Thursday, April 20, 2006

Southern Comfort

I've been listening today to Alan Jackson's newest album, a collection of old hymns with simple acoustic accompaniment. It's hard to beat those old, familiar songs. My fingers automatically began moving on invisible piano keys, making the motions they made hundreds of times during my years of playing piano or organ for congregational singing in Baptist churches of my youth.

One of the last times I played for a funeral was at my grandfather's funeral. I kept a folder of appropriate soft music for funerals, mostly the old familiar hymns, many of which are on Alan Jackson's album. I remember later that afternoon my uncle made the comment, "You sure do have that old Baptist roll in your playing". I was momentarily annoyed with the comment at the time, thinking it was a criticism. But on further thought, I decided it was just an observation, not a put down.

The thing is, I do. Many years of playing the same songs over and over creates a need to vary things a little to keep yourself from getting bored. You start breaking the chords up and playing them in a roll, rather than together. You shift a note to make a diminished 7th chord. You extend the chord to include the octave of the base note. There's a dozen or more different ways to vary the basic chord to keep things interesting.

There's comfort to be had in those old hymns, sung to a simple piano played with a little Baptist roll in the chording.

I have not been an active church goer for about twenty years now. I had definite reasons for departing from the church and some of them had to do with the shift away from the simple, pure music. Churches started eliminating the "stale" familiar songs and bringing in elaborate musical accompaniment. While I have nothing against orchestras, small or large, I very much dislike running into horns and drums in a church setting. I go to church to feel close to God and to enjoy the fellowship. I don't go to have my eardrums blasted with a trumpet in a place that doesn't have the acoustics to support it.

I recently had a conversation with a friend about the changes in Baptist churches over the past couple of decades. She stuck with it longer than I did and saw some of the radical shifts that were being made to pull in the younger generation. I suddenly realized that I had sensed where things were headed when I made the decision to go my separate way. Maybe the changes had to be made to keep the church alive. But I think something was lost along the way. Church became more of an entertainment business than a meditative, religious experience.

It's a shame that younger folks seldom get to hear those old hymns. To us older folks, they are familiar, soothing reminders of a simpler time.

I think I may just have to go tickle the ivories a little before I go on to bed.

Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling.
Calling for you and for me.
See, on the portals He's waiting and watching,
Watching for you and for me.

Or, maybe,

Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms;
Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.


O Lord my God,
When I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.


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