Thursday, September 06, 2012

Happy or Sad Worship Songs?

On Tuesday, I heard this fascinating report on the shift in pop music over the last half century. It turns out that in 1965 all of the top 40 songs were in a major key and were generally faster and "unambiguously happy."  In 2009, only a minority of the songs (18) were in a major key.  Clearly, things have changed.


Well, it's hard to document the whys and wherefores of things like that (a lot of other things have changed in the same time perioud), but the author of the study quoted in the NPR story says that we like to think of ourselves as smart and that "unambiguously happy" is not thought of as very "deep" or smart today. Life is more complex.  Life is full of problems and trials and (often) darkness.  We want songs that convey that reality.

That makes some sense, and it made me think about the songs we sing at church.

It is really difficult to choose the songs each week for worship. There are so many things to factor into each week's decisions including: what fits the themes of the service and message, what we've sung recently, what we're songs trying to teach people, what songs can be played by the different levels of skill we have in our worship band, etc.

And there is also the question of popularity.  Who wants to sing an unpopular song? Not me.

But popular with who? And why?  That's the question.

I think that I have been attracted to songs that were darker, in minor keys, perhaps reflecting more emotional complexity.  I love songs like "Let Us Love and Sing and Wonder."  I want to sing songs that reflect how hard life is and find grace in the nitty gritty.

But I've recently come to realize that we don't have enough songs in our repertoire that are unambigiously happy.

Christians have a lot to be happy about. It's not wrong to rejoice.  If we are happy and we know it, let's sing about it.  Our next song to learn as a church like that will be Kristian Stanfill's "Say Say."

How about you?

Obviously, it's not an either/or choice, but do you think Christians have too many songs that are too happy or too sad?  Why?


"Christian" music, including that intended for use in worship, too often seems ONLY "positive and encouraging" instead of real. I appreciate upbeat and happy songs, but when my soul is troubled or in a darker place, those songs often ring hollow. I won't get into the other issue of artistry, which is another reason I don't listen to a lot of recent "Christian" releases... But when I think about what worship music should be, I look to what God wrote through his people. The psalms and other songs of the Bible reflect the entire human experience and also meditate on the wonders of God. I guess that's why I'm drawn to older hymns, since my favorites are like the psalms in those ways.

As for the specific topic of songs selected for corporate worship, I would vote for variety, since members of the congregation are going to be in different places. It's a great opportunity to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. I know I always appreciate it when I attend a worship service and a song reflects what my own heart is feeling, whether it's doubt or peace or sorrow or joy.

Great thoughts, Schenley, and good reminders--especially that on any given Sunday worshipers will be coming from different directions with different needs and desires.

(Of course, it feels like that makes the job of picking songs that much harder because now I have to intentionally stir in variety--but who ever said that this would be easy?)

Great point, too, about looking to the Bible's own songs for wisdom on this issue. The psalms aren't just in one key, that's for sure.