Music & Emotion in Worship

Music is a powerful emotional tool in the worship
setting.  Do we participate in music to
invoke an emotional response?  Is it my calling
as your music director to engage these reactions in worshipers?  Is it my duty to include certain hymns
because they touch an emotional chord within the congregation?  Or do we simply plug & play all the
expected seasonal hymns as called by tradition?

Most people are passionate and expressive about the types of
music they love.  In my many moves across
the country, and the different churches and denominations I have served, there
is always the same debate on the worship music. 
Yes, there is the question of contemporary vs. traditional, but I believe
the real discussion is about our emotions. 
Whether a congregant likes or doesn’t like a particular song or style of
music probably reflects on their positive or negative emotions while they are
listening or singing.  That congregant
has perhaps developed expectations for the music at particular times in the
worship service.  They may expect the
music to be uplifting and upbeat during the beginning or the end of the
service.  They may expect communion or
prayer time to be accompanied by quiet, contemplative music.  They may think that the choir’s anthem should
always result in goose bumps.  What one
person thinks or expects will most certainly be matched by someone else who has
quite the opposite feelings about the same music.  That someone else will be just as adamant
about their views.  They may feel that
the music should be subdued and peaceful for the opening or closing of worship,
that communion should be celebrated with festive music, and that the anthem
should be hushed and reverent. 

As a church musician,
my task is to engage every congregant in worship through music.  It is not my task to evoke an emotional
response from the congregation.  In order
to engage the congregation, we use music people can relate to, music we enjoy,
music that is mostly familiar, or at least attainable, by us.  To keep the congregation engaged, though, the
music ought to slowly evolve over time. 
New songs can be introduced at regular intervals.  New styles of music can be used to keep the
worship fresh and inclusive.

As a church musician, it is also my task to uphold the
integrity of the chosen music.  We choose
music that is appropriate for the season and for the topic/scripture that is
being taught.  But just because a song
matches the time of year or the lectionary, that doesn’t mean it can be plugged
in.  We consider many variables,
including if the song is well-written, if the congregation can relate to it, or
if it matches the style of music we are accustomed to hearing.

There will be times when the occasion is right for a
favorite hymn that may make us cry, or a praise song that evokes hallelujahs
and applause.  But these occasions can be
carefully spread out so that the congregation is not feeling manipulated every
time the closing hymn is sung, or every time the praise band performs.  Emotions are best left to be spontaneous,
unfettered, and led by the Holy Spirit. 
A congregation will catch on to any attempts made by church leadership
to have a particular reaction from the music. 
According to John Wesley, music is presented as a humble offering, with
our intentions fully aligned to worshiping God and engaging the congregation in
worship through music.  Can we hear an