for everyone. I ran off a bunch of song sheets - Libby whipped up bread and homemade soup for the throng that would descend . . .

Now I don't know if it was because we picked a Sunday when folks had a lot of extra commitments, but getting folks to sing was like trying to milk a horse. I positioned myself at the main door and as folks kept walking I repeatedly heard comments like "Oh, you don't want my voice on a CD."

"Yes I do, I really do!"

Singing church at the ATS Chapel
In the end five righteous souls came to the practice (and one of them was in Red Team!). I continued to ask everyone I met last week to turn up to sing on Saturday morning. "I don't mind that you have never sung some of these songs -- you'll pick them up."

I ran into a new problem: people didn't have radios. It had never occurred to me that the once ubiquitous FM radio was now obsolete! On Friday I remembered that I had been told the university's Rec Center has radios for the gerbils on the tread mills to tune into the TVs. They kindly lent me six new Sony Walkman radios still in their packaging. Now all I had was a knot in my stomach wondering if we would have enough people.

In the end a we had a group of around twenty show up (including two of my colleagues from the Religion Department).

I had chosen the chapel of Ashland Theological Seminary for our recording mainly because it is set in the middle of the campus well away from any roads. When I was checking out different sanctuaries and halls, I had thought the chapel's acoustics seemed live but not too big. It turned out  that the acoustics were better than I had hoped for--the wooden vaulted roof gave a wonderful warm, big sound to our voices.

Getting two or three passes at the twelve songs took longer than I had advertised -- the 'congregation' didn't escape until 2:30.

Five hours of singing and we are still standing (just)!
My sense was that those who came and were part of our little tuned-in congregation found the experience affirming of their own value as singing members of the church. There were a number of amused comments along the lines of "Who would have thought that we would sing on a real recording." As we sang the last song, I had a growing feeling that we had transcended the mechanics of recording and were worshipping God. Before the "congregation" escaped, Pastor Dan Bilkert led us in a prayer which called us to continue glorifying God in song.

With the crowd gone, that left Red Team to dig in and record harmonies -- two hours later there were seven of us still standing (just). Marshall, the engineer, seemed pretty excited about what we had recorded. We will start mixing this week and we'll see what we have.

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Long List of Don'ts

Dean McIntyre, the Director of Music Resources in the Center for Worship Resourcing at the United Methodist General Board of Disciple (quite a title!), has written an interesting piece called Fifty Ways to Guarantee Poor Congregational Singing. It is quite a list but boils down to being mindful of your music choices (fits the liturgy, lectionary etc.) with accompaniment that encourages congregational singing. 
It is almost impossible not to try and keep score as you read down the list. . .  how does your church measure up to McIntyre's suggestion?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Fellow Travellers

I was excited to stumble on Wendell Kimborough's blog called "The Church Music Blog". Wendell is the worship leader at an Anglican church plant in Washington DC. Here is what he says about his blog (and his ministry):
"this blog has been making one sustained argument: that the most important thing music should do in church is get people to sing.  I am trying to paint a picture of corporate worship in which the people in the pews are co-creators of a beautiful sound together"
 So I encourage you to check it out.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Recording a Singing Church

Red Team has just started the process of recording a new album of the songs we sing with the congregation at Ashland First. I am going to try and produce an album which is true to my theological vision of a singing church. This means:
  1. All the singing on the congregational hymns/songs will be by a group, not a solo vocal.
  2. This group will be representative of the whole congregation - in age, sex and ability. (OK, in the interests of quality I should probably say "somewhat representative")
  3. We are going to use the talents we have to hand in the congregation which means we will have an unorthodox mix of instruments. 
I know that I will fight some of my natural producer's instincts on these rules and will probably have a number of compromises -- one I have made already is that I shipped in a drummer which we don't have on a regular Sunday.

It is interesting to consider that most recordings of "church music" are built either around a solo vocal (contemporary praise and worship) or an accomplished choir (classical music). Black gospel music is, of course, built around both. Where are the voices of the congregation?  It makes it difficult for congregations and musicians to imagine what this music would sound like - church music where the voices of the congregation praising God together is the music of the church.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Hail the Day

Ascension Sunday and there was quite a volume of singing in the sanctuary of First United Methodist Church, Ashland this morning.
A number of forces came together to encourage congregational singing:
1) Two of the three hymns were known to the congregation and are very 'singable'
2) Red Team, in its current unamplified incarnation, has reached a critical mass of singers - three on melody, two altos, two tenors and two basses.  I think I have discovered that--when unamplified-- a group of people singing is a good way to encourage a group of people to sing!
3) Libby spent a lot of time with the arrangements to make sure that our odd little ensemble sounded good. It is a strange assortment: clarinet, trombone, accordion, violin and two guitars.
Check out the volume of the congregation:
Hail the Day that Sees Him Rise
The Head That Once Was Crowned With Thorns

The final hymn was the South African, Hallelujah We Sing Your Praises.
I think we sound good but we didn't do enough to make the congregation feel comfortable -- and the interesting clapping at the end probably didn't help (memo to self: sort the clapping out before you start!)

Sunday, May 6, 2012

A new hit with an unknown oldie

Nothing much to report other than our discovery of a GREAT old hymn that I dug up via YouTube for today's lectionary reading (Jn 15:1-8). What I heard was an old American hymn called "I am the Vine" with those beautiful open fourths and fifths. A bit more googling found me the score. Libby and I worked on it with guitar and accordion and suddenly we had something that sounded like it belonged on the Cohen brothers' True Grit! We took it down a whole step to make the chorus a little more comfortable.
This morning we added Mary and Allie's fiddles.
I was sure the congregation would learn it quickly -- when I listened back to the recording I was amazed to hear the congregation come busting in on the first line after the fiddle had played the melody once.
Check it out: I am the Vine
In introducing the song, I asked people to let me know after the service if they had sung it before -- no one had.

We also did a couple of other unusual numbers: the spiritual Lord I want to be a Christian  and Sidney Carter's Lord of the Dance set to the Shaker Tune SIMPLE GIFTS. I didn't think Lord of the Dance was unusual until the organist who has been at her console for around forty years told me the congregation had never sung it before.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Can you hear us at the back?

The view from the back of AFUMC
As we continue with the mic-less experiment at church, it is difficult to get a sense of how much people can hear.
A couple of weeks ago on Palm Sunday, the sound man Tim broadcast the service on the web via the small mic on his i-pad. His i-pad was sitting on the desk at the back of church. When I streamed the recording, the first thing I noticed was that you could hear all of Red Team's voices and instruments.  This was a relief. 
I then compared it to the recording I had made using my Zoom H2 recorder. The Zoom has four mics which gives it ears in the back of its head. I place the mic in the front pew with two mics directed at the music team and the other two pointing at the whole congregation. I then mix the four-channel recording down to stereo. 
Anyway, when I compared the two different recordings I noticed that the balance of instruments was better from the back of the church. Most noticeably the violin floated over the top of the voices.
I Love You Lord (Zoom H2)
I love You Lord (i-pad - recorded from internet stream) sample 1sample 2
The second thing I noticed was that on the i-pad recording the congregation sounded muted -- nowhere near as loud as it was on my recording. Of course, this makes sense too. When you are sitting on the back pew, the congregation are all singing away from you.
As I continue to think about congregational singing without amplification, I think there are some interesting things to consider here. How do you encourage those in the back half of the sanctuary to "sing lustily and with good courage" when they are not surrounded by the sound of their neighbors singing? 
One solution is to change the seating arrangement -- you move the congregation so they can hear each other wherever they are sitting. In Jean Halden Kilgre's excellent book When Church Became Theater (OUP, 2005) she explains why in the late eighteen hundreds churches with  curvilinear pews and inclined or bowled floors became so popular. The architects and congregations were responding to a new democratic impulse: people in the pews wanted to see and hear each other. Kilgre points out that this change in design coincided with the "zenith" in congregational singing (p.133). 
AFUMC's sanctuary--built in the 1950s and influenced by the liturgical renewal movement--is arranged in good medieval fashion facing front. The the pews are straight, straight ahead and bolted down!
If you can't move the pews, perhaps you can move the singers. In eighteenth century England, faced with medieval churches and a desire to "improve the quality of psalmody," the reformers of congregational singing raised galeries at the west end of parish churches from which the newly formed choir led the singing. These West Gallery musicians went out of style with the influx of organs in the nineteenth century -- a struggle immortalized in Thomas Hardy's Under the Greenwood Tree. Ashland First United Methodist church has the advantage of already having a west gallery. The acoustics sound good too -- check out the Palestrina piece below.
Here are the sounds we have been making:
Palm Sunday (April 1, 2012)
Hosanna Loud Hosanna
Ride On, Ride On in Majesty - Libby's setting of the Palm Sunday hymn to Palestrina's Jesu Rex Admirabilis.
I Love You Lord/Hosanna (during communion)
Easter 2 (April 15, 2012)
Rise O Church - a four-part call to worship set to the great hymn tune CWM RHONDDA
The Head That Once Was Crowned With Thorns
Father God in Heaven

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Singing in Georgia

I have just spent an exciting and interesting three days at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta attending a conference with the cool--yet oddly familiar--title "The Singing Church: Current Practices and Emerging Trends in Congregational Song.”  I will be processing all I learned heard and sung for many weeks and months to come and my thoughts stimulated by this conference will spill out on this blog. 

One of the highlights for me was the session led by John Bell from the Iona community. I read his book The Singing Thing: a case for congregational singing several years ago -- many of the ideas in his book have percolated into my own attempts at leading singing. I was pleased to discover that the sequel, The Singing Thing too was on the GIA bookstall. In this book Bell gives a practical guide to teaching congregations to sing. In his workshop on the Tuesday night he gave a demonstration of his skills -- particularly teaching songs without using written notation (an unusual experience for western white churches). Instead, as he teaches he signs the pitches in the air with his hands. It takes him several pages in his book to describe this technique. It helps to see him in action. You can see how quickly he teaches a congregation a short song in three parts in this video:

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Singing in Mississippi

Dee Thomas-Bomer working with the altos
I have just spent a remarkable weekend in Oxford, Mississippi catching up with old friends and singing. Oxford is the home of the University of Mississippi and I first arrived there in 1997 with a guitar and a suitcase seeking my fame and fortune – or that is what I jokingly tell people these days.

I went back this year to attend the Music of the South Symposium and also the Black Alumni Reunion Weekend. The symposium was organized by the Center for the Study of Southern Culture and I was asked to speak on a couple of panels. To prepare for the “Music, Religion and Creativity” panel I reread the master’s thesis I wrote 13 years ago. The thesis--Singing a New Song--was on the University of Mississippi Gospel Choir (UMGC) and sitting on the flight to Memphis I read this:

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Hymns We Used To Sing

This past Sunday we sang "Father Hear the Prayer We Offer." It is a hymn I have known and loved since childhood. It caused me to reflect on the way our hymnody shapes our theology. Certainly the sentiments of this hymn seem close to my own convictions--Christianity as a courageous not an easy calling. 

We sang Libby's harmonies to the melody that Ralph Vaughan Williams "adapted" from an English folk tune. I remember watching a documentary that explained how Vaughan Williams passed-off as "traditional" a number of the tunes he wrote for the English Hymnal (1906) -- I wonder if this is one of them. Anyway, Libby's harmonies have a little of the South African quality to them.  . . we'll do it a bit faster next time.

Father Hear the Prayer We Offer. (audio) (sheet music)
Before Christmas I came across this interesting "survey of 28 mainline Protestant hymnals" of the last 130 years or so (Christianity Today, March 2011). The result is the top 27 Protestant hymns. Cast your eye down the list below and see which ones you know. 

At the end of last semester I passed this list out in a couple of my classes. Now keep in mind that these are all religion majors many of whom want to go into some kind of Christian ministry and who are very involved in their own churches. I asked them to give me their personal score. The rule was that you had to be able to sing the first line.  What was interesting was that some students scored very highly while the rest barely made it on the board: either in the high teens or below five (I scored 22). This seems to confirm the observation that for many younger Christians there has been almost a complete break with their musical heritage.

I will not join with the creaking traditionalists who automatically think that if something new displaces something old then that is a Bad Thing. However, it is interesting to contemplate what such a clean break with the past suggests about the way churches today view both their own pasts and those who seem reluctant to make such a clean break. It also makes me wonder if the new praise songs sung by my students will be unknown to their own children?

As long as my kids are still singing #s 13 and 19 by mid-century, I will be satisfied! 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Martin Luther King Jr.: The "Vast Unity" of Worship

It is Martin Luther King Day here in the United States; it is also the start of a new semester. As I was preparing to teach my course Religion and the Civil Rights Movement, I ran into a sermon King preached early in his ministry at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. Here is an excerpt:
Although private worship is significant and uplifting it must not be a stopping point. A worship period on the radio cannot be a substitute for a worship period in a church Worship at its best is a social experience where people of all levels of  life come together and communicate with a common father Here the employer and the employee, the rich and the poor, the white collar worker and the common laborer all come together in a vast unity Here we come to see that although we have different callings in life we are all the children of a common father, who is the father of both the rich and the poor. This fellowship and sense of oneness that we get in public worship cannot be surpassed.
King preached this sermon in the middle of the Montgomery Bus Boycot during the early days of the civil rights movement. Dexter Avenue was a society church and it is reasonable to assume that King's insights came more from his recent experiences of the mass meetings in churches like Ralph Abernathy's First Baptist than from his own congregation. It was from the maids and college professors, the lawyers and laborers rubbing shoulders and singing hymns together at the mass meetings that King glimpsed the "vast unity" created and celebrated in Christian worship.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

What is your personal 'worship style'?

I don't often rant on this blog -- but today is an exception.
I was looking at the website of a United Methodist Church in Ohio (it will remain nameless) and I saw its list of Sunday morning services:

Worship at [Big Methodist Church] is offered in a variety of formats knowing that we all experience God in different ways.  
  • The 8:15am worship is a quiet & reflective experience with communion offered weekly.
  • The 10am worship is a classic service with organ, choirs and favorite hymns.
  • The 11:21am is a high energy worship experience designed to take the message of God's hope, mercy & forgiveness deep into your life to impact the world.

Then comes the invitation that blows my little theological mind:

Regardless of the style, all our services are rooted in the Biblical lectionary and offer encouraging words for your life. . . Stop by for a visit to see which one best fits your worship style.
This is rampant consumerism matched with an ultra-Protestant notion of church. Clearly for the author of this website, all the elements of a worship service (other than the sermon) are a matter of personal preference not a corporate practice. Clearly behind the suggestion "see which [service] best fits your worship style" is the idea that a church design multiple services to cater to the preexisting personal preferences of its members and anyone who might wander in.
Why? Because "we all experience God in different ways."
What ever happened to the idea that the worship of the Church shapes us? That from our different experiences of life and God we come together to worship God who has made us one in Christ Jesus?
When we gather together we are shaped by corporate prayer, hymnody, the Eucharist, Baptism and, yes, the reading and preaching of God's Word. 
To be the Church of Christ--the community of dissimilar people, the gathering of reconciled sinners--we are going to have to do a whole lot better than internally segregating our congregations based on the paltry and ultimately spurious categories of "worship style." After all. . .
Who we are is who we love NOT what music we like to listen to.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A subcategory of folk music

We are heading into a new year of congregational singing at Ashland First. The end of 2011 has been a busy and wonderful month -- this is the fifth Sunday in a row we have been leading singing at church.

A good number of good people showed up on Christmas morning for a communion service and carols. We led the singing with a guitar and accordion (Joy to the World, Love Came Down at Christmas, Go Tell it on the Mountain, What Child is This). For a couple of the great carols we ditched the instruments and relied on the voices of the 50+ people present. I introduced Hark the Herald Angels Sing with these words, "We are going to sing this carol the way our forbears sang it. We will use the sacred harp--our voices."  The work from the carol singing school really paid off: we heard four-part harmonies coming from the congregation.  For the closing carol we had the two sides of the sanctuary stand and face each other as we sang O Come All Ye Faithful.

It seemed that no sooner was Christmas over than we were preparing music for New Year's day which fell on the following Sunday. As usual we chose music which spoke to the theme of the service, was singable for the congregation and was playable for the musicians. Red Team's lineup changes frequently -- this Sunday we had two guitars, two fiddles and piano/accordion.

This question of "singabilty" is at the heart of a recent (somewhat grumpy) reaction to the poor state of congregational singing by Grove City professor T. David Gordon.   Gordon summarizes his book Why Johnny Can't Sing Hymns (P&R Publishing, 2010):
I attempt to locate some of the cultural forces that have caused hymns to sound so foreign to this generation that they feel they need to replace them with something contemporary. I also express misgivings about this circumstance.
Gordon argues that our immersion in pop muzak means that the average person doesn't recognize other forms of music as good music. I am not sure I agree with this thesis. In an article in Christianity Today, composer Lawrence R. Mumford points out that "the simple truth is that our culture has not eliminated all other styles. . . the pop song genre is certainly not the only music that any churchgoer hears, absorbs, or even enjoys between weekend services." Mumford points to symphonic film scores and even computer game soundtracks as one counter example.