Don’t Worry if You’re Not Good Enough

I joined a book club that discusses theology books and there is a strong contingency that belongs to a new, hipster artsy church. I really like these people and they’ve been asking me to come to church with them since the beginning. Last Sunday I decided to go and I really liked it.

They meet in a music venue, a historic building down on the Hudson river. The sermon was really good and as I said before all the people are very cool. I liked it. But then there was the music.

I don’t know why but most churches trying to bring people in are not down with traditional hymns. I’ve hated this exodus from good music since the very beginning, since I’m a sucker for old Protestant hymns and of course the Mormon hymns that I’ve grown up with. Plus there’s a South Park in which Cartman decides to start his own Christian rock band and that has robbed me of the ability to maturely approach lyrics for this kind of music. However, I eventually decided that praise and worship music helps people connect to God so I should just let it be. Plus it mostly doesn’t concern me since I only hear it when I occasionally visit these types of churches.

Of these types of churches, this one did have the best music that I had heard and the musicians were genuinely good. It was just too damn loud. I wasn’t singing but it was so loud that I couldn’t hear the person next to me or the people behind me. I couldn’t hear anyone at all.

I remembered a sacrament meeting in which I could hear my fellow congregants. A month or so ago, I had the delicious pleasure of going to church with many of my BCC blogtastic friends. I was seated comfortably between J. Stapley and Kristine, both of whom are very good singers. I could hear Aaron in front of me and Kevin and Taryn down the way. I am not a good singer, so it may not have been so pleasant for J. and Kristine but I felt so happy sitting there, reading the music, singing along as best I could, trying to harmonize with the folks around me. There was a lyric in the sacrament hymn about repenting and being obedient. J. belted that right out and looked at me. What? Repent? I’m not sure what you’re saying J.. Still I could hear him. And I did think about it, momentarily.

I never want to tear down another church so I’m not looking for us to congratulate ourselves on how good we are, I just feel very lucky that I can hear you when I sing in church and that you can hear me. I have learned how to read music in Church, learned how to sing alto, learned how to relish really worshipful lyrics, and I’m really glad.

Listen to each other sing at church.

And now, if Kristine could just pick every hymn sung in a sacrament meeting I attend from here on out, I would be one lucky girl.

Comments

  1. Christopher Smith says:

    I love my upbeat Pentecostal worship, and I find the old Protestant hymns dreadfully boring. I think upbringing has a lot to do with it.

  2. I agree–I love hymn singing in church, and I learned how to sing alto in grade school because of singing hymns every week. Still, I have to admit I’m a sucker for church services where they have good choirs that sing classical works by long-dead composers (i.e. Bach, Mendelssohn, etc). I get my fix from singing in a regional choir (we’re performing the Brahms Requiem this weekend!), but I would love to hear (and perhaps even perform) music like this more regularly in worship services.

    At the same time, I wouldn’t want to eliminate hymn-singing. Because I really think it gets the whole congregation (not just those with a passion for music) involved in the worship.

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    Singing is my favorite thing about church. I love to sing, and I have a pretty good bass voice, albeit a choir voice more than a soloist’s voice.

    I think my love of church singing started when I was just a little boy and sitting behind this really cute girl with long, straight brown hair in Primary or Junior Sunday School or something. And so to try to get her attention I actually started singing the songs and trying to sing them well–something little boys of my acquaintance just didn’t do. It didn’t get me anywhere with the object of my youthful crush, but eventually I figured out that singing is fun in its own right.

    My testimony is mediated more through music–both singing it and listening to it–than anything else.

  4. I thought it was “Don’t worry if it’s not good enough for anyone else to hear.” But I get the point.

    I agree. Singing along with a praise team just doesn’t strike me as praise. I do see a place for some different kinds of music being involved — I don’t think the Holy Ghost is afraid of a guitar, for instance — but that wouldn’t be for congregational singing.

  5. Rather “Don’t worry that it’s not good enough….”

    Haven’t heard it in a long time.

  6. The conflict between “traditional” and “contempory” worship has been hugely divisive in many Protestant churches. I am grateful that we have a Prophet to guide us and a strong tradition of attempted reverence in our meetings… the traditional singing was a huge attraction to me, as I always thought having a band in church seemed silly. But to each his own…

    I do believe the Spirit does speak through guitars. Last night at Eric Clapton I found myself in a place (spiritually) where I was recieving a lot of answers– but the music wasn’t too loud, and it was some of the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard.

  7. Amen. For me, singing hymns in harmony in church is an important symbol of the unifying power of the gospel.

    I was conducting a few weeks ago and the closing hymn was ‘A Mighty Fortress,’ and the organist really nailed it, and everybody kind of got caught up in it and it was fantastic. So when it finished, I said, Can we sing that again? and we did. And it was even better. It felt like we were in the fortress. Excellent.

  8. I’m with Kevin that my testimony flows more through my music than anything else. I know that the reason most of my feeling that way is that music is one of the few ties I have left with my parents. My mother taught piano in our home, and as a result I learned to read music before I could read. My father couldn’t carry a tune if his life depended on it, but he loved music and for many years led the music in our ward. Some of my fondest memories was when I first started playing the organ in church, having Dad lead while I played.

    That music connection continued through to my parents’ funerals. My mother planned hers out years before, and had decided what she wanted me to play. Dad wasn’t quite so organized. He died while he was living with my brother, and the ward there had a memorial before we shipped his body back home for his funeral. At first we thought the accompanist for the memorial was just late, so I got up to play prelude until the person showed up. It turned out they had forgotten to ask somebody to play, so I covered.

    All I could think of was that Mom would have been so proud that I could fill in so easily, and Dad would have been upset that they forgot such an important part of the meeting.

  9. Blain, due to copyright infringement, I could not write the real lyrics.

    Christopher- you’re absolutely right that our tastes grow so much out of what we’re comfortable with and know.

    Kevin-we’re all luckier because you tried to impress that girl.

    I do have some problems with our music.Things I think are ridiculous. Like ridiculously ridiculous: we know very few of the hymns actually in our hymnbook, we sing so slowly at church, so so slowly, the ban on other instruments is just plain old weird and dare I say? outdated, and while this isn’t true in every ward, any time we’re limited to exclusively what is in the hymnbook, I get very very irritable.
    That said, when the people can’t help me feel the Spirit, the music does.
    Seraphine, you keep on singing I’m glad we have access to those choirs.
    And CS Eric, I’m so glad you were there for that too. It’s never fun to grieve and perform at the same time, but it must have been a gift to him.

  10. Copyright concerns. I’ll have to use that one. Clearly I had the same problem the first time through, but then the Napsterian in me broke loose.

    Tangenting here, but am I the only one who has noticed that the MoTab’s director seems to be doing very, very slow arrangements the past few years? I remember a Christmas Devotional a year or so ago with “Still, Still, Still” and it was slow, slow, slow enough that it sucked all the life out of it. I noticed it in the last conference as well. I think the idea is that we can go slow and make it more thoughtful and meaningful, but there is such a thing as too slow, and this is too slow.

  11. It was you who looked at me, with those “repent ye” eyes!

    This is interesting. I have a deep affinity for congregational singing. But despite my Mormon heritage, I love spirituals and high music and old shaker tunes. I don’t care for contemporary music in worship services, but that is perhaps a matter of aesthetics.

  12. Someday death metal/cookie monster vocals will be the popular thing in church services.

    I can’t wait!

  13. Even though I have grown up singing the “hymns of Zion” in our white protestant/Mormon style, and even though I like the hymns in the hymnal, I like music from other faith traditions as well, including gospel music and contemporary Christian music. I agree with Gladys Knight that much of our music just doesn’t do it.

    With respect to guitars in Sacrament meeting, there is no prohibition in in the handbooks. In fact, the Church’s website includes suggestions on accompanying singing with a guitar. http://www.lds.org/cm/display/0,17631,4774-1,00.html

  14. One Christmas, I was asked to accompany a special musical number on my guitar.

  15. Blain (#10), this is just my observation, but I believe Mack Wilberg likes most of the choir music quite slow, while Craig Jessop typically goes more up-tempo. And for whatever reason, Mack seems to be conducting much more than Jessop the past couple years. I’m with you, I think most of our music needs to be sped up. But it’s hard for me to be too annoyed with Wilberg when he has probably done more for our church music than anyone besides William Phelps. (Ok, everyone can now attack me for leaving out Emma, but that’s not the same thing).

    I love classical music, and there is just as much beauty in a Beethoven concerto as there is in a hymn solo, but I’m beginning to feel that the spirit testifies more strongly with the hymns. I’m not saying other music doesn’t uplift, but to me it’s kind of like reading a book about the church vs. reading the scriptures. Both are good, but one is better.

  16. Norbert,

    you could have sung the hymn three more times if our hymnal published all its verses (perhaps the other three were not considered doctrinally acceptable). Incidentally, the one verse it does provide alters the text all out of recognition. In the original version, “His might and pow’r are great” referred to a different antecedent:

    A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
    Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
    For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
    His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
    On earth is not his equal.

    Of course, singing this verse unchanged would make little sense without the following verses where the idea is continued and developed, and would be to end on kind of a downer.

    I also wonder why our hymnbook lists 2 Samuel 22:2-3 and Psalm 18:1-2 as references, but omits Psalm 46. After all, the original title of this hymn was Der xxxxvi. Psalm. Deus noster refugium et virtus.

  17. I like our hymns – honestly, I like the oldest, most traditional, most organ-oriented ones best. That was true when I was an Episcopalian, it’s true now. But I have to say that I’d love to see Sufjan Stevens at the front of the chapel with his guitar some Sunday.

  18. Plus there’s a South Park in which Cartman decides to start his own Christian rock band and that has robbed me of the ability to maturely approach lyrics for this kind of music.

    Classic. My sister almost did the same thing to me with respect to hymns when I was a teenager by teaching me that I could pass the time in Sacrament meeting by flipping through the hymn book and adding “under the sheets” to various titles. I’ve gotten past that now (and can sing How Firm a Foundation without chuckling). Like Kevin, singing is my favorite part of church.

    I have no desire for rock music in church, but I do love a good spiritual. I taught the primary kids “Go Tell it on the Mountain” complete with clapping on the offbeat, and created a medly with that and I Hope They Call Me on a Mission. I recommend it.

  19. I live in a small ward without much musical talent (and I don’t have any myself), so I don’t get to participate in good congregational singing except during stake conference. I miss it.

    I like some contemporary Christian music, and I wish we could have more musical variety in our services. Just because a music style was in vogue when Joseph Smith was alive doesn’t mean that’s what we should limit ourselves to!

    That said, I recently attended a service at a Protestant megachurch in town, and believe it or not, its music had less variety than ours does. All the songs were sung to the same rock beat, which got old after a while. And to make matters worse, the lyrics were surprisingly simplistic: “We love you, God, You’re so wonderful” and things like that. Most of the lyrics, I could have written on the back of the proverbial napkin while driving to work. There certainly wasn’t the majesty of language you’ll find in many of the traditional Protestant and LDS favorites.

    (And, for what it’s worth, and there’s no intent to threadjack here: There was less variety in attire at this church than their is at a typical LDS sacrament meeting. You’re more likely to see a woman wearing pants or a man wearing no tie at a sacrament meeting than you are to see someone not wearing jeans at this church. And people think we‘re a homogenous bunch.)

  20. On the day before MLK Jr. Day in January our music director included the words for “We Shall Overcome” in the program and we sang it as a rest hymn. The tune was pretty easy to pick up so by the end the congregation sounded incredible. It was a very moving experience for me and especially for the handful of members in our ward who grew up singing the spirituals as a regular part of worship. I think the handbook of instructions provides a lot more flexibility in music selection than most bishops are comfortable using. Lucky for us, we have a great music director and a great bishop who trusts her.

  21. Notice how Amri complements Kristine’s and Stapley’s beautiful singing voices, but any praise for my crooning is conspicuously absent.

    Such vicious personal attacks are why it is so difficult for some of us to blog these days. (Sniff)

    Aaron B

  22. Kevin Barney says:

    #20 hits it on the head. There is nothing technically wrong with a guitar in sacrament meeting (for appropriate music), for instance, but not one bishop in a hundred would have the self confidence to allow it.

  23. My first sunday in San Antonio was at a christmas and the Spansh members of the ward got up and sang a few songs in spanish with guitar accompaniment…

    It was a lot of fun. I can’t recall it happening since though. That was 7 years ago or so…

  24. 15 — That’s probably what’s going on. I don’t listen to them other than on special occasions (if they’d podcast, though, I would). I guess I’ll just pray for Bro. Wilberg to come to realize that slow for the sake of slow isn’t prayerful — it’s painful.

    19 — I don’t think anybody was singing the modern Mormon way when Joseph Smith was alive. I don’t know exactly when this style got started, but I’m thinking it was well into the Utah era. Check out the Cricket and Seagull Fireside Chat archives for a show about the way music was sung way back when — it’s very different than what you year now.

    20 — I think you’re right about the handbook allowing more than bishops are comfortable with. Much of the problem is that people don’t know that anything else is possible. Some years back our ward choir did “Mary, Did You Know,” at Christmas time. When we did it for the Stake Christmas Concert, we were accompanied by a guitar, but not when we performed it in Sacrament Meeting. I asked why not, and the guitar player said that you couldn’t play a guitar in Sacrament Meeting. I told him that you could if the Bishop approved it, and he clearly didn’t believe me. He’s been in the bishopric since, and I have no idea if he checked the handbook or not, but nobody has played guitar in Sacrament Meeting yet in our ward.

    But the person in charge of music is a friend of mine, and I might chat with her about that. Hmm…

  25. I have come to love the “hymns of Zion”, probably because they seem so fresh to me as a new convert. I actually bought one of the little green hymnals to work out some songs on guitar. I often find myself imagining the songs with much more punch and passion than you hear in the congregation. Standing would help, but I understand it’s difficult to stand when you’re chasing after young children.

    I could imagine hymns like “A Mighty Fortress” or “I Believe in Christ” literally raise the roof if sufficient passion was put into the singing of it as were put into writing the lyrics. Also, if sung with the right feeling, there should not be a dry eye anywhere after even the first couple verses of “Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief.” I hear people who get so used to these songs and sing them in a rote manner. These songs arouse a huge passion in my soul. I have to check myself before I end up jumping out of my seat and shouting a hearty “Amen!” for fear of weird looks from the congregation.

    I’ve never heard the SUV choir yet, but I absolutely love spirituals. I’ll get around to checking it out sometime.

  26. Though I have played guitar in sacrament meeting, I think it’s wise for it to be rare. I think the bishop should give allot of guidance as to the style of play that occurs. Sacrament meeting isn’t a hootenanny.

  27. It does take a lot of trust on the part of the bishopric to allow different instruments in sacrament meeting. But, for me, the result is often memorable. Unfortunately I remember a missionary farewell when the missionary’s brother, who was pretty much inactive, asked to sing and play his guitar. They didn’t want to offend him by turning down his request to perform and the result was definitely not appropriate for sacrament meeting. But I also remember when we had a quartet of talented high school saxaphonists and they played a moving and very reverent rendition of “I Need Thee Every Hour.” And one July on “Pioneer Sunday” we organized an instrumental redition of “Come, Come Ye Saints” with guitar, banjo, violin and harmonica. It was gorgeous and I couldn’t help thinking that it must have been performed much like that when it was freshly composed. Now I’

  28. Sorry, I hit the wrong key and didn’t finish my thought. Now I’m in Nigeria and we’re lucky if the power is on so the keyboard will work. I’ve thought about bringing my guitar to church, but the bishopric is so concerned about following the book, I doubt they would allow a guitar in sacrament meeting. But even when the congregation are singing acapella, the singing is FABULOUS.

  29. My husband can’t stand the hymns. (He’s a convert of about four years.) I think it’s because our sacrament organist, along with Wilberg, believes every hymn is a funeral dirge. Every time we are about to sing a great hymn, I lean over and say “Oh, you’ll like this one, it’s one of my favorites,” and then the organ starts and I lean back over and say “it’s not supposed to be like this. You’d like it if they played it right.” It’s rather embarrassing, since I think he no longer believes me that the hymns really are beautiful.

    It’s a sad thing when you sing something like “The Spirit of God” at about 40-50 beats. It sounds like the Spirit of God is on its deathbed and has neglected to write a will.

  30. Kristine says:

    “Sacrament meeting isn’t a hootenanny.”

    I think this is the only music policy we really need. I propose reprinting the handbook.

  31. Aaron your voice is angelic, I just didn’t want to make anyone else feel bad who pales in comparison. My favorite was your obvious irritation at them playing that practice hymn 5 times before we actually sang it.

    Kristine, like I said, you should head up this project.

    I like all kinds of worship music though not contemporary Christian stuff that only has lyrics like God is great, over and over again. Hearing each other sing whatever worship music that is is really important to me.

  32. I’ve read the handbook, and I don’t recall a specific ban on guitars, only some general guidance about reverence and respect. So when I was serving as bishop, our choir sang “Silent Night” while another individual and I accompanied on acoustic guitars. We also had one of our high priests who put himself through college playing tenor sax perform “O Holy Night” in our Christmas program sacrament meeting. That was one of the most beautiful musical numbers I have ever heard in a meeting.

  33. I like all kinds of worship music though not contemporary Christian stuff that only has lyrics like God is great, over and over again.

    While contemporary Christian music may lack creativity, I am actually quite a fan, and find that the repetition can really put you in a worshipful state of being. Maybe not when they are rocking out, but when the music slows down and you are repeating phrases about God’s goodness and grace and love, it can be truly mediative. I have felt closer to God, and more of the sensation of “piercing the veil” during some praise and worship sessions than I ever ever felt singing hymns in sacrament meeting. I think the key is to approach praise music more openly and trying singing with sincere worship in mind.

    I think Christopher is right that a lot comes down to what you are raised with. I find the tenacity to which Mormons hold to “hymns and hymns alone!” a little strange. Other Christians can enjoy both forms of music, while most Mormons seem unable to appreciate the idea of worshipping God at a faster pace and with different instruments.

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