Melody makes music in my heart. It’s extraordinary, and I find it incredible, but I can’t fully explain it. I wonder if you’ve experienced it too?
You might have the radio on in the car, or you might be in a shopping mall, at an outdoor concert, or even at church, when you hear a melody, part of a song, that you haven’t heard in ages. Suddenly there’s the tune and some of the words running, dancing, through your head.
The association of those words with that tune catches you by surprise. You haven’t thought of it in years, yet there it is running through your mind as though it was yesterday.
Years ago, I was sitting in a very full church in Honiara, Solomon Islands where about 800 people were crammed in. The visiting speaker had brought a soloist with him, a young Maori chap named John Pipi. He picked up a guitar, played a beautiful tune I hadn’t heard before, and sang:
What can wash away my sin, nothing but the blood of Jesus,
What can make me whole again, nothing but the blood of Jesus,
Precious, precious is the flow, that makes me white as snow,
No other fount I know, nothing but the blood of Jesus.
The tune was wistful, lilting, and powerfully communicated those words. An altar call brought many people to the front. The song was not manipulative; it reached through a haze of self-centred resistance and communicated. That was in 1970 but I can still hear the tune and the words.
Melody is like the current in a swiftly flowing stream. You can stand by and watch it, or you can jump in and be carried along. It can transport you to a new place.
But, of course, that’s only true for traditional, old-fashioned, “religious music.” Yeah, right! Bill Hailey and the Comets broke into my teenage world with “Rock Around the Clock.” Nat King Cole, The Shadows, Elvis Presley, Abba, Frank Sinatra and a hundred others since have all used melody to carry their lyrics right into my head and heart.
Pastor, if you want the whole congregation in your church to enjoy and participate in the musical part of worship, then it needs to be a tune they can follow. When melody is surrendered to rhythm, and percussion over-rides everything else, it can have a very physical effect – particularly when the volume is loud!
Some time ago I went to a Sunday evening service where our youth musicians were joined by a visiting team from Youth for Christ. The song was “singable,” the volume was loud but not unbearable, but the base drum rhythm was double timing and drowned everything else out.
I tried not to be “old” and, since the tune was still clear, to sing with it. I tried to ignore the thump, thump, like a loud metronome gone berserk. But after about five minutes I found my heart rate was pounding to the same beat as the drum – more than double its normal rate. I had to walk out!
Do you know that some churches spend money every week to provide ear plugs at the door? I asked about the children and babies; they provide ear muffs for them! Why not turn the volume down?
– Tim Jollie