Splicing the SACRED with the SECULAR [Part 6/6]: Conclusion

If nothing else, I hope that this blog series has caused you to think about what you do and why you do it. Of course, this is geared towards my fellow church musicians (pianists, organists, keyboardists, etc), but as a little bit of a conclusion, I want to submit this thought:

If you sold vaccuum cleaners, would anybody care about any of this stuff?

The short answer: Probably not.

Fortunately, we’re not talking about vaccuum cleaner sales, we’re talking about soul business through the medium of music. In the first blog of this series, I mentioned that I was guilty of splicing the sacred with the secular. As a musician, it comes with the territory IN THE SENSE THAT you want to put your best foot forward and display your best abilities in any and all musical situations. Sometimes when you’re digging for musical things to do in the middle of a performance, you revert to what’s comfortable (and comfort levels vary from musician to musician).

The turning point for me was when I started really studying my Bible (not to be a preacher or a minister of music or any kind of church official… just to be a better Christian). One thing that I’m continuing to learn is that we are all interconnected on this planet. One person has the ability to affect many, many others either directly or indirectly. Even if you just affect one person, that one person can affect others in what is commonly referred to as “The Butterfly Effect” (where small changes can have astronomical effects; aka Chaos Theory).

I suggest that when it comes to sacred music that you just be conscious of what you’re doing. This is NOT to negate any musical knowledge that you have outside of the church (because real musicians listen to a lot of different styles of music). Sure, you can splice a secular song in and nobody would even know what it is. In fact, in today’s church you would probably get a commendation from the older crowd and a head nod of agreement from your counterparts, but WHAT IF one person was thrown off? WHAT IF one person stumbled because of the music you played? WHAT IF one person turned away from Christ because they heard “the club” in the church? Would that be enough for you to remember the words in 1 Corinthians 8:11?

So because of your superior knowledge, a weak believer for whom Christ died will be destroyed. (NLT)

Is it really THAT serious?

Could you live with yourself if it was THAT serious?

(just a thought)


Splicing the SACRED with the SECULAR [Part 5/6]: Superior “Musical” Knowledge vs. Creativity

While playing secular music might be fun for the flesh and splicing that music into sacred music might seem like a good idea, it treads on dangerous territory of causing your brother or sister to fall. Read the words of Paul to the church at Corinth below:

(8) It’s true that we can’t win God’s approval by what we eat. We don’t lose anything if we don’t eat it, and we don’t gain anything if we do. (9) But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble. (10) For if others see you—with your “superior knowledge”—eating in the temple of an idol, won’t they be encouraged to violate their conscience by eating food that has been offered to an idol? (11) So because of your superior knowledge, a weak believer for whom Christ died will be destroyed.

-1 Corinthians 8:8-11

So at what point does a superior “musical” knowledge take a back seat to having a heart for the very people Jesus Christ died for? Although it may seem insignificant, splicing secular music into sacred music could, at most, cause your brother or sister to stumble OR, at least, cause your brother or sister to see the church no differently than they see the world (a stumbling block in and of itself). As Christians, we should not do that. In fact, in the same chapter of Corinthians, Paul goes on to write:

So if what I eat causes another believer to sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live—for I don’t want to cause another believer to stumble.

-1 Corinthians 8:13 (NLT)

If Paul took it that seriously about eating meat, then shouldn’t we, as Christian musicians, take it that seriously with the music we play for God? Moreso than that, I submit to you that God has given us too much creativity to have to copy and paste a secular song onto a sacred song. I honestly believe that the more you seek God, the more He reveals new and fresh music to you. Music so new and fresh that it’s never been heard on Earth before. Want to know how I know?

He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what He has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the Lord.

-Psalms 40:3 (NLT)

Splicing the SACRED with the SECULAR [Part 4/6]: Little Foxes

When it comes to the splicing of the sacred with the secular, there is one particular Biblical scripture that comes to my mind.

 “Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.”

-Song of Solomon 2:15 (KJV)

So what in the world could this verse in the Bible be talking about. Song of Solomon (aka Song of Songs) is not a book you hear quoted everyday, but I’ve heard this verse explained before and I think it applies to what we’re talking about here in music. Check this out and follow me on how it’s connected with our subject at hand:

A fox, at it’s tallest, is no more than 2 feet from the ground up.

A grapevine can grow up to, and beyond, 115 feet in it’s native environment.

So how can a little fox spoil something that’s a little over 57 times its height?

Easy. The little fox is closer to the root. No matter how tall a thing becomes, if you attack the root, it cannot stand very long. This brings up a third school of thought that I would like to submit for your review.

 The Third School of Thought: The condition of your heart for God affects the condition of your music for God.

When we’re talking about SACRED music in the church, adding SECULAR bits and pieces to it attacks the root. Just like dark and light cannot be in the same room, sacred music and secular music cannot be in the same song.

…but wait… let’s substitute the definitions in and read that last sentence again…

Just like dark and light cannot be in the same room, [connected with God] music and [no religious or spiritual basis] music cannot be in the same song.

Now this gets down to the condition of your heart for God FIRST then the music you play for God.

Splicing the SACRED with the SECULAR [Part 3/6]: Opposing Ends of the Spectrum

Let’s get some definitions out of the way before we continue (special thanks to Bing.com for providing these definitions… these FREE definitions):

SPLICE (v) – join or connect (a rope or ropes) by interweaving the strands

SACRED (adj) – connected with God or dedicated to a religious purpose and so deserving veneration (respect)

SECULAR (adj) – denoting attitudes, activities, or other things that have no religious or spiritual basis: contrasted with sacred

So now we can get into the nitty gritty. We can read from the definitions above that SACRED and SECULAR are on two opposing ends of the spectrum. One is connected with God and the other is separated from God. That in itself should be enough to make a decisive decision as to why the two shouldn’t be mixed, but for church musicians that play secular music OR secular musicians that play church music, there is that grey area of “It’s not that simple”.

As a church musician for virtually all my life AND a holder of a Bachelor of Arts degree in Jazz Studies with a focus in Jazz Piano, I see on a regular basis how Jazz/R&B chords and song structures are quite present in Gospel music. In fact, I use a lot of what I have learned/still learning in what I do in church. So does that mean that I’m splicing the sacred with the secular? If I include Jazzy or Neo-Soul chords into a hymn, does that dilute the actual message of the hymn?

The issue is not necessarily the music itself since music without words is simply music. It’s really the words that can either bless or corrupt a song turning it into something sacred or something secular.

But then when we consider secular songs that have turned into Gospel songs, I believe it gets down to the Psychoacoustics question of “Which one did you hear first?” For example, Kirk Franklin’s “Looking For You” is a remake of Patrice Rushen’s “Haven’t You Heard”. While I’m not picking on Kirk Franklin, that’s just a great example of “Which one did you hear first?”

For the old heads that heard Patrice Rushen first, Gospel may not be on your mind because that’s probably not what you associate the song with.

However, for the young heads who ONLY know the Kirk Franklin remake, it’s more Gospel (or, at least, “churchy”) than anything else.

So, in this case, the secular has been spliced with the sacred, but is THAT a right thing to do?

Splicing the SACRED with the SECULAR [Part 2/6]: Psychoacoustics

If you’re not familiar with Psychoacoustics, then, as a musician, you owe it to yourself to get familiar with it. Wikipedia says that:

Psychoacoustics is the scientific study of sound perception. More specifically, it is the branch of science studying the psychological and physiological responses associated with sound (including speech and music).

To read the entire article, please go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychoacoustics

The bottom line is that Psychoacoustics is that branch of science that proves that we, as humans, react to sound and, ultimately, music. If we were to visualize what that looks like, it would probably look like this:


For example, think about what you would do if you were to hear the following sounds:

1) A crying baby

2) Nails on a chalkboard

3) A mosquito buzzing in your ear

4) A car slamming on brakes and screeching to a halt

5) A police car, fire truck, or rescue squad siren

6) Your cell phone ringer

7) The sound of the voice of your significant other

I’m sure that as you were reading that list, the very thought of those sounds produced in you either an emotional or a physical response. Consider this… you were just reading that list and it did that. So let’s consider music. Think about what you would do if you were to hear the following music:

1. Scary orchestral music (think Hitchcock’s “Psycho” suite”)

2. An instrument out of tune

3. The squeak of a reed instrument

4. A tuba

5. The ascending slide of a trombone

6. The blaring loudness of a trumpet section (think of the theme to “Rocky”)

7. The electronic synthesized sound of a keyboard

Were you able to think of how all those musical sounds made you feel? Did you come up with a musical memory for any of them? Even if you didn’t react to anything on the list, you do react to whatever music you tend to listen to on a regular basis. I have a workshop that I teach at various churches that deals with the subject of Psychoacoustics and the reaction is always fun to watch because EVERYBODY REACTS TO MUSIC… which brings us to the basis question for this blog series:

Is it OK to splice SACRED music with SECULAR music?

Splicing the SACRED with the SECULAR [Part 1/6]: The Two Schools of Thought

Personal Note: This blog started off with a very small thing that bothers me in church and, as I kept researching it out, turned into a blog series. I pray that you all hear my heart on this one and know that this isn’t coming from a place of condemnation towards other church musicians, but from a place of compassion for my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Enjoy!

The story starts off a little something like this…

As I was in church on Sunday, my wife and I were enjoying the music, when all of a sudden, a musical phrase from a rap song substitutes the original music of the song. Not the lyrics, just the music. Although it was brief, it caught me off guard to the point where I stopped… then eventually got back on track.

…and that’s pretty much the end of the story.

Of course this isn’t the first time this has happened in church. Moreso than that, in my younger days I was guilty of doing the exact same thing because, at the time, it was cool and it impressed my friends. In my older days, my patience for splicing sacred music with secular music has grown quite thin, BUT that is because of years and years of studying WHY this shouldn’t be happening.

And even as I was doing the research for this blog series, I have come across a lot of articles either confirming or condemning the practice of “secularizing” spiritual songs making it difficult to find a starting point. However, I think I may have one and it goes like this:

There are two schools of thought on “secularizing” spiritual songs:

THE FIRST SCHOOL OF THOUGHT: “It’s OK and you should do it as often as possible to make church music more interesting!”

“Lord knows church music needs all the help it can get.”

THE SECOND SCHOOL OF THOUGHT: “It’s NOT OK and doing so guarantees you a first class ticket straight to Hell!”

“How dare you bring that devilment into the house of the Lord?”

(yeah… no middle ground)

Which school of thought do you tend to agree with?

Working In The Shop

Once again I have been blessed with the opportunity to facilitate a music ministry workshop this upcoming weekend. Amidst the hustle and bustle of preparation, I got to thinking, “What exactly is a workshop?” Of course we all know “workshop” to mean a place where items are built (think “Santa’s Workshop”), but what about workshop as we understand it in our modern day language. What is it?

Well, I looked it up and here’s what I found:

http://www.merriam-webster.com defines “workshop” as “a class or series of classes in which a small group of people learn the methods and skills used in doing something”.

http://www.thefreedictionary.com defines “workshop” as “an educational seminar or series of meetings emphasizing interaction and exchange of information among a usually small number of participants”.

http://www.etymonline.com says that the meaning of “workshop” as “gathering for study” has been around since 1937.

With that having been said, here’s another resource to consider:

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” -2 Timothy 2:15 (KJV)

And for as much of a KJV person as I am, I like this version as well.

“Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth.” -2 Timothy 2:15 (NLT)

And keeping all of this in mind, I can conclude that the “workshop” as an exchange of information to learn methods and skills to do a thing is to better the worker so they can go out and be more effective at what they do. Therefore I challenge you to better yourself. If you have the opportunity to go out and learn more about what you do as a musician (or any trade for that matter), THEN GO DO IT! God has given us each a measure, but it’s up to us to develop it into something substantial for HIS glory.