Dotted Eighth Delay Studies

Setting up the U2/Hillsong delay in a variety of situations.

The Sessionists

Esther Subra (vocals), Serena Chew (keys), Justin (guitars), Alphonsus (drums and percussion)

Thoughts on G.A.S.

Why you should save up for an expensive guitar.

Setting Up Disaster Area DPC-8EZ and DMC-8D MIDI Controllers

An easy-to-follow video tutorial to get those patches programmed!

An Overview of My YouTube Channel

Feel free to browse some of the playlists on my channel. Hopefully this leads to you liking and subscribing!

Friday, August 25, 2017

Renewed Reflections on Worship Songs

Allow me to preface this reflection with a confession. I have considered myself an "armchair theologian", and I shall provide a working definition from one who has articulated it before:

"An armchair theologian is also an outsider to “the game”. He looks into the academic community of theologians with a keen interest in the topics being discussed. He knows schools of thought, scholars/preachers/pastors associated with them and so forth. He listens to and reads them whenever he can. He develops opinions of his own about the different subjects. Perhaps he understands he’s an outsider and perhaps he doesn’t. Perhaps he presents himself as a “player” and perhaps he doesn’t."

Why do I bring this up? While an "outsider to the game" of academia (hopefully not for too long), I enjoy the academic rigor of thinking through issues that arise from evaluating lyrics and music in worship songs. I can get quite passionate about the discussion--and sometimes, this passion can be misconstrued as callous candor. I am among people in school who have the same disposition--we chat, we argue, we gesticulate, we get quite animated--but we discuss all in the name of wanting to learn more about the differing positions that each of us holds regarding the topic at hand. In other words, we seek dialogue and mutual discourse.

I have, at times, got carried away with conversations with other people who may not have similar dispositions. Most recently, our church worship ministry underwent a revision to our new song selection process. There were several new songs up for consideration, and part of the process required us to comment on theological content in their lyrics (amongst other things).

I confess I got fired up. Here was a chance to engage in meaningful dialogue! But alas, I forget that I am part of the bigger body of Christ, called to a community that has a variety of people, people who may not find rigorous dialogue meaningful, edifying or encouraging. I might have said some things to provoke thinking, but I'm afraid they might have been provoking instead.

To cut a long story short, my "issues" with some of the new songs were of theology and grammar. I had thought that songs with "bad" theology and grammar must not be used for corporate worship (we are what we sing, I always say). However, an evaluation of whether or not theology and grammar are "bad" is subjective (yet another provocative statement), as my interpretation of songs are according to a framework that I have developed over the years. 

I must recognize that evaluative frameworks are not universal--you have yours, and I have mine. My sin is that of trying to impose mine on yours, and it is not my place to persuade you within the space of a single conversation. By way of self-reflection, I have been asking myself the following questions:

Is the theological content truly "bad", or more aptly "incomplete"?

The songs of my beginnings as a Christian were from the late 90's, with Hillsong and Planetshakers at the forefront of what I thought were normative worship expressions. I could articulate the love, compassion, and mercy of God. With the help of these songs, these concepts transcended from being mere words to an enlivening of my spirit, awakening my senses to the reality that God is love.

The medium of music is certainly the aptest to communicate that God is love. It is a cultural norm for us to hear the ideas of love being communicated through the love song (duh, right?), whether in an upbeat, celebratory tone, or an emotive ballad. In our modern context, it would be rather strange and out of place if we used the love song for instruction. We recognize this when we hear songs that could very well be sermons in musical form.

I think that my present preference for sermons-in-songs (or songs that have more instructional material) colors my view on songs of the heart. Does every song need to be a sermon? Does every song need to teach every aspect of God (or by extension, within the "four songs of the setlist")? Many worship leaders are divided over the answers to these questions, but for the sake of my congregation and my local context, I must admit that the answer should be "no".

If I consider a holistic view of the church, perhaps there are other opportunities to engage the congregation with the other aspects of God. Certainly, within the time allotted in service, each item in the order of service (welcome, prayer, offertory, sermon, benediction) contributes to an engagement of the whole community with God. This does not take into account discipleship classes, small group meetings, prayer meetings, various fellowships; indeed, we have such a wide variety of activities to engage the congregation, so why should we load such a heavy burden onto the song?

Hence, theology expressed in a song isn't necessarily "bad", it is incomplete if read in isolation. We should be asking ourselves how the songs being sung in service fit into the wider context of the church, and if found to be truly deficient, we can seek further improvements from there.

Is the grammar truly "bad", or simply "poetically fluid"?

Grammar is dear to my heart. I'm writing this on the Grammarly web app to double-check my grammar. However, I forget that with music and poetry, there is some measure of fluidity with grammar rules. The rules of Hebrew grammar don't apply very well in Proverbs and Psalms because the authors (songwriters and poets, evidently) bend the rules for word-play, analogies, chiastic structures, and emphases. If I spare the Hebrew scriptures such scrutiny and criticism, perhaps I am too critical of English writers.

On a separate note on Hebrew, let me give a recent example that was very humbling for me. I was very insistent that Chris Tomlin was being a poor grammarian when he wrote the lyric, "the God of angel armies". My auto-correct instinct kicked in and insisted that the line should be "the God of the armies of angels". I thought about it a bit more and realized that Tomlin was referencing the phrase, "The LORD of Hosts", more commonly known to us as "Jehovah Sabaoth":

יְהוָ֥ה צְבָאֽוֹת
(YHWH Z'vaot)

Hebrew is a wonderfully compact language. Z'vaot is difficult to express in English, and Tomlin is actually closer to its meaning than the more archaic term, "hosts". I seek forgiveness from those who were at the receiving end of my "grammar tirade" against this song.

In conclusion, please forgive my callous candor. Songs are not sung in isolation from the rest of the service, so I must recognize the other avenues in the church to teach a complete theology of God. Being rigid with grammar rules takes away some measure of beauty in lyrical prose, so I must recognize the time and place for good grammar.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

MSM Short Course - Bass-ics (Foundations of Bass Guitar in a Worship Team)

I'll be conducting a short 8-session course at the Methodist School of Music, entitled "MSM Bass-ics: Foundations of Bass Guitar in a Worship Team". Registration details are in the Google form below!

See you soon!

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More