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Some Inside (CoC) Baseball

5 October 2009

It’s inelegant and crass, but before we go in the direction we need to go, qb needs to establish his Church of Christ bona fides.

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Born in Dallas, taught the Scriptures from an early age by my parents, and raised through 6th grade at Waterview CoC in Richardson, TX, under the tutelage of R. K. Oglesby, W. Wilkerson, and J. P. Blankenship.  Memorized Bible verses out the wazoo in order to lengthen our construction-paper “chains” across the classroom, but – alas – my memory-verse chain came in second in our class behind, well, let’s call her “Paige.”  Then we moved…

…to Albuquerque and Montgomery Blvd. CoC, where I learned to preach and lead singing under B. Hise (youth) and H. Porter (pulpit).  Some of the best years of my life, going to Encounter at LCC as well as every CoC youth rally within 3 hours’ drive of the Duke City.  Sang bass with Singing Albuquerque Youth (SAY) under the direction of W. Sharp at Netherwood Park CoC; sang in a gospel sextet “New Life” with B. Boverie, R. Hise, and other senior classmates.  Graduated from HS, then off to…

…Lubbock for a year at Texas Tech and Sunset CoC, where G. Luft was the college minister at the time, and H. Paden was one of the elders.  But the maroon blood was too thick, and I moved…

…to College Station for 9 wonderful years at the A&M CoC, preaching, leading singing, singing in weddings, teaching class, AFC weekends, weeklongs, and overseas.  Here my primary biblical influences were K. Wilkey, J. Woodroof, Bob D., and K. Reed – but at this piont, I began to read the seditious writings of Cecil Hook, which laid the groundwork for a later change.  Married, and before too long, off on an adventure…

…to Ft. Collins, CO, and the Meadowlark CoC under the ministry of one of those Pape boys.  Led singing occasionally there, too.  But the seeds of freedom had sprouted, the straw of legalism broke the camel’s back, and before 18 months were out, we moved to an independent Christian church in search of liberty of conscience.  We stayed in the ICC strain of the Restoration Movement churches from 1993 until 2007, when we left Hillside Christian Church in Amarillo – no longer recognizable as a Restoration Movement church, in case you’re wondering – and began our present wanderings, eating manna when we can find it but starving otherwise.

Does that qualify qb to say a word or two about music in the CoC?

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In desperation to find a church home, we visited a nearby CoC here in Amarillo this past Sunday.  Secretly, I loved it.  The preaching was solid and timely (from an OT text, in Leviticus of all places!), the reception was warm and genuine, a familiar smile from our Aggies for Christ days greeted us in the foyer, and ordinary lay-folks were doing a lot of the heavy lifting instead of a bunch of paid professionals who know so much better than the rest of us.  (Pardon my bitterness.)

But can we talk, please?

Most of the “praise music” used today – as distinct from the hymnody that I grew up with – originates in one of the instrumental traditions.  In fact, most of it is adaptations of songs recorded by commercial Christian artists who actually have percussionists and bass guitars to lay down the rhythmic lines.  This music does not translate well to unaccompanied, a cappella singing.  In fact, it sounds downright [anemic].  Look, syncopated lines don’t work well if there’s not a solid rhythm being carried through the rests as a piont of reference.  Fannie J. Crosby apparently knew that, as did the many other famous composers in the shape-note hymnals on which the CoC has always relied.  There’s a good, aesthetic reason we basses have so many lead lines in the great two-page choruses like that of “The Great Redeemer” – we stand in for the bass guitar and the drums so that the tenors and sopranos can syncopate to their hearts’ delight without losing their places and without creating awkward uncertainties about note-attacks, cutoffs, and all the rest that make for quality singing.

Unaccompanied music needs to be written for unaccompanied singing. These adaptations of modern praise choruses, by and large, just don’t get ‘er done.  Would that we had room in our tradition for instruments when we need them, while laying them down when we don’t.  Meanwhile, there’s plenty of well constructed a cappella music out there for us if we tire of #728b or #533 (as I certainly have)…we just have to expand our musical horizons a little bit.  Why don’t we sing Maxine Posegate’s “Holy, Lord of Hosts” (SSAATTBB), for the love of Pete?

As it stands, perhaps we’d be better off looking to Taize’ than to K-Love for most of our inspiration.  (I hope that will help to quash any charges of high-falootin’, musical snobbery on qb’s part.)

qb

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Brian Bergman permalink
    5 October 2009 3:25 pm

    Wondering if you could be a little more specific regarding the “praise music” that is anemic without instrumental accompaniment. What are some specific songs to which you object?

    Thanks.

  2. Brian Bergman permalink
    5 October 2009 3:25 pm

    Forgot to subscribe to follow up comments.

    BB

  3. 5 October 2009 3:39 pm

    Brian, thanks for stopping by. There were several, but (alas) I cannot remember a single one of them by name. That’s no doubt attributable to my advancing years, at least in part, and perhaps also in part because the songs themselves were not memorable. For the record, I should also affirm my delight in some of the better praise music of the present age, despite my skepticism about (and yes, my distaste for) most of it.

    I have not gone as deeply into these matters as perhaps I should have. And my piont is not to object to certain songs per se, although that is also occasionally warranted, but rather to ask us to consider more fully the implications of musical carelessness – in other words, aesthetic incongruity between music and medium. Obviously, there is more to this than the aesthetic dimension, but that’s the only realm I’m really commenting on at this piont.

    I should also concede that I’ve been heavily influenced by Johansson’s _Music and Ministry: A Biblical Counterpoint_, for whatever that is worth.

    Again, thanks for stopping by. I hope you’ll weigh in on this if you’re of a mind to do so.

    qb

  4. 6 October 2009 8:31 am

    qb,

    I think you have hit upon an important characteristic of most of “contemporary”–actually it is dated–“praise” music, whether a capella or not. Combining inarticulate religious, sentimental, even erotic impulses, pop church growth theology, bad 1980s poetry and bad 1980s pop, most is musically superficial. Still, what we have is a modernized version of older songs like “I Come to the Garden Alone,” “What a Fellowship,” and “The Old Rugged Cross,” which in their day were considered contemporary and lauded or reacted against.

    Sadly, critical accommodation, arrangement, creativity, theological and biblical thoughtfulness is at the margins of entertainment and commerce-driven popular contemporary praise music. Good music must point us to God, to sharing the life together God desires, and to an obedient conviction that we must love our brothers and sisters and give our best.

    Blessings!

  5. jds permalink
    6 October 2009 11:52 am

    The best definition of classic that I have heard is that it is something that is loved by successive generations; thus “instant classic” is an oxymoron.

    That said, most of the hymns (a capella or not) that we sing today are by definition classics. I wonder how many hymns did not make the cut — though I can guess that there are many, judging by the 700 or so selections in the songbook, out of which maybe 50 make the rotation.

    Anyway, my point is that there must have been lots of crap songs that were sung in churches hundreds of years ago, and we sing just the best ones from that era, the classics. My guess is that there are many contemporary songs that we sing that will not make the cut to be sung by our children and grandchildren in the coming years. They lack both the theological and entertainment (if you will allow such a crass description of why a song is loved) value that keeps people singing them.

    And I agree that the conversion of a song from being accompanied by instruments to one available to a CoC service rarely, if ever, is a successful one.

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