Why Write About Church Music?
In visiting Anchorage churches, I’ve experienced virtually every type of church musical style. Sometimes the music accentuates the spiritual tenor of the service, and sometimes not. Often the music is unadulterated Pop 40 entertainment, and narcissistic with no reference to God, salvation, or the mission of the church.
The readers of this blog have written many emails complaining about the music they hear in the churches. I’ve asked several musical directors of various Anchorage church traditions to share their thoughts regarding music as used in worship. I’m running behind with these interviews, but felt an extra sense of urgency as Chris Barnett, Amazing Grace Lutheran Church’s music coordinator and church administrator, the subject of this interview, is leaving Alaska this month to live in Texas. Sorry it has taken so long to print your interview Chris. Thank you for your service to Amazing Grace and the community![img_assist|nid=152268|title=Chris Barnett, Amazing Grace Lutheran Music Coordinator & Church Administrator|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=218]
CT: Musical styles are exploding in our churches. Some use music to draw different groups of “seekers” to services, while others use it as support for the liturgy. What do you believe the true role of music should be in today’s church service?
Chris Barnett: Musical styles have been exploding in churches since the beginning of time. Andrae Crouch was accused of diluting gospel music by using contemporary music. Mozart borrowed “pop” songs for his operas. Martin Luther used bar songs for melodies for his hymns. We’ve sung Amazing Grace to the tune of Ghost Riders in the Sky! I’ll use any musical genre if it makes the words more accessible to our people.
In response to the question about the role of music in worship I guess I don’t think of worship music in that sort of fashion. Our worship just does not function without music. For us, music sets the tone of worship (Gathering song), teaches or illuminates (hymn of the day), is meditative (communion songs), and then sends us out to the world (Sending song). It doesn’t matter if it’s the first time you’ve set foot in church, your first time in a long time, or you’ve never missed a Sunday. It should always lift you up, challenge you, and remain with you after you walk out the door.
CT: Do you think music should be used as a persuasion device to connect people to God?
Chris Barnett: Absolutely! I always go back to the original church music: the Psalms. These beautiful works of art connect us to God through all channels: joy, sadness, sorrow, grief, rejection, celebration. You name it, it’s in the Psalms. I would so love to hear what these originally sounded like. The great music of the church connects us to The Word. Music and song is just prayer with a melody.
However, I also believe music’s equally important role is to connect us to each other. Ask a room full of people if they’ve had ice cream this week and you’ll get them to respond. Ask them “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” and you’ll make connections.
CT: What is your greatest challenge with the role of music in your church?
Chris Barnett: Our congregation is a busy one, so while people play instruments and enjoy making music its very challenging for them to find time to make music in church. We always want more folks making music in worship but it’s a challenge to coordinate.
CT: What is your greatest joy associated with the role of music in your church?
Chris Barnett: For me, the greatest moments always involve children and young people.
CT: What do you think church music will be like in 10 years?
Chris Barnett: I cringe to think about this sometimes. The way we consume music as a society has changed so much in the last ten years. We expect our music to be highly produced entertainment and this does not serve the worship setting well. Worship is meant to be participatory. Liturgy is something you do. Unfortunately, many churches have programmed their worship to be more of a rock concert that you watch rather than music that challenges you to sing and think. My prayer is that we will continue to enjoy the great hymns and music of our church at Amazing Grace.
CT: What is your favorite Christian musical piece?
Chris Barnett: Mozart’s Requiem.
CT: Who is your favorite Christian composer?
Chris Barnett: Bach. I find it interesting that Bach’s music is so very challenging and yet he reveled in using the Bible as his libretto.
CT: Who is your favorite Christian contemporary composer?
Chris Barnett: Bono and the band U2. Their lyrics always challenge me to think about the world beyond my own head and my own small problems. One of my all time favorite lines comes from their song, “One” and says that “we get to carry each other.” I’m still ferreting out the meanings of this but I love the word “get” in that phrase. We have been commanded to love one another. This is our directive and our privilege to carry each other from time to time. Oh, and I do like a good Fanny Crosby song too! How about that for eclectic?!
CT: What do you think Jesus thinks of Christian music today?
Chris Barnett: I think he thinks we’ve lost focus in some areas. Much of our most popular music is based solely on simple repeated praise choruses. These have a place but they are the appetizer in the meal, if you will. They come from a theology of arrival, of having the answers. We need to get to the main course, the hymns that challenge us and teach us theologically. The songs that ask us hard questions push us to ponder. The praise song is nice but we’ll have eternity to sing them!
CT: Who was the greatest musical influence in your life?
Chris Barnett: The greatest musical influences in my life were three of my high school teachers: my band teacher, my choir teacher and the English teacher who directed our musicals. While I studied music in college and learned so very much there, these three men were there during my formative years and helped me learn to love music and creating music and to honor the theater of creating worship.
CT: What are some of your thoughts when playing flute obbligato to the musical liturgy at Amazing Grace? I think it adds so much to the service!
Chris Barnett: I really enjoy playing the flute in worship at Amazing Grace. People seem to really enjoy it. Our sanctuary is such a fabulous acoustic space for playing live instruments; it’s really a treat to play there. I picture the notes of my flute floating out high across the congregation, drifting up like smoke. It’s not about me playing a great solo; it’s about joining in and helping to lift up our song.