Saturday, August 05, 2006

Learning the Notes

I've been thinking about notes lately. Last night I was at a hotel listening to an acquaintance play flamenco guitar. This young man was a classicaly trained pianist, went to a music conservatory, has toured and studied in Italy and now plays clubs. His depth and rich tones, flowed effortlessly in the hour-and-a-half I listened to him. It reminded me of a conversation I had in Minnesota with two church musicians. One practiced rigorously so that every note was played as the composer intended them when the music was written. This musician would freely search out harmonizations and arrangements, modulating from the hymn into a free harmonization with the congregation. The other person, also a trained muscian, told me that notes did not matter that much. Instead, they were a platform from which the music could take off depending on the mood of the musician or the spirit of the worshiping group.
Then I have been reading Scot McKnight's blog on "Plagiarizing Sermons" and all the interesting comments. And I think I see a link here. There are pastors/preachers/worship leaders who feel it's OK to grab what's out there and combine it and mix it together to make a sermon. The "notes" as it were, the words from the text of the Bible, are suggestions to launch their own thoughts, to follow their church worship themes. But there does not appear to be a seriousness with the biblical text in its Greek or Hebrew construction. They get the "gist" of the text and go from there.
I think the "notes" deserve far greater attention. Each and every time I preach I need (though I often do not want) to go back into the text, word for word and see what it says...again. Yes, I use resources, lexical aids, commentaries, internet searches, other authors to help me come to terms with the "notes" of the day.
If there is an argument for seminary and classical theological training, here it is: to teach emerging pastors and leaders what it means to preach and be grabbed hold of by the word of God. Verb tenses and cases matter. Pastors who tell me that they never learned Greek or Hebrew are, I am sure, fine servants of God and obedient servants, just like there are many fine musicians who play by ear and can't read a note of music. Too bad. The notes do count, they do matter.
But I wonder about the roll of notes in worship today. I have a young friend in another church who says he loves hymns, but when he has to hold a hymnal with all the lines of text and notes, he get too nervous to sing. He likes the words on the screen. But aren't the notes and the harmonizations enhancements of the words? Don't we need to take the notes as seriously as the text? But how can we take notes seriously if our culture no longer reads the notes?


At 4:47 AM , Anonymous Doug said...

Amen and amen! Nothing more disheartening than listening to what is called a "sermon" in which the babbler decides to "just tell y'all what the Lord on my heart." If only God would occasionally put on these ramblers' hearts an urge to study and prepare a sermon ahead of time.

At 10:26 AM , Blogger Scot McKnight said...

How about posting a sermon of yours? I'd love to see it (and imagine hearing it).

At 5:33 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: "the notes":
As a trained musician, I do like seeing the notes so I can respond more accurately. That would correlate with digging into the Text for sermon ideas. I have held and played from hymnals most of my life. I like that I can refer back to words that moved me. Screen words disappear. On the other hand, a hymnal can block me from being open to the moment and seeing others lift their voices in praise. Deb

At 9:59 PM , Anonymous Maribel Goldwater said...

as to the sermon, he has them as podcasts (sometimes).

as to music, i found singing can be hard when reading the text, so i now take a kazoo to service.

A neighbors child there said he was going to join me next week, which would obviously throw me off.

this sunday i plan to bring a harmonica and if need be, a snare drum i picked up at a garage sale.

At 9:06 AM , Blogger Nancy said...


Thanks for posting this. As someone who is in a pew on Sunday morning and not behind a pulpit I want to know that my pastor has "learned the notes" as you say. I also want to be one who has learned and is learning the notes and doesn't just talk or write off the top of my head.

I recently met a young woman who told me that she and her husband were starting seminary this fall at a school that doesn't teach any theology but just the "practical stuff about being a pastor." She was delighted she wouldn't have to waste her time with book learning. I found this troubling.


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