From the Music Ministry….

Authenticity of Worship Music

This month I pull back from my focus on congregational song and look at the broader picture of all music use in worship. For me, all music used in worship, including congregational song, should be marked by two essential characteristics – excellence and authenticity. This month I speak to authenticity.

Authenticity of worship music, as I apply it, relates to music’s place in worship and its appropriateness for the local body of believers and their unique gifts and talents.

Authentic worship music supports the Scripture of the day and its place in the service.

Music used in worship should serve and support the word of the day and the movement of the worship service. For example, if it is Pentecost Sunday, hymns and anthems about Jesus’ birth would obviously be out of place. They would not be true, or authentic, to the liturgical season.

In the same way, a benediction sung in the middle of the worship service would not make sense and seem oddly out of place. On a non-musical but related aside, this is why I am a bit puzzled when worship leaders greet the congregation with a cheery, “Good Morning,” in the middle of the service, say, just before the offertory prayer. At this point in the worship drama we are way beyond personal greetings. It would be like an actor, playing Romeo, making his entrance in scene 2 of the second act of Romeo and Juliet and, just before continuing his famous lines to Juliet on her balcony, turns to the audience and says, “Good evening! I am so glad you are here tonight for this wonderful production of this classic play.” The play would be better served if the actor simply stayed true to the character and dramatic moment by continuing the action. All that happens in worship, including the music, should serve the word of the day and support the worship drama.

Authentic worship music supports and highlights the unique gifts, talents, and resources of the local body of believers.

I love Samuel Barber’s anthem Agnus Dei. Agnus Dei is a setting for choir, by the composer, of his well-known Adagio for Strings. Search YouTube using the keywords “Agnus Dei” and “Samuel Barber” to hear performances of this transcendent piece. Its text and music are authentic to the season of Lent. However, I would not select it for use at Parkway Baptist Church because it would be difficult for us to present it with authenticity. The gifts and talents of our local body of believers, which are many, do not match well with the requirements of this music. The anthem calls for nine different vocal parts, several singers on each part to cover the extremely long phrases, and singers with unnaturally high, almost freakishly high, ranges. There is no volunteer choir, and very few auditioned collegiate choirs, I’ve worked with who could present Barber’s Agnus Dei well.That being said, there are Lenten anthems our excellent musicians at Parkway Baptist can perform well, anthems we can present with authenticity. While the text and setting of a piece of music may be appropriate for use in worship, it may not be appropriate for use everywhere. Authentic worship music supports and highlights the skill sets and gifts of the local body of believers.

More on the authenticity of worship music, particularly as it relates to congregational song, next month.

Keep Singing!