Monday, December 15, 2008

Born in Song!

Born in song! God's people have always been singing!
Born in song! Hearts & voices raise.
So today we worship together.
God alone is worthy to be praised!

The opening of a little-known hymn by Charles Wesley. It is taken by Methodists to summarise an important aspect of our worship and our faith. Charles Wesley's hymns are often essentially a sermon, set to music, a technique which works for two reasons. Firstly, it means that those theological points are more easily remembered and, on the flip side, it means that when Christians are singing such hymns, they are reminding one another of those truths.
A good (& hopefully familiar) example of this is 'And Can It Be', especially verses 3 and 5.

In case it's not clear by now, I come from a Methodist background and there was always music in our house growing up. Usually someone would be singing to themselves, humming, whistling, playing the piano, or listening to a CD or the radio. However, whilst these songs would sometimes be hymns or Christian songs, I'm not sure there are more than a handful of overtly Christian CDs in that house (I own just 2). More often the songs would be of a different nature. Most of the CDs are secular, but a large proportion of the songs sung would be campfire or protest songs. As a child, I attended Woodcraft Folk meetings and camps, and they too have a culture of communal singing and thus I learned many songs from there also.

I was thinking recently of the similarities between the Wesleyan idea of the sermon-to-music and the idea of the protest song. Music is a good way to help people remember the relevant points, and in a society that until relatively recently largely illiterate, this would be extremely important. Also, it's a good way for people to be able to remind one another of important truths, common ground and significant events in history.
A song that particularly springs to mind here is 'The World Turned Upside Down' by Leon Rosselsonn & made famous by Billy Bragg. It tells the story of the Diggers, a group of early socialists, who rose up in rebellion against the enclosure of common land. The lyrics talk of the age-old battle between the poor's desire for equality and the rich's desire to keep what they have. Whilst Enclosure is not really an issue now, that battle still continues.

Whilst musing on these things, I asked my family to list their 3 favourite protest songs. I gave them no further definition, largely to see what definition they would give themselves. They chose 9 different songs between the 3 of them. (topics of songs are given in parentheses)

Mum chose songs that made a specific point (rather than a general rant about the world) and tended towards a more 'traditional' style, but of the 30+ titles she listed for me, these were her top 6, as 3 was too small a sample to do the list full justice. (Her choices also had to have a good tune):

  • Send me back to Georgia (anti-war)
  • World Turned Upside Down (social injustice) [as mentioned above]
  • I wanna be an Engineer (sexism)

  • Where have all the flowers gone? (anti-war)
  • What have they done to the rain (anti-nuclear)
  • One Long Happy Night (social justice)

Dad chose more 'modern' songs. Also, it may be pertinent to mention that when I was younger, he made a set of what became known as his 'angry tapes'. These were compilations of protest songs and similar, which we regularly listened to in the car. I'm sure that those tapes had a significant impact on my current political leanings and also on my knowledge of social history (both British and also on topics such the South African apartheid). Two of the songs he chose are about specific events, as opposed to the more general subject matter of many protest songs.

  • Ideology - Billy Bragg (politics)
  • Iron Hand - Dire Straits (British miners' strikes)
  • Hurricane - Bob Dylan (racism & the arrest of boxer, Rubin Carter)

Tim (my brother) chose, again, more modern songs, but his were even further from the traditional 'ballad-style'. Again, he wanted songs which made a specific, well made point, rather than a general rant about the rubbishness of the world or the futility of everything!:

  • War - Edwin Starr (anti-war)
  • Bodies - Sex Pistols (abortion/pro-choice)
  • Mister Writer - Stereophonics (anti-paparazzi)

So, all of these songs with wildly differing styles are largely for the same purpose - to make a passionate point and to get that point heard, the same as Wesley's gospel-to-a-tune.

Do find that you respond better to a topic if it's presented to music? Do you remember it better? Do you find it easier to share it?

If you got this far, thank you.


fluttertongue said...

What a wonderful blog you have! I am also 25, capricorn, Methodist, lived in York (though now in London) and I am a massive fan of Methodist hymns. I don't know if you've ever been to Southlands Church (on Bishopthorpe Road) - I used to play the organ there and their singing is just wonderful. Everyone in the congregation sings at the top of their voice (and you soon know if you're not going fast enough)!

I found your blog, by the way, because I was looking for the words for Born in Song - rather lazily. I'm getting hitched and trying to think of hymns that would be appropriate. My favourite (Spirit of God, descend upon my heart - no 313 I think in Hymns and Psalms) isn't quite a wedding hymn unfortunately. I used to have a blog but it's all gone now.

All the best!

Sally said...

Aw, thanks! It's always nice when visitors delurk & say hi, especially when it's to say nice stuff. :o)

I've not tried that church and now seem quite settled at St.Luke's, but cheers, I may check it out someday.

Congrats on your wedding, btw. Hope you find some songs/hymns that you like.
I wanted a copy of H&P for Christmas, but didn't get one, so planning on going to Banks' sometime soon and using some of my Christmas money to get one.

Again, cheers for saying 'hi'. God bless!