Worship Futures

Three bits of news have hardened my suspicions that guitar music is going to be increasingly niche. One is Paul Gambaccini’s last rites on rock. The second is that Guitar Hero has been discontinued. And the third is that Beyonce could be headlining Glastonbury. I think this shows that the guitar has definitely moved away from the centre stage in society’s music consciousness.

This has interesting implications for worship music. A good proportion of contemporary worship leaders lead from the guitar. A huge number of worship songs today are written around the guitar. I’ll go out on a limb and say that there are more guitar worship churches than organ worship churches. So, if the guitar is moving away from the centre of secular music but is the centre of church worship music, should we be concerned?

Concerned in a positive way I would hope. It does warrant thinking and discussion. We are products of our culture and God’s kingdom advances through some of the features of the culture we inhabit. Our worship will always reflect some part of our culture. So we should experiment with new ways of doing music away from the guitar.

How about an ipad/ipod orchestra? Or a more ethereal laptop orchestra?

Sounds alien? Impossible? Impractical? or exciting? Perhaps all of them? Imagine how alien we would sound to Christians a century ago. We have so much more technology than they did. Whether technology is out of control or too much in our lives is open for debate but technology has played an integral role in the way music in the church has evolved. Here’s an interesting quote from the book ‘Electronic Music.’

“baroque music cannot be imagined without the advances of 16th and 17th century luthiers, rock could not exist without the electric guitar, and jazz or hiphop without redefinitions of the saxophone and the turntable.” p89

So as technology changes new kinds of music can appear, not by a wholesale dumping of the past but as natural inheritors to a tradition. ‘(T)he pipe organ was the most complex man-made device,[5] a distinction it retained until it was displaced by the telephone exchange in the late 19th century’ (Wikipedia). Using software is a natural progression from the pipe organ which under pinned church music for centuries. From the same book :

Good new instruments should learn from their traditional ancestors and not impose their music on the performer.

This is where the challenge really lies. It’s easy to make music sound from the computer. You just press play on whatever music player you have. The challenge lies in actually making music with the computer.

Laptops are a common sight in worship but they seem to be used mostly as a screen for words or for projection. Are there any worship leaders who use a computer as their leading instrument? In my limited experience I haven’t heard or seen any. Within the band context I have seen computers used musically but mostly as a sound bank for the keyboard or as a loop machine.

Loops sound good but they barely scratch the surface of computer music. Live sampling would be the next step. This could be of the singing and we could even sample the congregation’s singing to maybe pray over or recite a liturgy over. Generating sounds from the computer could take things further. It could give us a real sense of the otherness and the unpredictability of God. The next crazy step could be where there could be a network server in our worship space where people with their smartphones could all connect to the server and participate and contribute to the music with the various apps in our worship. Wild.

The possibilities are endless. Everything’s possible but not everything will be useful, Paul reminds us. But surely we have to start trying it out? So over to you.

What could worship sound (and look) like if we used the full range of the computer’s potential in worship?

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3 thoughts on “Worship Futures”

  1. These are definitely ideas worth considering. In fact, it’s high time we did.
    But I’m of the opinion, that more technology and less life would actually defeat the whole purpose of corporate worship. People find technology interesting ( I include myself there) and its easy to get caught up with that rather than the actual focus of worship – God. Technology like smart phones and ipad/iphones actually enhance worship in newer ways and reduces the discomfort which one might have to face in corporate worship – minding the other, waiting for the other, reconciliation, hearing the voice of a not-so good singer worshipping next to you. . . But the point is to be one and worship together. United only by Christ.
    Experimental worships – I’d love to have them and explore them, yet I am weary of draggin worship away from what it ought to be.
    And all that on the guitar, you said, 3 years ago, I’d have had a hard tmie digesting that. But as I learn more, I realise its very true. Songs and worships around the guitar.
    I’m glad you said it (guitarist, musician, choir master), because it matters and makes a statement, a sort of wake up call to all the “worship lovers”, like me.

    1. Good points Thews. They need to be brought out and discussed.

      The first point about technology. Technology is with us and will keep changing and going on. The point is always how do we use it. Using the guitar is using technology. Using a keyboard is using technology. Using powerpoint is using technology. Using a church building is technology! But we don’t really think that. We assume so much as a given. The point is how we use it and how dependent we are on it.

      The second point about corporateness. If something is going to reduce corporateness then obviously we should shun it. My imagination would take me to a point where everyone is contributing without fear of judgment or want of praise. The scenario I fantasise about is one where the congregation members send a drum beat or a little guitar lick to the server. Then the music director like a DJ hears it refines it to fit the music already playing. The point is more engagement and more participation. People can send in prayers and praises which can be put on a screen. The other thing is that we can be very flexible in what our worship is like. We don’t have to keep looking for a guitarist or keyboardist all the time. However we have to be very careful about using as little automation as possible.

      As for ‘draggin worship away’ that’s exactly what I would like to do, but to what it OUGHT to be. That is reflecting the incarnate God in our local area with all that we are given including our technology.

      A lot of our lives are on our computers. Isn’t it only right we bring that in to worship? 🙂

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