over the years, i have noticed an interesting phenomenon. whenever popular musicians, of any genre, were asked about their musical training, easily half replied with some version of, “i learned to sing in church.” i was reminded of this with the continued popularity of american idol. i cannot speak for this season, but i read that last season, during a group interview, that question was asked and that answer was given. in fact, out of the top ten from last season five of the contestants had some type of formal relationship with the music ministry in their church, the larger christian music industry, or both. the church has, historically speaking, been a training ground for all types of successful musicians.
i love my church. i am on staff there. i was a member there before that. it is the church where i believe god has called me to raise my family and live in community with my brothers and sisters. we are a contemporary church. it is a casual place. we have a band. we sit in chairs, as opposed to pews. we do not have a choir. we do not use hymnals. our corporate singing is led by a praise team or worship team consisting of 2-4 singers. the words of the songs we sing are projected onto the screens up front. i truly enjoy this. the songs are good. the band is of high quality. the focus is on jesus. it is a good worship experience.
it is nothing like the churches i was raised in. they were also good churches. they were churches where my father made the same choices about raising family as i have made. for the purposes of this conversation, the difference i want to point out is the use of hymnals. we used them. my current church does not. i am not a musician. i do not even pretend. i cannot sing. i cannot play any instrument. i can hardly play the radio without static. i took piano lessons for a number of years, but that money could have more easily been set on fire or flushed down the toilet. suffice it to say that i cannot play the piano. but when i look at a sheet of music or a song in a book, i do have a sense of how it should go. i attribute this mostly to growing up singing in church from a hymnal. the music was on the page accompanying the lyrics. you could see and hear the pitch go up and down.
my concern is this: with more and more churches moving to a format that projects the words to a song onto the screen, and fewer churches using printed hymnals, will there be more children who are musically illiterate? again, while i cannot truly read music, i do have a sense of it. i think this is due to the hymnal.
i believe there are many advantages to singing from projected lyrics. frankly, i like it better that way. but are we putting our children at a disadvantage? as a church, how do we handle this? as a culture or society, what is the answer?