Singing with feeling

[notice]Hugh Wetmore is a songwriter and student of worship trends. He invites you to join the worship conversation by commenting on his monthly column.[/notice]

Having insisted (in my July column) that we sing songs with Meaning, it is necessary to emphasise the need to also sing songs with Feeling. That’s the way God made us: whole people who worship Him “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24), “singing with the spirit and with the mind” (1 Corinthians 14:15).

That’s the way the Holy Spirit inspired the Psalms, with their many expressions of human feelings: courage (3); tears of weariness (6:6,7); wonder (8); envy (10,73); love (18:1); royal joy (21); despair and disappointment (22:1-5); peace, comfort and hope (23); confidence (27:1-3) …..  These are samples of the songs God enjoys hearing from our lips. Yet in each instance these Feelings are expressed in a meaningful way. There is no lazy dependence of emotional trigger words. Each Feeling is explained reasonably. That’s the balance, the whole-someness, that our God looks for in our songs.

How does a song evoke Feeling while retaining Meaning?
1.  By the choice of picture-words and metaphors, concisely expressed. This is the genius of poetry and expression in any language.

Instead of prosaically saying “I won’t be able to praise you when I’m dead”, David asks “Will the dust praise you?” (30:9).  Feel the dry deadness of dust, and note the meaningful way he evokes God’s creative act of forming humankind from the “dust”, to which we return in death (Genesis 2:7, 3:19).

Feel  the power of Richard Lewis’ words “There’s an awesome sound on the winds of heaven … the immortal King … is reaching out with his arms of love … (v2) All creation sings of the Lamb of glory who laid down His life … what amazing love that the King of heaven should be crucified, stretching out His arms of love”. (Songs of Fellowship 1040).  These words play on the senses of hearing, vision and touch. The lyrics catch us up in our imagination, transporting us into a scary storm, a joyful choir, and a vision of Calvary. Yet see the depths of Meaning sustained through the ending of each verse: “reaching out with His arms of love” … “stretching out His arms of love” on the cross.

When stressed out, let Whittier’s hymn “Dear Lord and Father of mankind” form fragrant feelings with “O Sabbath rest by Galilee! O calm of hills above, where Jesus knelt to share with Thee the silence of eternity, interpreted by love.” and “Drop Thy still dews of quietness, till all our strivings cease; Take from our souls the strain and stress, and let our ordered lives confess the beauty of Thy peace.”

 2.  By the appropriate use of Music.  Good music will blend with the Mood (Feeling) of the lyrics, and enhance the Meaning by matching the cadence of the spoken words. (That is, the natural accent of the words should match the beat/rhythm of the music.)

The peace mediated by Whittier’s lyrics (above) is enhanced by singing it to the tune named “Rest”. This mellows with the mood much better than the usual tune named “Repton”.

Feel how motivational is the melody and beat of “Go, tell it on the mountains”; feel how faithfully strong the beat of “Great is Thy faithfulness”; feel how majestic is the tune of “Crown Him with many crowns”; feel how ‘holy’ is the flow of “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God almighty!” with its repeated, full-voiced ‘o’ sound; feel how uplifting is the upbeat “We bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord”.

The waltz beat of “Let there be love shared among us” matches the words beautifully. The flowing melody of “Let Your living water flow over my soul” re-inforces the “flow” metaphor of the lyrics. The repetition of the same note in “We have come into this place … to worship Him” aids the meditational theme of the lyrics.

Aim for Excellence in choosing Songs that are rich in Meaning and powerful in Feeling!

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