I struggle a lot with worship songs. I am not alone in my feelings that a lot of worship music today lacks originality, or imagination. And yet, when a worship song does attempt originality it lacks the universal “everyman’s song” quality that a song needs to connect with a congregation. It seems a very “fine line between clever and stupid” (to quote the immortal genius of Spinal Tap). The thing that I find most frustrating about the whole thing is how impossible it seems for me to write a song for my congregation. I can sit and criticize the multitude of crap songs that people write for their churches, yet I can’t seem to write my own (I guess some kudos has to be given to those who are just doing it… since I’m not).
Why am I thinking about this right now? Well, I just spent the last two hours trying to write worship song. It’s hard! I have a cool musical idea that I thought would be great for a worship song. I have a picture in my heart of what I want to say to God, and what I would be honored and overjoyed for other people to say as well. But, damn it! I can’t get anything going. I keep coming back to redundant cliches and hollow phrases of empty sentimentality. I used to laugh at all of these simple worship songs that had, like, 5 authors (It took 3 people to write “How Great Is Our God”, which, while a fantastic song, seems like a lot). But, seriously, I think it takes that many people to write a worship song. I think it’s the only way to “objectively” sift through cliches or inaccessible language. Some of what I have written I would think “that’s crap”. But someone else might read it and say “no, that’s simply profound” which would then give me the courage to commit to the lyric. Or if it is crap, then they could say “try this” and it would be perfect. Collaboration for the glory of God! It’s what worship is on so many levels, so it only makes sense that worship music would be the same.
Then there is the issue of range. I wish my congregation could sing better.
Don’t get me wrong, they sound great when they give it, but there is something about keeping a song in a one octave range that is really limiting and boring. Not that I have the greatest voice (compared to those who practice “legitimate singing” (sorry for the dig at the classical world…kinda)), but sometimes the passion in your heart requires you to throw back your head and let out a guttural wail like you’re friggin’ Dave Matthews, you know? There’s just something about these little 5 note decending motif melodies that all stay below E (or C depending on your opinion) that sounds so stale. Maybe it’s just me.
I love writing music. I really like a lot of the music I write. Some of you really like it too, which is cool. Yet, I wish that I could put my voice and style into this arena of congregational worship. I can’t think of much that would be as exhilarating and humbling than penning words and melody that people claim as their own and offer up to God in beautiful praise.
Sigh. I guess there is nothing left to do but to keep trying. I just need to keep reminding myself of the words of the great Thom Yorke: “Not every song needs to change the world”. Maybe I just need to relax a little bit.