Chord charts, lead sheets and postmodernism


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  

15 comments:

David Castor said... 9:55 PM  

Post Modernism, while in it's purest form is foolish and human-centred and non-sensical

With all due respect Daniel, would you be able to qualify this statement for me?

Andrew said... 6:55 AM  

postmodernism:

"The theory of rejecting theories." Tony Cliff
"It’s the combination of narcissism and nihilism that really defines postmodernism," Al Gore
"Postmodernism swims, even wallows, in the fragmentary and the chaotic currents of change as if that is all there is." - David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity

And John Piper (in Don't Waste Your Life):
If there is no valid interpretation based on real objective, unchanging, original meaning, then my whole being said, “Let us eat, drink, and be merry. But by no means let us treat scholarship as if it really matters.”

Andrew said... 6:57 AM  

P.S
I stumbled upon this interesting site:
http://www.elsewhere.org/pomo

A 'postmodern essay generator'
Scroll down to the bottom for an explanation.

michelle said... 9:42 AM  

"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".

Either that, or they'll be concentrating so hard on this change that they won't be able to engage with the words at all. Personally, I find I need a degree of automaticity with a song before I can think about what I'm singing. But hey, I'm completely musically illiterate,so maybe that's just me...

michelle said... 9:43 AM  

P.S. Dave Castor? From Gosford High?

Dan said... 10:43 AM  

I agree to a point Shell, but I think that there is a way of rearranging a song that dosn' lose it's familiarity but still catches attention eg. slowing the song down but keeping the familiar melody.

michelle said... 11:34 AM  

Fair enough. So long as you don't make the changes too great, I get what you mean. Otherwise I'll just get confused and not sing at all :) Not that that matters, now I've been relegated to morning church ;)

michelle said... 11:54 AM  

"Post Modernism, while in it's purest form is foolish and human-centred and non-sensical".

I couldn't agree more.

There is no absolute truth...

Oh, except for that statement... which makes it no longer true. It is profoundly absurd to claim that it is true that there is no truth.

Honestly, if I wasn't a Xian, I think I would be a nihilist. Outside of Xianity, it is the only worldview that makes sense when carried through to its logical conclusion.

michelle said... 11:54 AM  

Although, the nihilist who thinks it "makes sense"... Ha ha ha...

David Castor said... 11:56 AM  

With all due respect Andrew, I was looking for a critique of postmodernism, rather than simply a few soundbites demonstrating little more than one's objection to the philosophical stream of thought. It has been my experience that postmodernism is fairly badly understood and that the term "postmodern" tends to be used simply to explain something that someone either does not properly understand, or does not like.

And yes Michelle, you may very well be on the right track ...

David Castor said... 11:57 AM  

With respect to my identity, not your analysis of postmodernity, that is.

Dan said... 12:51 PM  

I think you are right David. In the sense that I was probably being too simplistic. I think that Post Modernism is often just thrown in with relatvism and I have a tendency to do that as much as the next person. I recognise that there are nuances to Post modernity that are actually very positive ideas. I think that I highlighted some of these later in the post.

David Castor said... 3:20 PM  

Thanks for your comments Daniel.

I would suggest that postmodernity's greatest contribution has been too question some of the metanarratives of modernist discourse. Too often, post-Nicene Christian faith has been based upon unquestioned metanarratives which end up becoming idols. Just consider me an iconoclast.

Jonathan said... 3:54 PM  

Wow David. You used some big words there. You must be right.

Andrew said... 6:07 PM  

Hey dan, what would be the best first step in learning to play by chord charts? (keys)
I'm kindof learning the piano at the moment, and I much prefer improv to playing sheet music. (I'm not v. good (vood) but hopefully soon....)

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