March 26, 2010 Volume 24, Number 01
Technology has convinced us we can't sing
By Michael Krahn | ChristianWeek Columnist
We are commanded to sing! The word "sing" appears more than 100 times in Scripture, often as a command. Since God commands it, it is safe to say He gives the necessary abilities. The gift of song is universal.
I encounter more and more people who tell me they cannot sing. They do not lack the desire, but they have come to believe they lack the ability. This low self-image is one reason fewer people than ever are participating in congregational singing. But by what standard are they judging themselves?
To answer that question we need a short lesson in technology. Like Google, which started out as a company name but has now also become an action word, two other words have crossed the linguistic threshold to become verbs. With Photoshop, one can "improve" photos by removing skin imperfections or inches from waistlines. Using Autotune one can "improve" sound by removing imperfections in recorded audio. We google people; we photoshop images; we autotune sounds.
Why the lesson in audio and graphics technology?
I see a parallel between the lack of confidence in singing and the world of visual images in tabloid and fashion magazines. Photoshopped images create unrealistic body expectations. In the modern era of music autotuned recordings give us unrealistically perfect sounds.
The end goal of both processes is the same: the appearance of perfection. Whether we are trying to look as perfect as a picture we've seen or sound as perfect as a recording we've heard, we are destined to fail.
All of this has led to a crisis of confidence. Autotuned recordings have robbed average singers of confidence in the quality of their voices.
The problem is not that there are people with uncommonly attractive bodies or uncommonly strong voices; the problem is that we have bought into the idea that unless we possess perfection in body and voice we are in the minority and should keep ourselves both hidden and unheard. This idea is an affront to human dignity and to God, who created our bodies and our voices in all their glorious variety.
Inside the Church and out we are faced with a culture of idolatry. TV shows that encourage idolization do not help. In the age of American Idol, people expect to be judged. And judges abound.
Defy people's expectations and refuse to accept their insistence that they can't sing. Except in extremely rare cases, this is a lie they've been convinced to believe. If people struggle with singing, it's probably because they've been deprived of opportunity and an encouraging place to try.
I led a hymn-sing a few weeks ago. There may have been a few people among the 100 or so who lacked perfect pitch. Did it matter? Not really. The people there understood the purpose of our coming together. It was not to impress anyone or to win a competition, and it was certainly not to sit in judgment on someone else's abilities.
It was to remember God's goodness and to praise Him with our voices. Stripped of pretense and unbound by the desire to judge and be judged, a beautiful sound rose in the room. We were singing in four parts, but we were singing as one.
Never pass up an opportunity to talk about the purpose of congregational singing, which is not for the few with microphones to dominate, but for the congregation to sing. This may seem obvious to you, and it will seem obvious to them once they've thought about it, but it will take persistent attention to break down the barrier.
Michael Krahn is a husband, father, pastor, writer and recording artist who enjoys books, theology, technology, the Ottawa Senators and blogging.