Congregational accompanying considerations (a diversion)

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This week, I have been interested in the reactions to a couple of articles that have been published.  One was my blog post from earlier in the week about church pianists not having to play melody when accompanying the congregation.  The other was a post from James Koerts about using projectors rather than hymnals in church.

Over on Facebook in particular, the feedback on these articles has been interesting.  It has not been brutal or unkind but I have been surprised at the emotion these topics generate on both sides of the issues.

One of the strengths of church musicians is that they care enough about church music to have strong opinions that they will defend.  Church music has always been quite the battleground.  But I have to wonder if the battles are always about the right things.

Let’s take the hymnal vs projector debate for example.  Hymnals and projectors are amoral; they are just tools.  They both have strengths and weaknesses.  For example, hymnals provide more musical support for those that know how to read music and they encourage parts singing.  On the other hand, projectors get peoples’ noses out of hymnals, which leads to a more unified focus and better sound.

Obviously, hymnals have a longer tradition than projectors.  But let’s not pretend that that tradition is very old or critical to Christianity.  Hymnals have not been prevalent for more than a few hundred years.  Parts singing as we know it is not more than a few hundred years old either.  We are not talking about something like Communion here.

So, switching to projectors is not stomping on tradition and it is not immoral.  It is just changing tools.

Therefore, if I like hymnals better than projectors, that is my prerogative.  But it is also a preference and nothing more than a preference.  If someone disagrees with me, it seems healthy to just amiably agree to disagree.

The issue of pianists playing melody when accompanying congregational singing is very similar.  There are strengths and weaknesses to both sides.  Playing melody helps those that don’t know the melody.  Not playing melody has its benefits too. 

But this is not a moral issue. Nor should it be considered a tradition issue.  The piano has been in church 100 years or 5% of the time in which we have had a church.  The practice of playing strong melody (along with strong rhythm/harmony) originates in the so-called evangelistic approach to congregational piano accompaniment.  That approach is only 100 years old too. 

The evangelistic style was patterned from the styles of 100 years ago (ragtime and an early form of jazz called stride).  It did not (as some claim) come from Chopin and other classical composers except for the fact that ragtime and jazz were influenced by classical music.  And of course, even if the style did originate with Chopin, what difference does that make really?

The reality is that there is nothing spiritual about the evangelistic style, and really, it is too new to even be considered traditional.  If there is something better out there, we should consider switching to it.

So I want you to know that when I say not to play the melody, I am not attacking the important pillars of the church.  This is not a Biblical issue. It is not a moral issue.  And it is not even a traditional issue.

In the end of the day, it is just a preference and an opinion.  We should be able to disagree and stay friends.

So let’s debate these things. Your opinions are always welcome.  But let’s frame these issues as preferences rather than something more than that.  Traditionally (pun intended), you guys are been fabulous on this blog in your politeness even when disagreeing with each other or with me.  Let’s always stay that way.