Posted by: chuckbumgardner | January 15, 2008

Brian Wren, Praying Twice

I’m working through an interesting book by Brian Wren: Praying Twice: The Music and Words of Congregational Song (Westminster John Knox, 2000).  Some bits that caught my eye:

“I believe that congregational song is an indispensable part of Christian public worship. . . . By “indispensable” I mean two steps down from “essential” but three floors higher than “optional.”  Nonhearing congregations can worship without song, and hearers can worship together without singing together, as Quakers do mostly, and others do occasionally.  But though we don’t have to sing in order to worship, it helps immeasurably if we do.” (47-48)

Wren considers congregational song to be “in trouble” in North America due to a number of factors: (1) “Social mobility in North America has drastically reduced the number of times a group of people can feel a ‘natural’ or ‘given’ sense of community easily expressed in song.”  (2) “Individualism and the quest for privacy make us less inclined to join a group and sing along with it.” (3) “Popular music today is soloistic [not group-oriented].” (4) Live music is no longer the norm [recorded music is], so our role as listeners [not singers] is reinforced. (5) “the [high] quality of recorded sound presuades us that our own voice has little value.” (51-53)

Wren speaks of sentimentality in church music, defining sentimentality as “feeling for feeling’s sake, as it were,” and quotes Don Hustad’s definition: “superficial emotion, or emotion not based on full reality, association without communication.” Following Hustad, he notes several symptoms of sentimentality: (1) overuse of favorite music regardless of its liturgical significance; (2) choosing music which bears little or no relationship to the rest of the service; (3) failing to sing up to the full theology and experience of the congregation; (4) resistance to new musical selections and new forms of music. (72-73)

Two quotes from saints of old: Augustine: “When I find the singing itself more moving than the truth which it conveys, I confess that this is a grievous sin, and at those times I would prefer not to hear the singer.” John Wesley: “Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing God more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this, attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually.” (69)

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