This past summer we moved to a region known as the Twin Tiers. The Twin Tiers consists of the Southern Tier, which are the counties on the southern border of New York State – roughly between Jamestown and Binghamton. NY-17, which is many places is now signed I-86 is known as the Southern Tier Expressway. The Northern Tier are the counties in Pennsylvania border New York.
We have discovered that this is a unique region. Our area is very rural – especially to the south of us. There are even areas to our south that are designated as wilderness. There are places in the area that don’t have any cell service. I’ve been checking out the radio stations in the area and a few weeks ago, I came across one called “The Mountain.” Their tagline is “we play everything.” There is also another station that plays the hits, but plays them from several – meaning 4 or 5 decades. In both cases, the mix results in an interesting mix. We even have a Christian station in the area that plays the standard contemporary fare, but then mixes in classic CCM (think Petra, Sweet Comfort Band, and even some Kerry Livgren) along with some harder modern music.
I got to thinking about this as I have been driving – I drive for a local school transportation company, so I spend quite a bit of time during the day driving in an empty vehicle. As I thought about it, I thought how that might apply to the music we do for worship. It seems like for the most part, churches choose one style of music or another. One of the things that I noticed is that very few worship leaders can blend various styles together well. Yes, there are some, but they take some looking for.
I know that my kids have been spoiled by having their dad as a worship leader. James and Anna have both mentioned that they don’t like to have to choose between “modern” and “traditional.” I think that is one of the things that we did very well at Parkway – we blended modern worship songs, with modern hymns, classic praise and worship, gospel songs – old and new, and traditional hymns. One of the things that helped the blend was to use the same instruments – it also helped that everything went on the screen and it was tough to tell what was in the hymnal and what wasn’t. I’ve been to blended services that were very schizophrenic – meaning you went from one style (with one instrumentation) to another style with a different instrumentation – some songs out of the hymnal and some on the screen. I think that added to the feeling of trying to jam two things together.
There are times when listening to the stations that play everything that the transitions are jarring. When doing multiple musical styles in worship – that is always something that you need to watch out for. I love trying to blend musical styles into a cohesive whole. There is a great challenge pulling songs together that theme well – while keeping in mind the key structure – and making them sound like you are not jamming them together. It’s not easy all the time, but most who have heard me lead worship, like the way I do it – and like I said above, I think I have spoiled my kids when it comes to worship.
I suppose one of the reasons that I like to do this is because people have been writing worship songs and hymns for centuries – I think when we choose to narrow it down to a couple years – especially one or two years that we do ourselves a disservice – that and we pretend like we know it all. So I encourage you, to widen what you listen to – I know that I am a bit eclectic when it comes to music – and perhaps widen what you worship to – whether that means to acquaint yourself to the new music – or maybe it means to acquaint yourself to much older music. That’s my challenge today.