Bored with …

Can someone please write some new worship songs? Please? I’m tired of looking at the same 12 songs, all written with the same 4 chords.

New Rule – before you secure funding to release your world-famous worship record, you have to write 3 original tunes that sound nothing like Chris Tomlin or Tommy Walker. Or Hillsongs. Trust me, those guys already do their thing much better than you will do it.

Phil, where’s the portfolio of Copland-esque worship tunes? Chad, how about you take that mid-fi sound and bang me out something? Stick, why aren’t you writing me some slick, pop production, delayed guitar, loopy …. oh wait.

All this to say, the fact that I’m bored with the repertoire of worship says to me that something is a bit off. I just can’t quite figure out what it is.

44 thoughts on “Bored with …

  1. aly hawkins

    I don’t want to toot my husband’s horn too much, but he’s writing some pretty great stuff for his worship band’s project.

    One of the things that bug me about the current worship canon is the narrow range of expression, both musically and lyrically. There are only so many ways you can say, “God, you rock harder than anyone ever!” Maybe that’s what’s off for you, too?

  2. Matt

    I’m with Aly. The lack of lyrical and thematic depth is just as large a problem. Where are the songs that are written from the perspective of Job or the Psalmists – lamenting the way evil prevails and asking God to intervene?

    I really like – by the way – Jason Morant’s latest project – Open. Some really good stuff that isn’t at all Tomlin-esque or Hillsong-esque on that one.

  3. phil

    I agree with you on all points, Mike, except for one… there are only about 6 songs.

    Charitably speaking.

  4. june

    Here, here.

    Anyone besides me find the language and themes behind some of the oldies downright perfect? …

    “Come thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy praise.”
    Just substitute ‘that’ (I guess) for thou and ‘your’ for thy if the old lingo is distracting.) Ya gotta give props for the notion of tuning one’s heart!

    I can name many hymns that move my head and heart towards God but hardly any worship songs that do. For me, it’s all about the words and worship songs almost always seem to be severly lacking in the language department. (When I hear the first notes of certain worship songs, my mind immediately flashes to the crowd scenes from the commercials selling “The BEST of Worship 2006! on 6 cd’s for $29.95.” But I guess that says more about me than the songs.) And, maybe I’m just a crochety old coot. I assume that the best of the worship songs will remain (like the best of hymns) and the others will fall away. (Here’s your hat “Heart of Worship,” what’s your hurry?)

    I’ll check out the artists Matt and Corey recommended. Where and when do we get to hear what Ash is doing?

  5. june

    (Is it “here, here” or “hear, hear?”)

    I shouldn’t even be allowed to use a computer.

  6. michael lee Post author

    Hear, Hear. It’s a shout of acclamation from someone in the crowd, for others in the crowd to hear the words of the one speaking.

  7. june

    That’s what I kinda thought….AFTER I hit the submit key.

    And to think, my and my very small brain are actually in charge of two small, helpless people every day. Poor things.

  8. Stick

    Yeah, agreed. I’ve been mulling around in my head a bit the idea of doing a worship record of some sort, ’cause well, everyone I know has done a worship record, and I haven’t. Unfortunately, I sing like an even more out of tune Michael W. Smith with big hairy nodes on his vocal chords. So, I’m not exactly sure what I’m going to do about that. Though, I must say, I’ve never really tried to actually sound good, and then use my, shall we say, “tools” to “fine tune” a somewhat less than stellar vocal styling. Well, that aside, the point here is some new tunes. It does seem crazy that there are worship records released everyday that for some reason have no good tunes on them (or the 47,239th version of “Lord I Lift Your Name on High”). Hopefully, mine wouldn’t be on that heap. I will say one thing- I might have to do the whole record with NO ACOUSTIC GUITAR merely to prove that one can worship God without it. (Sorry Corey… however, I will have LOTS of electric guitars!)

    We’ve been introducing some of Keith Getty’s “new hymns” at our church. The “hit” of his is “In Christ Alone” which is a great hymn. Also, “Power of the Cross” is a great communion lead up hymn. “Speak O Lord” is a nice “get your head in gear for the sermon tune”. Check it out here:

    BTW, I got asked to lead worship this week, as the usual leader is out of town. I’m doing a few “oldies”. “Open The Eyes of My Heart” (but with a Coldplay yet edgy driving groove, faster than usual), “He Is Exalted” (but with a shuffle 6/8 groove), “This Is My Father’s World” (reharmonized a bit for the “modern sound” but keeping the traditional “ne’er and “oft”), and “He Knows My Name” (but with some gospel changes and a little more groove than the usual way). I’m not sure we’ve done any of those tunes since I’ve been there, so the band will be hanging on for dear life… heh heh! Oh, and we don’t have an acoustic player this week!

  9. michael lee Post author

    yeah, I never realized before how much drinking parenting requires.

    and to think, poor Gretchen has to do it without self-medication, because of the whole stomach thing. how do you do it, babe?

  10. Bill

    I have the same complaint about most of the “worship music” I hear that I have about pop music in general. It’s all like painting with one color.

    The guitar, whether acoustic or electric is not the only instrument in existenc…it’s not even one of the more expressive ones…but would aliens visiting our planet be able to tell?


  11. corey

    The bulk of current worship music is total crap, in my mind. I haven’t heard anything new in years that I didn’t find shallow. June, I’m with you- “Come Thou Fount” is my favorite hymn. And where did the battle cries like “A Mighty Fortress” go? I was being sarcastic about the myspace link. She’s a nice gal, close friends with the wife, but hers is just another new worship record. Derek Webb has the cover story in the latest issue of Relevant Magazine, and if I remember correctly, he takes aim at CCM, saying that it’s the only kind of music that gets lumped together because of subject matter, not style. And the subject matter all of a sudden validates the performance, because if we tell someone their worship record sucks, it makes the baby Jesus cry and makes us look sympathetic to the groanings of a heart of faith.

    But that raises the real question: What’s the solution for a generation of worshippers that has been raised with an appetite for this flavor of worship? And in the fast pace of current worship trends where some songs are allowed only two or three test runs with the congegation before they get the gong, how do you teach something with substance? (I undertsand that others get to live forever in infamy, like “Lord I Lift…” and “Pants The Deer”.)

    Where are the songs for the wretched? Where are the songs that are supposed to make felons feel redeemed? Where are the songs that bring light into darkened lives? Where are the songs that reach the depths of faith and the complexities of the life of faith? If I hear, “Lord, I honor you, in all I do” one more time, I’m gonna scream.

    I want to find the rebels of worship music, and buy them a beer.

  12. michael lee Post author

    Oh, by the way corey, we\’re doing \”Amazing Love\” this week, and I\’d like you to take the vocal lead on the tag. Only we do this really hip version that\’s totally different, where we insert a Bm chord every once in a while.

    Nice work on the Kris Huston stuff. I mean, obviously you\’re not the right guy for all of it, but for some of those licks, nicely done.

    (removes tongue from cheek)

  13. Doug

    Last weekend I was in the midwest- Wisconsin to be exact and worshipped at the church where my wife’s brother is pastor. It was a step back in time- no CCM no band no video just some hymns accompanied by the church electronic organ. The surprise to me was it was not unsatisfying once I got past the roller rink sound. I could and did worship. (Granted, they included a Getty hymn in the lineup) Now the evening service was something else. A song service led by an aging baby boomer (even older than me) that thought she would take us back to camp. We sang such greats as “Pass it On” et al. made the experience almost comedic.
    To the point- yes there is some boredom with the current worship playlist. Maybe we need more hymn writers like Getty (perhaps some with a broader theological perspective than his) I like to engage my mind in worship and nothing does that like substantive theology in the words of the song.

  14. june

    Corey, everytime we sing “Lord, in all I dooooo, I honor youuuuuui” I’m mentally squishing a lot more words into the melody, like: “Lord, it’sacryingshamethat in all I doooo, Ireallyreallydon’t honor youuuu” or “Lord, I’mcrazysorrythat in all I doooo, I’mreallycrappyatbringinghonorto youooo” or “Lord, whointheirrightmindactuallywroteALLinthismonotonouslybadsongabout youuuu?!”

    Sometimes I make myself shudder and giggle at the same time by imagining my thoughts being projected up on the lyric screens. Then I tell myself that I’m horrid and the dear Christrian bro/sis who wrote that song is probably a wonderfully genuine person. Sigh.

    The last time we sang the Getty hymn “In Christ Alone” at church, the electric guitar player was doing this part that I found myself thinking would be great to hear on flute or recorder or maybe a mandolin. (Given the Irish bent and all.) In college I minored in flute and used to play regularly at my church as part of the “worship team.” I think the last time I heard/saw a woodwind instrument on a church stage (outside of the John MacArthur church symphony extravaganza) was when it was myself. Just kinda sad. Violins are cool, ya know?! And oboes…and who isn’t moved by good cello playing? I guess I’m glad that at least all the church pianos haven’t been rounded up and turned into kindling for a bonfire at the next Promise Keepers event.

  15. Karen

    Oh Mike you must have them! There are so many people out there that probably don’t think to even ask because worship is all about guitar (not that I mind guitar, I love hearing Bobby play on Sunday mornings)! I actually asked about playing flute for worship team sometimes a couple of years ago and kind of got a “yeah we’ll keep that in mind” blowoff.

  16. june

    Hear, hear! (See, I may not be the brightest star in the sky, but I can learn.) Michael, I’d bet my husband’s hard-earned money that there is more than one string or woodwind player sitting in your congregation. They are probably out of practice, but if you gave them a few months to get their chops back, I’d bet that they, like Karen, would be happy to join in. Most folks just aren’t going to approach the worship leader after church and say something like “Hey, thanks a lot for all your effort in putting together the music every week…it really helps me focus on the Lord and encourages me into a genuinely worshipful state of mind…and do you think you’d ever like me to play my viola with you?”

  17. june

    But, I could be wrong. Brian says the same thing…and claims it’s also true of the number of “people who can sing” in any given church body.

    Weird. Where did all those uber-talented, over-achieving music majors that I went to college with end up?!

  18. Stick

    Ok, so what does this non-existant form of worship music sound like? I get that it’s more than 4 chords, and probably doesn’t repeat the same lyric/melody combination more than twice in a row, but what does that leave? Don’t tell me it’s some sort of odd-metered prog-rock or smooth jazz. It’s not some weird atonal spiritual exploration. It can’t be more complicated than a 4 line hymn where 3 lines are often melodically related, if not the same. What’s the balance between new, fresh, different and memorable, singable, and dare I say, timeless?

    Just as “Come Thou Fount” and “Mighty Fortress” are the ones we think of as great, were they the “hits” when they first dropped? There are plenty of clunker hymns populating hymnals still. How did those hymn forms relate to the popular music of the time? (I know, I should know this, having been a music major. Music History was not one of those edge-of-your-seat classes like Ear Training at 8am was.) We’ve all heard the “re-lyric the bar songs” stories. Isn’t that what’s going on today? Aren’t we just using the song forms of the day to make contemporary worship music? Granted, we’re saying that today’s pop hits are nothing to write home about, but hasn’t that always been the case? Mass consumption is what makes a hit. Therefore it must be the lowest common denominator if it’s going to “sell” (by that I mean, get popular).

    Ok, maybe it’s all about the lyrics. You don’t like saying the same thing over and over? What about Psalm 150? That’s a lot of “Praise Him”s. What about Revelation 4:8. That’s a long time to sing “Holy Holy Holy, etc…”. i think there’s a place for deep, rich, thought provolking lyrics, but I’m also pretty sure we don’t need to toss the loud, rowdy, praise Him at the top of our lungs tunes, or the tunes that make us focus on one attribute of God, or praising Him with one phrase of words.

    I don’t know how we’re gonna get away from VCVCCBCC in 4/4. I don’t know if we should anyway. Maybe it IS about doing what Redman and Walker and Getty are doing, but BETTER. Shoot, they only have 1 or 2 “hits” per record if that. I bet they write TONS to get those few. The old hymns that we dig should stay. Think of the huge numbers of clunker hymns that made it to the hymnals? And yet, there’s probably only 10 or 15 of all of them throughout the history of western music that we all think “make the cut” theologically and musically. The new “hit” hymns need to be as good, if they want to someday be added to the list. Maybe “Pass It On” WILL make a comeback in 75 years as a juicy, deep song from our era. Maybe it’ll be “Lord I Lift Your Name”. Point being, we’re writers in the time we write. We don’t know what music will sound like in 100 years. The fact that we’re singing hymns from the 1500s is pretty amazing. The fact that we’re NOT singing Gregorian Chants and medieval music says something about their complexity and memorablilty (which is funny, as they were both devices for remembering the liturgy).

    Anyway, I think the chase after something “outside the box” musically is going to be a fruitless one. Sure we have to see if we can stretch the box a little bigger, because that’s always the goal of creativity, but for corporate worship in the USA in 2006, worship music has to pretty much sound like music sounds to the congregation for it to be accepted, understood and remembered. And lyrically, sure there are new ways of saying things, but the range of what we can cover is finite, just as the number of pages in the Bible is.

    So, yeah, we’re sick of today’s “hit” worship tunes. Well, they’re a hit for a reason. They’re pretty good and people like them. We have to do better to bump them out of their spot on the chart, or from the list at our church.

    I’m still not putting acoustic guitar on my record. Ok, maybe just a little, but none in that Jars of Clay/every CCM tune out there strumming pattern.

  19. harmonicminer

    Four chords aren’t enough.

    Four “feels” aren’t enough.

    Four main theological points aren’t enough.

    Worship was never meant to be pre-packaged performance by a talented few. It CAN’T be that, in fact.

    The lowest common denominator rules everywhere, with the sole exception of pastoral leadership that LEADS, and does not merely package and sell. If the lead pastor does not have an elevated, mature concept about the role of music in worship, it’s a guaranteed uphill battle for anyone else in the church who does, including the musical leaders, of course.

    “Sacred” music is used by most in the same way people listen to love songs from the KOST. If we expect anything else from them, we have to teach them what it can be. If our church leadership doesn’t allow us to teach them, then we can’t. I think it’s that simple, and the reason why most large churches have the most “inertia” in this area.

    Most of what annoys some of use is the inevitable result of commercialized “Christian” music.

    So, a simple challenge. Have you, in the last 10 years (or less, if that seems too long), learned to like and appreciate a new style of music that you formerly didn’t like at all, or of which you were just ignorant? And can you envision using THAT music in worship?

  20. michael lee Post author

    Then phil, looks like this is your “10 year challenge”. Go git yerself some blue mountain pickin’ music.

    Corey can probably recommend some CDs

  21. Stick

    I\’ll admit to a greater understanding and appreciation of rap and R&B over the last 10 years. There\’s some serious skill involved in crafting that sort of rhyme. I\’ve tried it, and I\\\’m pretty stinky at it. And those \”loops\” aren\’t just loops out of some library, every hi-hat and snare drum is carefully placed for certain effect in the overall groove. Those producers may not know what a #9b5 chord is, but man, they know how to make beat 4 feel phat. In worship? Might be a stretch…

    Bluegrass too… living in Nashvegas will force you to take it in. Cool stuff. And you can do bluegrass without an acoustic guitar… it\’s called BANJO! Yeeeee haw! In worship? SURE! Hymns done bluegrass are great. \”I Love You Lord\” done bluegrass would be pretty cool.

  22. corey

    Stick, as I read your second to last post (what I’ll call “Book 4″ of this entry), I couldn’t help but wonder if this rumbling we’re all feeling in our guts is not the hunger for better music, but the hunger for more substance in worship, generally speaking. You make great points about how worship tunes fit current pop culture and how it’s just the repetition of how worship tunes have been written in the past. So maybe the worship is just the most visible symptom of the problem – made most evident by the fact that many of those who post here are emotionally, physically, and financially involved in music.

    And Phil, yes, Nickel Creek’s first disc was really great. It’s more southern poetry set to cool stringed instruments than “Deliverance”. If you’re looking for something a bit more experimental, try Chris Thile’s (pronounced THEE-lee) “Deceiver”. He’s the mandolin player for Nickel Creek and he did his own record. He played all the instruments and wrote all the tunes and it’s pretty far from what he does with Nickel Creek. Both are good experiments. Also, Nickel Creek gets less and less traditional with each record (in my opinion), so YMMV.

  23. Eric

    Phil, you’re right. Four chords, four “feels”, four main theological points aren’t enough. Anyone who’s used Powerpoint knows that the magic number is seven. ;-)

    I’ve really been intrigued by this discussion. My wife and I are both “classically trained” musicians, and OLD (way more than halfway to death), but we have pretty eclectic musical tastes. I could completely identify with June’s “LordwhointheirrightmindactuallywroteALLinthismonotonouslybadsongaboutyou?!” trope. My most recent revelation is that I can almost manage the second verse of some worship songs with two left poetic feet if I think of them like Anglican chant: “AllIhavetodois (chord change) spitoutasmanyofthewordsasI (chord change) canbeforeit’stimeforthenext (chord change)…”

    To repsond to Stick’s observation about why we’re still singing hymns from the 1500′s and NOT singing Gregorian chant, prior to the Protestant Reformation, liturgical music was (for the most part) sung by the choir, not by the congregation. There were even theorists in the 15th century who argued that it didn’t matter if the congregation couldn’t understand the words – the music was addressed to GOD and certainly He wouldn’t have any difficulty. Martin Luther (and others) had a very different idea of worship, and along with translating the Mass into the vernacular, wanted to involve the congregation in singing hymns and songs of praise as well. Hymns were composed or adapted from secular models to be both memorable and suitable for choral (congregational singing). Contemporary worship music that works reasonably well when sung by a soloist is often complete chaos when attempted by a congregation (if any of you worship leaders can explain how to bring in the congregation together on the upbeat of 4, I’d really appreciate it).

    The worship band at our small Boston church is led by a very talented former Berkelee student (on guitar) and includes acoustic cello and a singer, sometimes electric bass. I appreciate their skills and talents, but even with practice and their considerable collective experience in the idiom, some of the songs just don’t work. And amen to Aly’s appraisal of”narrow range of expression, both musically and lyrically” and Matt’s “lack of lyrical and thematic depth”. I think Michael should have put in a plug for “Let Your Justice Roll”, though – that’s certainly a different perspective.

    I can’t exactly call my answer to Phil’s 10 year challenge bluegrass, but it’s definitely high-octane, and amazingly varied:

    Eric (whose theory-geek screen name would probably have to be something like “Guido’s SoLaMi”)

  24. Blake

    OK, although they don’t exist anymore as of a few weeks ago, Something Like Silas has (had) some great worship tunes that were totally original and sounded nothing like the monotonous crap that permeates sp? the airwaves. (if you listen to the radio, which I don’t.)

  25. Stick

    Corey, yeah, it could very well be substance we’re lacking, but then I have to ask, what is “substance”? It is the lyrical content? Is it emotional connections to the music? Is it dim light and candles?

    So, given the “perfect” set of interesting chord changes played in an interesting and perhaps different way that lead to the perfect singable hook in the chorus, and then upgrade the lyrics to sufficiently theologically deep yet accessable and meaningful, do we have it? I’m not sure. How much of our musical worship is based on the experience of the day we happen to be singing the perfect song? What if the song before it on the list just sucked and we’re hung up thinking about how sucky it was and how bad the 3rd background singer’s shoes are with his khacky pants.

    I guess I’m leading myself to think that we as writers and worship leaders can only go so far. Then it’s completely up to the listener/participant to take it, internalize it, and then in turn give to God themselves. Maybe this is common knowledge. I don’t know…

    Maybe this is a discussion about our roles as writers and worship leaders.

  26. june

    Ok, the following is neither here nor there but just a silly little road that is vaguely related to the discussion at hand and I just can’t resist going down it. So last Sunday at church, we had just finished the first song, “Open the Eyes of my Heart Lord,” and the band had played the first few notes of “He is Exalted” when a couple scooted into the seats in front of me. I noted the the gal was wearing the quintessential little (to be generous) black dress and was nicely tan. No lines. Perhaps not the most churchy of attire but it’s California. Whatever. Anyway, we were sitting as we sang (Go figure. It’s what our church does. We stand when we read scripture.) so of course the couple sat. Well now, there’s being seated and then there is planting your tight, tan, sexy black dress-covered tukus in a chair. She did not sit, she planted. I’ve really never before noticed that a person, male or female, could have any particular kind of way of taking a seat, but perhaps the men reading this will know what I mean? There was a very distinct hip thing that went on and then as Miss Coppertone lowered herself, she pulled her skirt tight to the front as women are prone to do when being seated (or planting, apparently.) HELLO THONG! I think at that moment I actually thought: ‘Open the eyes of HER Lord…to her lingerie drawer and a slip to go over that thing!’ Sacreligous, I know. (I already admitted to being horrid a few posts above, remember?) All this was happening within inches of me as I sort of squeeked out “He is exalted, forever exalted and I will…” So of course I’m feeling distracted, and amused, and thinking it’s a great opportunity to choose to not be distracted by anything happening around me. By the time we finished “He is Exalted” and “This is My Father’s World” (thank you dear Brian for throwing us hymn lovers that bone!) my head was pretty much back into a God space and I’d left the thong shock behind. But then came the scripture-reading time. As mentioned, we stand when we read scripture at our church, so stand we did. And this was the clincher. Literally. While the afore mentioned couple stood, heads bent over a pew Bible, his hand slid down and around that silky lil’ black number and landed, with a squeeze, on the land of the thong. I nearly snorted. For real.

    So what’s my point? Not much of one really. Mostly just sharing the laugh, but the whole thing (there was a smooch near the end of the sermon and another cheek squeeze during the closing song) did make me think about what Brian wrote above: “it’s completely up to the listener/participant to take it, internalize it, and then in turn give to God themselves.”….even when visible groping is happening too close for comfort during “worship.”

    The only other thing that was distracting was the pianist’s khacky pants.

  27. Stick

    I never won no spelling bee. There IS an “h” in there somewhere right?

    What was surprising to me about Thong-chick and the Makeout Kid was that they were seated in the 2nd row! I mean, isn’t that what the balcony is for?

  28. michael lee Post author

    dude, totally! That’s why Gretchen and I sit in the back of the church, by the tech booth – so that she can inappropriately grab my thong during worship.

    This mental image has been brought to you by the Reformed Church of America. Rock on.

  29. Larry Edgar

    I can’t imagine how difficult it can be for a worship leader – walking a razor’s edge between Adventure and the same ol’ stuff week after week, for fear of losing one’s audience. We had a vespers service for awhile at our church using Taize music, I thought it was great, but didn’t get a lot of folks to show up. Cancelled because of (lack of) ratings.

    Someone was mentioning lack of substance in worship, would providing a more “solid” focal point (other than the praise band) in worship help? Unfortunately being evangelical types, icons probably wouldn’t be acceptable.

  30. Karen

    I think for many of us that were in music in worship classes or anything like that have a difficult time sitting through worship not wanting to be manipulated. We know what the pastors go through to get the music out there. In our church we have a lot of Travis Cottrell songs and David Moffit songs. They are ok and I am sure there are people that really worship to them. I think I just have a hard time listening to “new” worship songs that I can sing along with the first time because they sound just like everything else out there. My mom got all upset at her church because they did a hymn but jazzed it up instead of letting it be the hymn that was written. I am sure it appealed to the younger crowd but anyone over 50 had their nose out of joint. As another person here on the board that loves to hear the hymns in all their glory, I am missing those a lot. Although, there have been a couple thrown in the last few weeks…maybe I am not alone in our crowd of 3000.

    Mike thanks for that visual from the Reformed Church of America! I am not sure I can ever see you the same…

  31. Sharolyn

    This is going back a way, but I second June’s endorsement for Nickel Creek. For years, I found everything either uninspiring or good – for the thousandth time. (Ella’s not recording anything new.) Then someone loaned me the CD “This Side”. It woke me up (musically)… almost as much as visualizing Mike in a thong.

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