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.