Wednesday, February 22, 2006

"Upbeat" Worship

Woe to the person who suggests to me that the music be more "upbeat." What they think is an innocuous remark or mild suggestion is going to get them an earful, or at least an extended discussion.

"Upbeat." Could there be a more amorphous, ambiguous, malleable term? What to one person is "upbeat" is "hokey" to another, "boring" to yet another "blasphemous" to still another. The way we react to music is intensely personal and thoroughly abstract, which makes it very difficult to give meaningful and specific descriptions.

Anyone who asks for music that is more "upbeat" is going to get this explanation, followed by a question: "What would make the music more upbeat?" Are they asking for a change in the style of accompaniment, the selection of songs, the instrumentation? More often than not, people fumble with their words, ultimately realizing that they don't have the perception or the language to be more specific.

But these questions miss a more fundamental question, which is: Why do we want church music to be uniformly "upbeat?" In response to a recent post on Out of Ur, Taylor Burton-Edwards (about whom I know nothing) describes his a period in his life of intense grief, during which most ministries and programs of his local church were unhelpful and meaningless to him. Moreover, most people weren't equipped to engage and walk beside him in that darkness:

Very few programs form people who can walk alongside a journey like this-- and that is because those programs are simply not designed to do this. Worship that is "happy clappy," always "upbeat" has no hope of doing this.
This is the fundamental reason why "upbeat" music is an inadequate standard, regardless of any agreed-upon parameters of what constitutes "upbeat" music. Music in church needs to give voice to our frailty and brokenness--and if we don't respond to that music, perhaps it is because we fail to grasp the true nature and extent of our weakness.

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