Chord charts, lead sheets and postmodernism
Sunday, May 27, 2007
Recently I've been able to play music with some guys who go to a church in Sydney. When I first met the music director at the church she told me that they were planning on teaching some of the songs from our church's cd (Wonder of the Cross). Her frustration was that while for our first cd we wrote lead sheets and provided them for every song, our second cd came with none. We also hadn't put out many piano scores. She told me that while they loved the songs, it would be very difficult to teach them to a band without clear set guidelines on how to sing them. This bothered me because I had always assumed that there were lead sheets, and I was perplexed how other churches would be playing the song without them. I think that it would be a worthwhile project to come up with a resource like that so that other churches can find our music helpful in their contexts... That being said, when I give out music to my keys players, I never give them piano scores - I give them chord charts.
That's because I don't want them to feel locked down into one way of playing a song. I can see the importance of having a lead sheet because then the melody is set for the congregation, but piano scores and structural notes lead to a concrete, locked-in way of playing a song.
I think that as creators in God's image, we are continually creating new things - for God's glory. So when the band gets together on Sunday, they are going to create something new. It might be similar to other times but you would hope to never become stale and rigid so that each time we play the song it is exactly the same. I think that post modern congregations appreciate this. Post Modernism, while in it's purest form is foolish and human-centred and non-sensical, can also help us as we think about how to 'do' music for our congregations. Post Modernism has been so accepted by our culture that now most younger people have a mindset that appreciates new things and different forms of expressing the same truth.
At CCEC nites we capture this by trying to create new arrangements of songs all the time. The tension is to do it in such a way that doesn't confuse the congregation but rather helps it see in a fresh way, the truths a song contains. So much church music can become liturgical in the way that we approach it eg. "the verse must repeat twice and then a chorus with a certain predictable lick in the musical interlude". And so the congregation finds the song predictable and belts out the words without having to engage with them - like driving on a road you know well. But just like driving on the road, you never notice little changes or nuances because you aren't concentrating, you are just going through the motions of driving. The exact same thing can happen to a congregation when singing a well known song. But if you change the song enough to make people notice, they will be forced to re-engage with words and ideas that they may not have previously. I don't believe it is such a travesty in a post-modern culture to play a song very differently to how it was written. Often when I teach a song to my music team we get the chord charts and do our own arrangement of the song before we ever hear the artist themselves play the song on a recording. In the end we may go with the original arrangement, but we will never stop creating - even with old songs.
Posted byDan at 7:23 AM