Saturday, May 15, 2010

My Problem Is That I Don't Know "The Song"!

I've finally figured out that my problem is that "I don't know the song".

Let me go back in time a bit. I and my siblings attended a school with an excellent music program. And we participated in everything. Between us we had a small band ourselves...we played trombone, tuba, clarinet, saxophone and trumpet. And we were good, thanks to Mom, who made us practice EVERY day. One of us would be practicing our lesson in the bathroom while another played in the bedroom. I don't know how she put up with all the racket because even with doors shut it must have been a time of confusing noise. In high school I even played the guitar a bit. (Click on the photo for a larger view.)

Mrs. Matthews, our band leader, also taught ALL vocal music in our small western Iowa school. And under her tutelage we had vocal music from first grade upward. In high school nearly everyone participated in at least chorus, a glee club, or Madrigal.

And there were contests. We memorized instrumental solos and played in duets and quartets and sextets. We did the same in vocal. We brought home honors in marching and concert band. We marched and played at College homecomings. We had an excellent instructor and we worked and we loved music. We were proud to put on our band uniform or our choral robe and perform.

Music continued in church. We sang in the children's choir and as teens, in the adult choir. We knew how to read music and between us we sang baritone, tenor, alto, soprano.

We were musical.

But today I don't know "the song".

Which song, you ask? I'm talking about today's emphasis in worship service on choral songs vs. hymns.

You see, I still know the hymns. I love the hymns. I can use the hymnal and read the music and sing soprano or alto. And if I listen to the song leader, sometimes I can carry the tenor.

But I don't know the song. The Christian radio song. The "new" chorus songs of which we sing three every Sunday morning.


I was thinking of this in the wee hour of the is 4:00 am and I cannot sleep. And I'm lying there remembering a remark my brother made last week. He was visiting and we were watching a movie on television. He, being of my vintage, in his sixties, asked, "Do you find it hard to hear the words above the background noise?"

Oh, yah, I do. There are some movies I may as well watch close-captioned. It's been that way for years. The background noise sounds loud and strident while the spoken words are low and jumbled and undecipherable. I cannot make them out, however much I turn my head to hear them.

When I was diagnosed with cancer a year ago and was participating in a clinical trial, one of the things they asked was that I have my hearing tested so they could verify whether or not the chemo drugs would eventually affect my hearing. That test showed my hearing to be within the "normal" range. My "normal" hearing is A-okay. I can still carry on conversations without asking "What did you say?" (Unless Hubby and I try to talk to each other three rooms away from each other or when there is excessive background noise...well, in that case...we're both hard of hearing.)

But when there is background noise such as on the radio or TV, the words disappear from my hearing range. It's been at least ten years since I've listened to Christian music stations. It's pointless. I cannot understand the words they are singing. I don't know the song.

I do like Christian radio stations that focus on teachers. Voices are easily audible to my ear. But when background instrumental is added? All I hear is a jumble, an excessive volume on the instrumental, and a relentless (and may I add, monotonous) heavy drum beat...all of which drowns out the words before they reach my ears.

I'm not saying the worship leaders at our church sound that way. They don't. The instrumental is excellent and (for my ears at least) at an appropriate volume level. And their words come across just right for my ears. But I find it exceedingly difficult to follow the song because I don't know the song! Because I do not listen to Christian music stations I simply am not familiar with the words. And worse, I am not familiar with the way the music moves. How the music moves is extremely important in being able to "sing" the song. There seems to be very little rhyme or reason as to the direction the notes take, nor how long they are held, nor when they move up or down. It's often incomprehensible to my "traditional musical sensibilities". And try as I might, even when I have become somewhat familiar with a particular song, there is a certain level of difficulty that remains.

Hymns, you know, are written with chords. Strong four-part chords. They are predictable. And even if we sing a hymn I have never before heard, I can read the musical notes and "know" where the song is going. There is a tradition or rule to it. And even though I may not be able to "name the rule" I am completely familiar with the sensibility of it. (You probably think my reasoning is very strange! lol) And I love to listen to the "golden oldies" of my youth! Why? Because I "know" the song...their words AND melody.

But the choruses? The notes are seldom played with a strong four-part harmony nor with a predictable format. The notes seem to wander all over the place. One word may go like this --- ah-ahhh-ah-ahhhh-ahhhhhhhhhhhhh-ah. One syllable of one word! And where it goes from there, who knows? I don't! I'm supposed to sing that syllable up and down and up and down and hold and finally let go and move onward (up or down?) to the next syllable. The entire phrase may move in areas that are totally unexpected to my musical upbringing. It's incomprehensible to my musical background. I want to zig when they want to zag. I want to release a word and move to the next and they want to sing an aria with a single syllable! I am constantly lost as to where I need to go with the next word/note.

I don't know the song.

I do try. There are some that I can sing. If I focus my ear on the voice of one of the worship leaders I can follow along. But other songs? Naw. I just can't sing them. I don't know them. I can't learn them.

I am extremely grateful that our church includes a couple good hymns each Sunday. But the choruses? I wouldn't mind a bit if we cut back from three to two.

I wouldn't even mind if one of those three songs was a special solo, duet, or quartet presentation. I wouldn't mind that at all because we have a lot of musical talent in our church, both instrumental and vocal, both young and old.

And besides, my hips hurt and I find myself "pacing" side to side, in an unconscious effort to avoid discomfort. I can stand for two songs easier than I can stand for three.

And that's my explanation for why I don't know the song.




melissa said...

This post makes such sense. Our church does a lot of praise music, and while it's pretty (our kids love it), I need me some hymns from time to time.

I think we just know *different* songs! :)

Mrs. Spit said...

that's fascinating. I'm an Anglican, and we are all about hymns. Not the good Baptist ones like the battle hymn of the republic either.

I hated them when I was young. Hated, hated, hated. They were slow and long and boring. So, I found myself at Otto's funeral, signing "How Great Thou Art", which was chief of the hated hymns and really liked it.

I almost had to sit down.

Laurie M. said...

I was raised Lutheran and in my dotage I find I much prefer hymms.

I'm a dreadful singer, and always have been,though. So your experience these days is much like my experience has always been. I try, and none too loudly for fear of offending the sensibilities of all in earshot. Besides that singing actually causes me physical pain - headache and throat spasms. I wouldn't mind if I could skip singing entirely, or just let others do it. I like to imagine Heaven as a place where I can sing beautifully and painlessly.

Gregg said...

Without mentioning in a long diatribe the lack of solid theology and edifying teaching in todays songs, a major problem is putting it on overhead screens. No one reads and sings parts anymore becasue here are no parts displayed.

Not to mention the empty theological messages so apparent in these songs, the purpose of singing is a response of heart felt praise toward God for the things learned in his Word, heard by word of praise, and gleaned from the blessings of God themsevles.

Not to mention the meaningless dribble in most of todays songs, the gift of singing given to us by God is so that we can experience the ultimate joy of praising Him by such a vehicle.

Not to mention, oh, I said that already didn't I?

The songs, the worship, the singing is not about us it is about Him.

Thanks for your post! Very well written, very much needed to be said.

WhiteStone said...

Fortunately, Gregg, our church does try to pick praise songs that are, for the most part, doctrinally sound. We are grateful for that.

Glenda said...

As you can tell from my blog, I love the old hymns! They speak to me! I do, however, like southern gospel - and I enjoy worship choruses that have some "meat" to them. But nothing will ever be more meaningful to me than the hymns I grew up singing - and we still sing in our church today.

Tina said...

I have to admit I LOVE praise music. I raise my hands and worship God. Worship is very important to me; I can feel God's presence and often find myself with tears streaming down my cheeks (esp. these days!). I especially loves songs I can clap my hands to! I do appreciate the beautiful words of the old hymns, but prefer a faster beat.

Kelly said...

Our church has a contemporary service at 8:30 and a traditional service at 10:30. Of course the early one has the praise & worship music (casual clothing, relaxed atmosphere) and the later service utilizes the organ, choir and regular hymnbook.

We usually go early since that's the service my husband prefers, but I like to switch out occasionally.

Andrea said...

My husband is having some of the same hearing issues...He is within the normal range, but if there is back ground noise...HE can NOT hear.

S. Etole said...

I so understand what you are saying ... movies are getting harder and harder to hear the dialogue.

Debra said...

Laurie M.'s comment made me giggle-as I too am a dreadful singer, but secretly I yearn to be a good one! Oh well....I was in the school marching band-played the drums. I blame that on my bad hearing today. So I'll never know it if I can suddenly sing good....