October 24, 2017

IM Interview: Eric Wyse (part 2)

Today, we continue with part 2 of our interview with Eric Wyse about church music and his vocation within this realm.

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CM: What are some of the other music projects that you have participated in that have helped you grow as a Christian and a musician and that have given you some sense of satisfaction that God has been praised and the church blessed through them?

ERIC: I’ve had the chance to be involved in many rewarding projects, and work with people who I not only admire, but who have spoken into my life – but a few that stand out would include:

  • Early in my career I promoted Kelly Willard’s seminal album “Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs,” [note: one of Chaplain Mike’s favorite “Jesus Music” albums] and the “Psalms Alive!” projects.
  • I produced the first Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir video, “He’s Been Faithful,” which included not only great music, but powerful testimonies. I learned so much watching Carol Cymbala lead both musically and spiritually.
  • I had the privilege of producing Handel’s Messiah with conductor John Rutter, The Cambridge Singers, and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. John is such a fine musician, as well as a wonderfully kind and generous person.
  • I worked with Gospel artist CeCe Winans as talent coordinator and music producer on her TV music show, “CeCe’s Place.”
  • I served as editor of The Christian Life Hymnal, published in 2006. It was the hardest project I ever encountered, but I learned an incredible amount about the riches of our hymn tradition, and have been encouraged with the feedback we’ve received about many of the choices we made for the hymnal (lower keys, hymn-based modern worship included, extensive indices, including the Church Year, etc).
  • I have worked with Keith & Kristyn Getty from the early days of “In Christ Alone” and the “African’s Children’s Choir” project as well as with their own albums, hymnwriting, and touring. Keith has a passion for modern hymns and a vision for excellence that is contagious.

CM: One of the emphases in your work has been on hymnody and the development of hymnals. What future do you see for hymnals in the church? What ideas do you have for keeping the church’s heritage of hymnody alive, especially in parts of the church where it languishes?

Every church that has a body of music they sing in essence is now creating their own “hymnal.” It may not be in book form, but it represents what they hold dear collectively in a musical expression.

I would hope that in the future, music directors and pastors will be more intentional about the music they add to their “hymnal” — that it not only reflects accurately their understanding of the gospel, but fits contextually in their specific community of faith and helps bring a balance to the music sung in corproate worship.

The future of a vibrant hymnody will depend upon church leadership conveying the importance of music texts that speak the riches of the gospel with clarity as well as good aesthetics.

For churches that will want to have a book in the rack, rather than view a screen, I think there will be fewer choices of new hymnals due to the high cost of producing a hymnal. However, print-on-demand could lead to customizable hymnals in the future as POD costs come down.

CM: In your “A Theology of Music in Worship,” you discussed principles by which we can think about these matters. But what about the practical outworking of this? How would you suggest that church leaders and members work together to implement a robust theology of music in the life of the local congregation? What helpful models have you seen?

There is perhaps no easy formula for a church to arrive at a well thought-out understanding of the role of music in the worship, but there are models that can be found at various church websites, and in some very good books on worship, including those by the late Robert Webber, as well as Harold Best, Constance Cherry, Brian Wren, Marva Dawn, Sally Morgenthaler, and many others.

A good place to start might be with looking at a principal service and for every piece of music on the plan, simply ask some basic questions:

  • Can I defend why we choose this piece of music?
  • Did it connect with our congregation?
  • What role (function) and purpose in this service did it serve?
  • Given our repertoire, context, musicianship, and frequency, was it the best choice?

After doing over several plans, you will have a good starting point to begin the process of articulating why you will do what you do in music in worship.

CM: The American church seems to be shifting into a more “missional” mode as we move further into the 21st century. As a church musician, what opportunities and challenges does this present for congregations and the church at large?

The move away from the entertainment model of worship, where the goal is to simply please everyone, will take place in a missionally-driven church. Entertainment-centered worship is counterproductive to living lives of service. Worship as service becomes apparent when the church sings not just what it wants, but what it needs; not just what feels good, but what is necessary; not just for what I like, but for what my neighbor needs.

Modeling for our volunteers and fellow staff members our role as servants of the greater mission, rather than purveyors of fine music is needed. If we in leadership are spending our time, energy and resources just trying to be better than the church down the street — trendier, more creative, the first to do a new song — for the sake of bragging rights, it will be at the cost of missional-minded community ministry. The two really can’t co-exist.

To be missional is to simply be who we are called to be in our unique locale so we are free to live out in this time and place the kingdom of God to those around us.

Comments

  1. Question for Eric: your bullet points/rubric for music selection seems to be oriented towards its function in serving the congregation or its mission… Where / how do you make a place for considering what would please the Lord? Many evangelicals place an emphasis on personal relationship with God, but the focus of the rubric seems to be on the efficacy of the music for the congregation.

    • To be clear, those bullet points were not my criteria for music selection – that is spelled out in much more detail in the first post in the “Theology of Music in Worship” document. This bullet-point list was some ideas (not a conclusive list, but hopefully a helpful staring point) of the questions one might ask in the beginning process to formulate a church’s governing statement about the role of music in worship.

      In the “Theology of Music in Worship”, the second paragraph concludes: “As we worship, our primary purpose, starting point, ending point and overall “umbrella” is an acknowledgement of who God is, and our response His call. This is a very God focused, rather than me-focused expression.” But, I think you’re point about the need to emphasis that what please God is primary to what please us could be better expressed in that document. Thanks so much for that insight – I’ll incorporate in the next (and soon) revision.

      • Thanks, Eric. I wasn’t trying to be critical, rather, I’m curious as to how you go about determining what expression would please the Lord in worship. I know how to expand on the theme of a sermon series, and to some extent I know some of the things that would be helpful to edify our congregation. But the relational question is more difficult: God, what will bring you pleasure when your people gather to speak and sing of you this Sunday?

        • Steve, I didn’t take it as critical at all, but helpful. There’s no easy formula, and at best it is still an imperfect attempt to do what is pleasing to a perfect God, but the things that go into evaluating if God might be pleased could include:
          1.) is it faithful to how we have come to understand who God is (theological), who we are as a community of faith (cultural), and what our calling is in our locale (missional)?
          2.) does it reveal truth about God, and give us room to respond (revelation and response)?
          3.) will it help people actively engage in worship, rather than observe, or go through the motions (an expression of beauty, accessible both lyrically and musically)?
          4.) does it add to our balanced “whole counsel of God” approach (revelation and response, transcendence and immanence, local and global, ancient/future, simple/complex, etc).
          5.) does it both encourage and challenge?
          This really goes back to my belief that every worshiping community needs to carefully determine and commit to paper a document that outlines what they believe is worship that is pleasing to God and how to strive weekly for it. We formulated our “Theology of Music in Worship” at St. Bartholomew’s when we went from 2 different services (8:00 AM Rite 1 Traditional; 10:30 AM Rite 2 contemporary) to a convergent ancient/future model, and then the rector preached this new paradigm from the pulpit over two weeks. He spoke clearly in his sermon that everyone who came to either service (identical convergence) should be prepared to not like something. That was ok, since our goal was not to please each person, but the God who we worship. When people come without the expectation that we are firstly trying to please them, they are reminded that God’s pleasure is the ultimate goal, and our pleasure should be derived from knowing that God delights in the authentic praises of His people.

  2. I would hope that in the future, music directors and pastors will be more intentional about the music they add to their “hymnal” — that it not only reflects accurately their understanding of the gospel, but fits contextually in their specific community of faith and helps bring a balance to the music sung in corproate worship.

    That’ll preach! Often, when selecting more recent songs to add to our rep, I ask myself: “Will we still use this in 10 years, or will we be sick of it in 2?” Well written text and tune have staying power.

    A few weeks back, I couldn’t get back to the organ bench in time for the offertory “Create In Me,” a traditional Lutheran classic. The Pastor didn’t wait: He just led into it a cappella, and the congregation followed suit. It was a spiritual moment. I’d bet my grandkids will be singing that one.

    • Would that be the Keith Green song?

      • No, but I’m pretty sure I know which one you’re referring to, and I believe KG didn’t actually write it. However, since the text is nearly identical, we have used it as an alternate for that point in the liturgy and it does the job! That one will also probably stick around too.

  3. Can I defend why we choose this piece of music?

    I think I understand the motivation behind this question, but I guess I question who are we defending our choices to? If it’s the pastor or board of elders it’s one thing, but if it’s everyone in the congregation who has an opinion, that’s quite another. In some respects, leading worship is like running sound for a band. No one says anything to you unless they think you’re doing something wrong.

    I really don’t envy worship leaders or pastors. In some ways, I feel like they’re put in positions where they no whatever they do is going to not please some group of people. I’m sure they would say that pleasing people isn’t their motivation, but no one wants to always have everything they do second-guessed.

    • I was once part of a church where members were encouraged to write on “encouragement cards” that were available at each pew. The encouragement cards were then placed in the offering plate. As a worship leader I got a ton of them, and it was very affirming.

      • Those would be dangerous in the hands of someone like me… “I encourage you to take piano lessons, for the love of all that is holy!” 🙂

        • Phil, I remember after one frustrating practice, the leader told me to “take five”.
          I said, “five minutes?”
          He said, “no, five lessons!”

    • “Defend” the choice (to ourselves) based upon our understanding of what is pleasing to God and our call to lead music in worship in our local context (congregation). So does align with our ethos as a worshipping church? Is it true to our call, as we have discerned it as a church, in how we offer to God our praise, thanksgiving, and prayer? While I do explain parishioners, if they ask, why I have chosen certain music, I don’t “defend” it. With years of mutual trust in our leadership team, it really never becomes “defensive” in any way.

      Each week in our service bulletin, I or my associate, David Maderia, write a two or three paragraph “About the Music” at the end of the bulletin that highlights one song. I often (especially if the song is new), elaborate on why I have chosen the song as part of our repertoire (our “hymnal”), and also why I have chosen it for that particular day and place in the service.

  4. Wow he sounds like an incredible musician, I haven’t yet had the pleasure of listening to him, are their any CD or online download sources I can listen to some of his music?

    Thanks!