Thursday, December 11, 2014

Christmas: Singing the Story Together (and free album download)

Last week I had the pleasure of leading the singing and preaching at the Well--a mid-week worship service held in the chapel at Ashland University.  Lights are usually dimmed and guitars and drums are usually cranked up as over 200 students sing contemporary worship songs. Last Thursday night was a bit different -- not only was their usual worship leader replaced by an old(er) religion professor, but I persuaded the sound team to use minimal sound reinforcement (omni-directional mics rather than running instruments directly through the board)--something Red Team has been working with for the last three years. My reason was to place the focus firmly on the singing.  AU's Miller chapel has wonderful acoustics for singing and that's what I wanted. I rehearsed all the musicians once (but not all at the same time!) and we set off!

I have a few observations from the evening:
It is hard to think of Christmas without singing. It may get more commercialized every year, but we know Christmas should involve singing. This connects with my next point . . .
Christmas is about community - you can't really do Christmas on your own. This is odd because we certainly think we can do Easter on our own. No one says, "Poor Dr. Slade, he has no one to spend Easter with this year."  Perhaps the Easter hymn "I come to the garden alone" is responsible. But Christmas, on the other hand is about community. and it is an intergenerational community -- we want the children singing and the grandparents too.
Contemporary Praise & Worship music doesn't satisfy the needs of even the most 'contemporary' congregation. People want to sing the familiar Christmas carols. This is worth thinking about because in many churches there is almost a complete absence of traditional hymnody the rest of the year.  I would hazard a guess that these are some of the reasons:

  1. Folks intuitively know that if you want to sing songs together then you need to sing songs that everyone knows. This requires a repertoire that you repeat.
  2. We want to get in touch with our memories of Christmases past, particularly the Christmases of our childhood. For some reason at Christmas we understand what liturgical scholars insist we should do all the time: connect with the continuity of the church worshipping through the last two millennia.
  3. Christmas carols are nearly all story songs and Christianity is, at its heart, the proclamation of a story: an outrageous and incredibly unlikely story. Interestingly the popular contemporary praise and worship songs do not (as a rule) tell stories, they proclaim emotion (worship, praise, adoration, wonder etc.). But at Christmas we need the story as well.
  4. There are Christmas carols that rejoice in the revelry, feasting and joy that follow on the heals of really good news . . . I would hazard a guess that that is completely absent from any song in the CCLI charts!
One of my students captured a snippet of  us reveling in the good news of the Christmas story - more hootenanny than Hillsong!

Speaking of the CCLI charts -- I did include its #1 song "10,000 Reasons" as it includes a theology of singing that I really like and I knew this congregation of students enjoy singing this song; however, I wanted to include more of the Story in the song for this carol service. My friend Pete Clapham in England helped me out by writing a new verse.
As shepherds heard
The angels singing,
Now we rejoice
And we join with them.
Ten thousand echoes
Of the heavenly choir
Swell to crescendo
“Peace on Earth today!”


Heart & Soul & Voice  

(free download of the bootleg album recorded at the Well, Miller Chapel, Ashland University, Dec 4, 2014)

The Acoustic Band:
Nate Bebout - Guitar, Vocals
Ruth Chilcote - Vocals
Spencer Dolezal - Cajon and Loud Thumping
Jake Ewing - Banjo, Vocals
Jeremy Harrison - Grand Piano
Kaitlynn Jackenheimer - Vocals
Mary Kettering (Red Team) - Violin
Liz Sinchok - Vocals
Libby Slade (Red Team) - Accordion, Vocals
Peter Slade (Red Team) - Songleader, Guitar
Cory Smith - Ukelele, Vocals
Kiara Woods - Vocals
Sadie Zegaric - Vocals

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