Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Advent Ukulele and the Music Wars

A couple of articles in the most recent Christian Century magazine caught my eye.  One is about music in church.  The other is about art in worship.  Later I might revisit this second one as there was some interesting material in it about collaboration and ritual.  We are experiencing a bit of a renaissance in these parts, after all.  Increasingly (even in my rather staid New England congregation) we are finding ways to be creative in our worship life.   This is good.  The question, of course, is how to do these creative, different, and often meaningful things while still remaining true to the tradition.  This is, by the way, a fun question to start answering.

The same theme can be seen in the other piece.  There is a sense in the church universal that there are two kinds of music for worship.  In fact, there are folks who believe there are only two kinds of worship!  One is labeled "traditional" and the other is labeled "contemporary".  What a limited pallet indeed.  As a uke player I have often wondered which camp my own musical offerings reside in.  On the one hand, during summer services (and at other times like this past Sunday) I usually play fairly traditional hymns.  Most of the time I play ones people know.  That would seem traditional to some, but the ukulele throws us a curve.  This past Sunday we opened the Advent season with a rather boisterous singing of "Go Tell It on the Mountain".  I played and sang the verses.  The congregation sang the choruses. I am pretty sure this particular arrangement was a first for this particular congregation.  Where does that fit in the worship wars?

The article talks about congregations that have avoided the usual musical labels and sought to claim their own musical language.  Good for them.  I hope they keep on experimenting.

As for music at the Eliot Church, we are doing a little experimenting of our own.  One of my goals is to have at least one out-of-the-ordinary offering each Sunday.  In addition the the ukulele version of "Mountain", I played one other piece ("Silent Night").  Also, our Assistant Pastor for Religious Education brought his guitar and taught us the chorus to a more contemporary (there's that word) song.  I wish I could remember the name of it.  I will look it up.  In addition we sang hymns accompanied by piano and organ.  For this upcoming Sunday some of our confirmands have worked up a song from Eddie Vedder's substantial catalogue.  They are also doing a play for the Children's Focus.

One criticism (gently given) to us after the service was that we had only played one actual Advent hymn!  For whatever reason, Advent hymns have fallen by the wayside for many of us.  I promised that I would remedy the situation and so I am working on it.  Yesterday I spent quite a bit of time on the uke testing out songs.

So, anyway, here are some pieces that sounded pretty good.  We will probably not actually give them the string treatment this year and stick to the piano instead.  The uke, in particular, is probably best in small doses for some of those who do not attend church in the summer.  Still, these songs responded well to the change in style, so use them as you think best...

Comfort Comfort ye my people
Hail to the Lord's Anointed
Come Thou Long Expected Jesus

Awake Awake for Night is Flying
O Come O Come Emmanuel

Watchman Tell us of the Night

On Jordan's Bank the Baptist's Cry 

This is probably enough to last us through the season and still give us time to sing some of those carols that don't quite make it into the two Christmas Eve services.  People do  like to sing carols, after all...

Here are the two articles:

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