Make a Joyful … What?

3 comments Written on November 18th, 2011     
Filed under: Better Together, Music, Style of Worship
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Today’s post is written by Jo Anne Taylor, Director of Music and Worship at Bethlehem Covenant Church in Minneapolis, MN.

It doesn’t take much to get a bunch of musicians arguing about decibel levels. Just post a picture of some earplugs and wait for the responses to start flooding in. This week, in the Better Together group, I made the confession that I wear earplugs during worship at the Midwinter Conference. To some, my admission was an open door to acknowledge that, for a variety of good reasons, some of us often find electronically amplified music to be … well, too loud. Others were quick to defend the value of volume as artistic expression, especially for an instrument such as the electric guitar, which uses an amplifier to create specific tonal colors. The discussion quickly moved from “these amps go up to eleven” (no one actually quoted Spinal Tap, but it kept coming to mind as the week progressed), to the implications of music volume for worship.

Context is everything. Each congregation has its own worship culture, and part of that culture includes how loudly we sing together. Some people love singing with a loud band (or organ), because it allows them to sing freely and anonymously. Some find joy in hearing how their own voices blend with others in full-voiced harmony, and a loud organ (or band) prevents them from experiencing this. Some would rather listen to the professionals perform, while others are eager to participate. This is church, in all its messy glory. Whether our congregations are led by a band or an organ, however, there will always be some for whom the music is … well, too loud. At what point, then, do we ask musicians to suppress their full artistic potential for the comfort of those who find high volume distracting, annoying, or even painful? The Psalmist encourages us to “make a joyful noise to the Lord.” When does the noise of worship become too much?

An interesting thing began to happen this week in the Better Together group. As we expressed our artistic opinions, our concerns for aural health, and our views of what it means to worship authentically, we also began to listen to one another in new ways. Strong opinions became opportunities to learn from one another, and grace to listen made it possible for all views to be expressed. This is church, in all its messy glory. Thanks be to God.

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3 comments “Make a Joyful … What?”

Beautifully written, well expressed and an excellent summary of the discussion. And then…
an inspired perception of the way God’s Spirit is leading us into a deeper fellowship.

What a blessing!


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Ditto what Geoff said! And thanks for mentioning my own instrument, the organ too. It’s amazing how often people complain about drums and electric guitars being too loud, but don’t seem to mind the organ being played at the same decibel level. While there are sometimes genuine safety issues associated with decibel levels, there’s a whole lot of perception and preference in the mix too. We need to be careful to discern those subjective persuasions before asserting our opinion as the only “correct” one on the issue.

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If I remember correctly, one elder in a church where J.S. Bach was the music director/organist stated “If we don’t get rid of this Bach fellow in the space of (either 3 or 6… that’s what can’t recall at the moment…) X months, the organ will be destroyed, half the congregation will be deaf or both!” Indeed, “nothing new under the sun”. Then again, “sing to the Lord a new song”. Hmmm… balance 🙂

Many reading this may well know in early times when the organ was the new kid on the local church block it was derisively called (by some) “the devil’s pipes”. Yep.

I third the motion- excellent writ, thanks so much!

Lord guide us please,

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