It could be a Hegelian thing.

I expected to read this article on the decline of contemporary praise and worship with a certain level of amusement and agreement.  Radio-style praise and worship, especially over the last 20 years has been terribly full of fluff, and the sooner done with it we are, the better.  However, I found the article to be singularly unhelpful.  Our options aren’t hymns or performance-oriented radio fluff.

I’m a huge fan of hymns. But the great musical innovation of the last century is syncopation, and that is something that has to affect our church music like it affects everything else.  The problem with most classic hymns (the best ones – I’m discounting the truly dreadful stuff) is that the meter overwhelmed the lyrics.  Even at the time they were written, nobody ever talked that way.  But nobody seemed to know  how to put together a song that flowed like a person actually talking, let alone appropriately moved by the words they were saying.

That’s the gap that CWM filled: simple songs with simple truths that sound like an actual person talking.  And modern hymnodists have taken the hint.  How Deep the Father’s Love sounds nothing like O For a Thousand Tongues.  I doubt that any new song can be completely devoid of syncopation ever again.  Why would it?

I’ll confess that CWM has been declining for the last 20 years at least.  It had to – it was being canned for people to put on the radio, and radio just isn’t a good medium for music intended for congregational singing.  But there’s an iceberg of modern worship music that never made it to the radio, dating back at least to 1900.  There’s good stuff in there, none of it hymns, and lots of it at least as durable.  Is that stuff declining too?  Or is congregational worship music simply maturing?

Be Thou My Vision

In my ongoing attempt to find something meaningful to do with my life, I’ve taken up making worship lead sheets. I found a lovely program called lilypond that allows you to write sheet music in a programming language, and then spits it out as perfectly arranged sheet music. It’s supposed to be able to generate individual snippets of music that you can throw in to a web page, but that function is buried in an exceptionally bad user interface.

Anyway, I knocked out “Be Thou My Vision” today. First I copied from a hymnal and put in the proper lyrics (hymnals in the 80s and 90s had a terrible habit of arbitrarily changing lyrics, usually for the worse). Then I realized that wasn’t how I play the song on guitar. Guitar strumming has a tendency to pull everything… syncopated So we worked out how to play Be Thou in 9/8 time.

And here’s the completed product:

Be Thou My Vision

Be Thou My Vision (syncopated)

UPDATE: It turns out that the guitar’s tendency to syncopate has something to do with my complete inability to play in ¾ time. Here’s what I’m actually playing:

Be Thou My Vision (syncopated)