It's All About HYMN: Essays on Reclaiming Sacred and Traditional Music...
by Donn LeVie Jr.
||Kings Crown Publishing
||September 30, 2008
With so many contemporary evangelical voices calling for "redefining", "rethinking", "remaking" and "repackaging" Christian worship, now comes a new voice for reclaiming its sacred and traditional precepts for worshipping God through sung prayer. Praised by some of the world's leading authorities on church music, It's All About HYMN: Essays on Reclaiming Sacred and Traditional Music for Worship opens up new doors to dialogue, sheds light on factors that influence the Western Christian worship model, and challenges all Christians to reassess how they approach the very act of worship.
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(From the Afterword by Dr. John Hamm)
"It is refreshing to find a book in which the author has succeeded in making a non-confrontational appeal to reasoned consideration of the matter of worship and how we ought to choose the music we use for worship if we are to be consistent with the biblical directives we find in Holy Scripture.
"This is a book that would serve well as a manual for a discussion group whose purpose is to explore the use music in worship and how one should go about determining what music is appropriate for use in worship for the 21st century churt. One of the strengths of It's All About HYMN that makes it an excellent resource for group study is that Donn LeVie, Jr. poses many questions that can be used to stimulate discussion."
C.S. Lewis once wrote: “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.” That concise philosophy applies to many areas in the Christian walk, but it has special relevance to church music. There’s good music and bad music, but music selected for worship must always be sacred or holy in its application. Its use either exalts God Almighty in a
manner congruent with Scripture or it does not.
Unlike many authors today writing on church music, I‘m not an academic or biblical scholar, nor am I a recognized authority in the field of sacred music; therefore, this work isn’t a scholastic tome. I don’t have weighty titles or degrees accompanying my name that show my secular or religious status. I make no claim to owning The Truth in this matter, for I’m uncomfortable with the idea that Truth can be owned and “sold” to others like a commodity. Truth becomes anchored securely when it is revealed and discovered through a receptive spirit and a purposeful study of Scripture by anyone with an inquiring heart and mind.
However, I’ve been a church musician for many years and have had a deep love for sacred religious music. I’m classically trained and have more than 45 years of experience on an instrument that Beethoven once called “a miniature orchestra unto itself.” I have a burning conviction reinforced by the counsel of Scripture, the application of spiritual discernment, and objective music criteria that sacred, traditional church music must be reclaimed as the finest and holiest medium that gives wings to our voices in praise and thanks to an Almighty God.
I wrote this book for these reasons and from these perspectives.
Writing a book is the literary equivalent of building a glass house. The interior of a book, like that of the glass house, is a work clearly visible to passers-by who might or might not agree with the interior furnishings. Therefore, I am aware of the aphorism cautioning those who live in glass houses from throwing stones. I have tried to avoid verbal stonethrowing at proponents of and/or artists involved with Christian pop music, commonly called “contemporary Christian music” by others and the media. But I let these individuals’ words speak for themselves when it confirms a point I am making.
Each of us is at a unique place on our paths to Christian maturity. Our journeys bring us closer to Christ’s character as we learn, understand, and discern. The controversy of music choices for worship should be more about knowledge, tradition, understanding, and spiritual discernment, and less about personalities and personal preferences. While this theme is echoed throughout this book in different ways, we can’t overlook the fact that some current musical styles reflect non-conventional evangelical perspectives. It is sometimes difficult to unwrap the type of music selected for worship from the packaging that’s used to convey the message of the gospel, but that’s a matter for other books and isn’t the focus of this work.
The debate over music used for worship services lies below the personal radars of most churchgoers. For the majority, either they aren’t aware of it, or it doesn’t matter to them. In both cases, their churches have failed in their missions by not instilling in them the knowledge, desire, and will to offer their “utmost for His Highest.”
I challenge readers to deeply assess their own reasons and justifications for their positions. The perspective offered by Scripture, tradition, recognized church music selection criteria, and discernment hopefully produces meaningful discussions and reflection about reclaiming sacred and traditional church music for worship.
I avoid writing about the “evils” of certain musical genres, the styles that constitute “Satan’s music,” and music with the so-called “rock beat.” (This beat, in 4/4 time, is used in many sacred and religious works, such as portions of Handel’s Messiah and J.S. Bach’s Cantata No. 67, Halt im Gedächtnis Jesum Christ.) Many Christian pop music opponents paint their objections with a broad brush that often drips with bitterness and contempt. As Oswald Chambers asserts, Christians are the most piercingly critical individuals. Stinging criticism often is a dish served with harshness, vindictiveness, and cruelty, all of which conflicts with Jesus’ expectations of his disciples. Such antagonism creates polarized camps that thrive on perpetuating the conflict through unbridled emotion and uninformed opinion. Instead, polite discourse, reasoning, love, and spiritual intercession draw more people to the truth of an argument.
I try not to caricaturize Christian pop music or contemporary praise music. Those who do only show they are uninformed on the valid issues or prefer a disengaged perspective from the sidelines. I don’t have to exaggerate or distort my observations because I helped plan and arrange, and performed Christian pop music in a praise band for Sunday services in a contemporary worship environment.
Hopefully, this book offers a gentle but firm treatment of the subject of music for worship services, and avoids legalistic, prescriptive mandates outside of what Scripture calls for. I focus on the application of knowledge of Christian tradition, objective aesthetic criteria, and biblical counsel by which any music finds its way into the liturgy and congregation song. But I do not apologize for questioning churches’ justification for inviting pop culture byproducts into the hallowed halls of sanctuaries.
My perspective is shaped by knowledge and experience, but also by conviction that inner compass that compels one to hold fast to certain beliefs reinforced by Scripture. I offer these facts, ideas, and opinions to inform readers about some of the issues that influence the Western Christian worship model, and why we need to take a step back to reassess our reasons, methods, and justifications for selecting music for that model. This is not an exhaustive treatment of all the perspectives, concerns, and obstacles. Their omission doesn’t mean I embrace or reject them. I refer the reader to the allabouthymn.com website for up-to-date references and links to other websites for more information.
The information between these covers has come from several different but related areas. As I travel to perform sacred and traditional music, I discuss these issues with all kinds of churches: contemporary, traditional, denominational, non-denominational, Protestant, and Catholic. I receive questions and comments from church musicians, worship leaders, music directors, and pastoral staff members at conferences, workshops, and in private conversations. And others arrive through e-mails, snail mail, text messaging, and phone conversations. Material also comes from my years of study of church history and research into individual pieces that influence my classical guitar arrangements and performance of sacred music. Eventually, this material evolved into the chapters of this book.
And finally, I hope that these spiritually discerned positions on worship music elicit thoughtful discussion and contemplation - not on how we can open the sanctuary doors to more worldly or popular choices, but how we must maintain the criteria by which all music makes its way into our worship space. Let us also be reminded that once the dust has settled from the lively discourse, that instrumentation accompaniment of any kind is not a requirement for congregational or liturgical worship in song. After reading this book and meditating on the challenging questions, one major truth should become apparent: music selection for the vertical relationship we have with God, which we call worship, is not about what you do and don’t like to sing or perform.
I welcome your comments, experiences, and ideas as this dialogue of sorts will always be a work in progress.
It's All About HYMN
“For the last couple of decades or so many churches from almost all the Western traditions have been tempted to adopt the empire’s assumption that music is for selling. They have used it as a tool to market their version of Christianity and to attract customers. Groups not so enamored by musical instruments, like the Eastern Orthodox, have maintained more ballast. Now, voices from the Western traditions are finding courage to raise questions in search of their own integrity and ballast. "It’s All About HYMN: Essays on Reclaiming Sacred and Traditional Music for Worship" is a thoughtful one, though – as would be expected – it will not evoke unanimity either in all its historical and theological suppositions or in all its conclusions. It will indicate, however, that church music is worthy of serious conversation from various perspectives like this one, and not a trivial marketing device or personal preference.”
Dr. Paul Westermeyer--Director, Master of Sacred Music, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN and Organist and Cantor, St. Olaf’s College, Northfield, MN Board Member, National Leadership Program for Musicians (LPM)
New Book: It's All About HYMN
Music has always been a spiritual aspect of religion. "It's All About Hymn: Essays on Reclaiming Sacred and Traditional Music for Worship" is a look at how traditional music has fallen into secular society and how modern religious leaders can reclaim them for worship purposes to enhance the faith of their congregations. With a side focus on newer music genres taking their place in religion, "It's All About Hymn" is a must for those who embrace music and their faith equally, and enjoy mixing them often.
Mid-West Book Review/Small Press Book Watch
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Reader Reviews for "It's All About HYMN: Essays on Reclaiming Sacred and Traditional Music..."
|Reviewed by Brian Metzger
|Review: It’s All About HYMN: Essays on Reclaiming Sacred and Traditional Music for Worship
By Brian Metzger, Christian Worship Book Review
When it comes to books on the church music controversy, It’s All About HYMN is hands-down one of the more considerate ones but a read that challenges proponents of CCM to face up to the shortcomings of that genre of music for use in worship. Each chapter is peppered with both rhetorical and thought-provoking questions that need to be addressed by those in charge of presenting music for worship and those who participate in its offering. LeVie claims not to be an academician or biblical scholar, but his writing reveals not only knowledge and application of Scripture, but well-reasoned assertions, proposals, and conclusions drawn from his research, which is well annotated at the end of each chapter.
LeVie’s position is clearly stated throughout the book: he favors reclaiming sacred and traditional music for worship, as the subtitle suggests. But woven throughout most of the chapters is the subtle thread that advocates the implementation of three tests for all music being considered for worship: (1) biblical guidance, (2) spiritual discernment, and (3) generally accepted criteria for church music aesthetics. Music selections should never be based on what you like or don’t like to sing, as LeVie states in the Preface, because worship is not about you. And he makes clear that musical instruments—whether it’s a pipe organ, electric guitar, or accordion—are not a prerequisite for singing praises to God.
Chapters 10 and 11 contain the meat of the book where LeVie addresses 40 hard-hitting questions about music for worship. For example, if you think jazz- or reggae-style arrangements are OK for use in worship services, think again. LeVie cites historical, social, cultural, theological, and musical reasons why neither should ever be considered for worship services. And it has nothing to do with personal preference or opinion because LeVie admits that in addition to classical, certain types of jazz are among his favorite to listen to and perform. Besides offering convincing and supported arguments, LeVie interjects questions that demand serious thought for nearly every claim, opinion, perspective that promotes the use of CCM or “Christian Pop Music” for worship services.
If you want an eye-opening perspective on this hotly contested issue that gently but firmly leads you through the false presumptions, fallacies, and half-truths that often characterize the worship music debate, this is THE book that will do it.
|Reviewed by Jessie Douglas
|I had some initial concern that this book might be one of those emotionally charged offerings that provides little insight into the factors that influence worship music choices. But that concern dissipated after I read the back cover quotes and inside quotes from such notable church music authorities as Drs. Westermeyer, Johansson, Daw, and Music. Thumbing through the book, each of the 13 chapters is annotated with references and written in a very readable, scholastic but non-academic style (LeVie admits he’s not an academician or biblical scholar). The book has four appendixes: Appendix A: listings of sacred choral music on CD; Appendix B: pipe organ music on CD; Appendix C: Invitation to readers to be part of the follow-up book, It’s All About HYMN: Second Verse; and Appendix D: supplemental material at the book’s website and announcement of LeVie’s upcoming companion CD of classical guitar arrangements of sacred music, traditional hymns, and inspired classical music.
In It’s All about HYMN: Essays on Reclaiming Sacred and Traditional Music for Worship, LeVie tackles one of the most divisive topics in the Christian church today: music style used for worship. Through the 13 chapters in this book, he presents a logical, non-confrontational, biblically balanced perspective (skillfully interlaced with hard-hitting questions) on why the use of Contemporary Christian Music (LeVie calls it “Christian Pop Music” to differentiate it from other forms of Christian music being written, recorded, and concertized today) too closely mirrors a secular “tone” in both lyrical content and musicality for use in worship services to appear more “culturally relevant” to seekers or non-Christians. He equally argues the case in each chapter for why a return to sacred, traditional church music must be reclaimed: “Sacred church music elevates and exalts; it overflows with theological truth and legacy; it places an intangible envelope—one we cannot see or feel, but sense—about that essence that transcends time and space, and it provides God’s creatures with a conduit wrapped in sonic beauty to His presence.” LeVie writes from his many years experience as a church musician in both traditional and contemporary worship environments.
Of particular note are three chapters. The first, entitled “Assumptions, Fallacies, Reason, and Groupthink in the Worship Music Debate”, addresses the preconceived notions, half-truths, personal preferences, and incorrect assumptions people bring with them to the worship music debate. All too often, positions on the subject reflect personal preferences that are many times the result of the selective filtering of facts (or no facts at all), history, emotions, and Scripture, and LeVie does an admirable job of highlighting this problem and pointing to a path around it.
The chapter entitled “Why Personal Preference Can Not Be An Option for Selecting Music for Worship” hones in on those ever-changing factors and intangibles that influence our personal preferences for not only worship music, but “automobiles, silverware patterns, and qualities in a potential spouse.” In this chapter, LeVie also shows how churches that use blended worship services or divided worship services (separate contemporary and traditional services) are catering too much to congregational accommodation and personal preference, or are relying heavily on a “targeted marketing” approach that creates division within the body of Christ.
The chapter entitled “Finale” is a perfect summation of the theme that is woven throughout the book, which boils down to the attitudes we adopt and display as we approach the act of worship. LeVie writes that we too often approach our worship with the presumptive attitude about our redemption that minimizes or completely ignores our unworthiness as fallen creatures to come before God in worship. Yes, we are renewed creatures, but we tend to proceed immediately to the sometimes prideful realization of being in God’s grace, which can, as LeVie writes, be a barrier between us and God.
The chapter on “The Influence of Church Architecture on the Worship Model” offers insight into how the architecture of interior space influences the structure of the western Christian worship model. Not to be missed is the chapter on “A Scriptural Prescription for Selecting Music for Worship” where LeVie responds to the most commonly heard justifications and rationalizations by proponents of Christian pop music/CCM for its use in worship services. The Afterword by Dr. John Hamm succinctly recaps and promotes LeVie’s premise, and suggests that the book would serve double duty as a group study guide.
It’s All About HYMN is a highly recommended read for anyone involved with planning, presenting, participating and leading traditional or contemporary worship music for congregation participation. The many questions posed throughout this book serve as great checkpoints to help ensure your selections reflect biblical guidance and spiritual discernment, and possess an appropriate aesthetic for church music.