Deep and wide

Happy Epiphany! It’s a new time in the year, newer even than the January 1 of less than a week ago, the days growing (if imperceptibly) longer, the colour of the liturgical season now green to symbolize growth and discipleship.

I’ve been thinking of the little kids’ chorus we used to sing, the one with the catchy melody and arms stretched first as far as they go vertically, and then as far as they go horizontally.

Deep and wide, deep and wide,
There’s a fountain flowing deep and wide…

The Christmas event is the “deep” — the incarnation, God become human, a long downward journey indeed.

His state was divine,
Yet he did not cling…
But emptied himself…
And became as persons are… (Philippians 2:6-8)

Epiphany is the “wide,” for it’s the coming of the Magi it celebrates, and what the Magi reveal is the beginning – a foretaste – of what the incarnation intended: all peoples streaming into the tent of God’s mercy. One of today’s readings was Isaiah 60:1-6, which speaks (“though night still covers the earth”) of the rising glory and of that

assembling and coming…
your sons from far away
and your daughters…
and your hearts being enlarged…
bringing gold and incense
and singing

I’m singing the kids’ chorus, opening arms wide to remember the meaning of Epiphany, and for supper we’ll have one of our favourite non-supper-like meals, roll-up pancakes with fruit and cream cheese and syrup, and maybe for dessert we’ll enjoy the pomegranate we bought the other day, which associates so easily with the Magi and their quest and their gifts, and their message of Everyone and Everywhere under the mercy and glory of God.

“The rise of rhythm”

A fundamental shift has taken place in music over the last half-century, Christine Longhurst writes, in a viewpoint piece in the Nov. 16 Canadian Mennonite called “The rise of rhythm.”

Longhurst explains that music is made of three main elements: melody, harmony, and rhythm, and that western music throughout its history has seen a shift from one to the other of these. Now it seems, it’s rhythm’s turn. And it’s “not just a passing fad,” she says. Those who have grown up in the new musical environment — well, they feel at home in it. And, in terms of the church and its worship, “the increased focus on rhythm has changed the very nature of congregational singing in many churches.”

Longhurst goes on to say that this changes melodies, and makes congregational singing more dependent on instrumental accompaniment.

I found Longhurst’s analysis helpful — clarifying for me, in fact, what may be the underlying issue in the “worship wars” of so many churches, though, as she also says in her article, we often talk about contemporary worship music and its differences with earlier music in other terms. And I agree with her, that  if rhythm-based styles are the “soul music” of our culture, “adding some rhythm-based songs ” to our worship is “both an opportunity and an obligation.”

In our congregation, it’s not so such much “adding” as accepting the pretty much wholesale shift. I’ve noticed that pleas to include “hymns” usually result in rhythming-up some of the hymns of yesterday or selecting the upbeat, lighter, and sometimes sillier ones of the past, whose texts may be as vacuous as the texts of contemporary music ocasionally are. Which really has the effect of undercutting the argument.

Canadian Mennonite editor Dick Benner’s comments on Longhurst’s piece in his Nov. 16 editorial come out very much at the place I’m at: sadness over the loss of the voice, or better said, voices — in harmony — but recognizing a shift has taken place and definitely determined to keep open to that. (To be a nonresistant older person, in other words! And if I get really lonesome for the sound of the trained singing voice, I can always put on our record — a.k.a. a really big CD — of Peter Koslowsky singing German hymns, or some of the choir albums we own, which are gorgeous soul music for me.)