Monday, July 30, 2007

Praise & Harmony -- Glorious God

Keith Lancaster is well-known in COC circles and in the world of a capella recording. His groups have won numerous awards for their tight harmonies and clean sounds. He has done a lot to influence the musical ministries of the Churches of Christ for decades. In fact, like many "born and raised" COCers my age, I have wonderful memories of going to Acapella and AVB concerts. Truly, Acapella played a large part in my early spiritual formation. Their popularity seems to have waned a bit in recent years. In my view, this probably has something to do with the increasing ambivalence towards a capella worship in our fellowship. While our former dogmatism on this issue is regrettable, I would personally also hate to see us lose that as a part of our tradition.

For all of the innovative a capella arrangements that Lancaster's various groups sang through the years, few of them were conducive to congregational use. By design, they were for professional singing groups to perform before an audience. For all of these reasons, I was greatly pleased when I heard in 2005 of plans by Lancaster's The Acapella Company to begin the Praise & Harmony project designed to benefit congregational singing. Upon its release, I purchased the Awesome God album and accompanying songbook. I have now purchased their second album in this series, Glorious God and will likely purchase the songbook for it as well.

I had the same reaction to both albums. Its a little bit hard to get used to the sound of congregational singing through the radio. We're simply not used to that many voices at once. For that reason, it "feels" different when you begin to listen to the album. However, once you get used to the different feel, its actually quite enjoyable. There are 25 tracks on the album, which is a plus. They are mostly contemporary "praise" songs and hymns, many of them rearranged by Lancaster. For someone who loves to sing and harmonize the way I do, it really becomes fun to listen. On several occasions, I know the people in the car next to me have enjoyed the stop-light entertainment of me singing at the top of my lungs inside my car.

Another great feature of these albums is the accompanying CD that teaches the harmonies. While I have personally not used this feature very much, I can see a great benefit to praise teams and groups of untrained singers to learn these arrangements. The training CD has all of the same songs as the regular album. But if you put the speaker balance all the way to the left speakers, you only hear bass and alto; to the right you hear only soprano and tenor (It might be the other way around, I'm not sure). What an innovative tool to put in the hands of worship leaders and song leaders in our churches!

I only have two complaints about the albums. The first is that there are a couple of songs on each that would not work for congregational singing because a good portion of the melody is a Lancaster solo with the "congregation" oooo-ing in the background. I can't picture a congregation actually doing that. I suppose these songs are done with a praise team in mind, and for that purpose they would be much more fitting.

My other complaint is with the seemingly random cranking up of Lancaster's mic in the recordings. He will be singing an alternative, seemingly improvised harmony, but for only a few notes before he can no longer be heard. It makes for an awkward listen at best. At worst, it sounds like an attempt to keep a bit of the spotlight as an ego trip on what is otherwise a wonderful congregational (i.e. equally shared) worship experience.

Overall, I would give the album a B+. While the sound of recorded congregational singing will certainly not have a popular appeal as an entertainment medium, it certainly creates a much more worshipful environment on my morning commute that would, say, CCM or even one of the Acapella albums. I am excited about the potential to introduce some of these songs into the worship repertoire during my worship gatherings, too.

1 comment:

Richard said...

Since about 2002, I have grown more in my spiritual journey than ever before. Much of this I attribute to God's work through the medium of music. Whether seeing old hymns through new lenses, embracing the full spectrum of genres available in the expanding Christian market, or interpreting "secular" songs to learn something of the pulse of the world I have been profoundly moved by music.

The writing is the most important element to me. Not a musician, I still love great music, but the music never moves me quite as much as the lyrics.

Even so, I believe music plays an important element in the outworking of God's plan for humanity. In fact, the ancient texts of Israel teem with profound lyrics and dynamic music.

Though I'm no music critic, I gather that those who are believe that Christian music is often shallow, reactionary, and derivative rather than proactive and creative.

It sounds like this material that you've discussed here goes beyond the usual. Can't wait to hear it.