“Here I Am to Worship:” Conflicting Authenticities in Contemporary Christian Congregational Singing
AbstractOver the past 10 to 15 years, the congregational singing of many western, white, Protestant Christians has undergone a significant shift. Once characterized by congregants holding hymnals, singing four-part choral structure or revivalist gospel songs accompanied by organ or piano, it is now probable that one will encounter worshippers standing in semi-darkness, reading projected texts of simple repetitive songs sung to music derived from popular styles, accompanied by guitars, keyboards and drums. Using the writings of Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, musicologist Allan F. Moore, pianist Thomas C. Mark, and research interviews, this paper will explore conflicting concepts of authenticity enacted in contemporary Christian congregational signing. These arise from concerns for “performance authenticity” and “personal authenticity” deemed to be required for “really worshipping.” Many of these notions are imbedded in popular culture and present an ongoing, but largely unnoticed conundrum for worship. Three examples: “Really worshipping” is achieved when a singer has shut out all “distractions” and is aware of only “me and God,” thereby instrumentalizing the congregation, calling into question communal aspects of sung worship. Often words are sung using a southern US accent in order to conform to popular music practice, but altering the everyday “voice” of the singer. Is this “the real me” singing? The band accompanying the congregation must be “performance” standard in their excellence to avoid distracting “really worshipping” singers. However, their efforts cannot be perceived as “performing;” this is inappropriate for worship.