Music Shapes our Worship Experience

An email sent to my classmates of 1968

Dear Minnehaha brothers and sisters,

Spent the winter planning for my death. You know, writing Trusts and Health Care Directives and such. It’s actually been a very interesting project.

Began by writing my obituary and the usual stuff one would expect to read. What got me thinking was about my “religious affiliation.” It would be an understatement to say that I was raised in a very religious environment. Church twice each Sunday. 4 years at Minnehaha Academy with chapel five days a week. Sang for over 40 years in church and gospel choirs. Volunteered for kid’s choir crowd control. I wanted people to know I was a believer.

After a 7-year hiatus, in January I transferred my church membership from Christ Presbyterian to Westminster Presbyterian. Singing in the choir again has been really rewarding. And the music selections are wonderful. Rachmaninov piano concertos. Beethoven string ensembles. Bach pipe organ postludes. Choral work in 4 languages. Even Gregorian chants. Like “Requiem Aeternam” which we sang last Sunday, from the original four-line notation (below).

Do you remember back in 1968 at Minnehaha Academy, when I gave a talk for chapel about church music? I wondered: “if a flashback on WDGY or KDWB is a song 4 years old, why are we singing songs for worship that are more than 200 years old?”

Boy did I catch a lot of flak for that. Like somehow up-tempo music wasn’t “religious.” (Wait, we couldn’t dance either. Doing vertically what we wanted to be doing horizontally wasn’t acceptable.)

Did the same talk for chapel in 1970 at Waldorf College, where I played some music that could be considered religious: “Presence of the Lord” by Blind Faith for example (still a favorite). Caught even more flak for that talk – from students, not faculty.

Flash forward 50 years, and most church services on any given Sunday feature music performed with electric guitars and drums and keyboards and multiple vocalists using wireless microphones. Contemporary services featuring 3-chord rock- or blues-sounding music are the main attraction for 11:00 prime-time. “Six songs and a sermon” seems to be the formula for successfully bringing people to church. And it works.

What I’ve learned from all this is that the music we choose for worship is as personal as our relationship with God. Makes no difference if it’s a Gregorian chant or a screaming guitar solo that gives us goosebumps on Sunday morning, music shapes our worship experience.