The secret sauce of good music

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If there is one common thing I hear over and over from pastors as I travel, it is that they want to find some way to breathe new life into their music without throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater.

I know what they mean.  Regardless of the style, most church music here in the United States feels dead.  That is true in the conservative churches that sing what might be referred to as high church music where the performers seem entirely disconnected from the congregation and the needs of the congregation.  It is just as true in the churches where the music resembles a rock concert.  

Some of you might be surprised to learn that fancy lighting, dancing and drums do not really bring excitement to a church service.  I am convinced through my experience in all kinds of churches that those kinds of things don’t necessarily help at all.  In fact, the congregation in a very contemporary service often seems even more disengaged and bored than its counterpart in the ultra traditional churches where the music is old and often irrelevant.  

So why all the dead music? I am going to avoid the theological aspects of this dilemma.  For example, disengaged people very well may not be the result of a music style; they just may have spiritual problems.  Or, they might not understand their role in worship.  Or churches might have man-made musical restrictions that King David might have found beyond ridiculous.  

But rather than blaming anyone for dead church music, let’s talk about how church musicians can improve the situation.  I firmly believe that they can help make things better.

Purely from a musical standpoint, the missing ingredient is passion.  Passion is the secret sauce that makes all music great.  The difference between an average performer and a great performer is not technical brilliance.  It is passion.

As I look back and think about exceptional music worship experiences, they all had a commonality.  Every one had leaders and musicians who demonstrated passion what was infectiously passed on to the congregation.

The secular music industry understands this.  Watch any of those singing contests on TV and you will hear the judges go back to this concept over and over.  And King David certainly understood it.  Read passages like II Samuel 6 and Psalm 150.  I really wonder sometimes what Bible some church leaders are reading when they foster an environment of stiff, passionless music. 

To me, passion in music has these characteristics:

1) Belief. Musicians must believe in the music and the message of the music.

2) Commitment. Musicians have to “get into it” emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

3) Vulnerability. With commitment comes personal vulnerability because expressing a lot of passion is not really considered “normal.”  Musicians have to stop worrying about how they are perceived and just express music. 

4) Risk.  Passionate musicians are willing to make some mistakes in exchange for expressing music at a higher level.  As an aside, this is why I emphasize improvisation so much.  To me, improvisational music tends to be far more passionate even though it is much more risky.

Some of you may be wondering where the technical ability and hard work comes into play.  After all, we have all seen passionate musicians that are greatly hindered by their lack of technical skill.  So yes, technical skill is important.  Technique is a tool to help musicians create passionate music.

Unfortunately though, it seems today that churches seem to either passion or technical ability but rarely both.  We need both. 

But in the end of the day, technical ability is the servant of passion.  Passionless music is pretty much a waste of time.

Want to improve your church music? Find a way to be passionate about it.