Music in the church should show forth what it means to live faithfully. Music that is derivative or distorted, or that coats over real suffering and pain and joy with sentimentality and cliché, will never really “work.” Not all music in the church need be contemporary, but all of it should pertain to the life of the faithful. Despite their age, Bach’s B Minor Mass, the black spirituals, the motets of Gibbons, and the hymns of Watts and Wesley still carry profound insight into the human search for God.
The task of the church musician who works with many kinds of music is to learn the categories of judgment appropriate to each, to judge them from the inside out. Setting criteria for good music involves deciding whether the symbol adequately portrays what it intends to portray. A Good Friday hymn need not say everything about the crucifixion, but what it does say should be true to that experience and relevant to the people who must use it to express their faith.
We are in a period of great change in our worship styles. Even well-trained and sincere music ministers often feel unsure in their judgments when confronted with new types of music or new ways of using music in worship. It is part of the risk of our calling that sometimes we will find, after several weeks of rehearsal, that music that originally seemed fresh and meaningful is flat and lifeless. Yet we cannot evade the responsibility to apply standards of judgment to the music we use. Mistakes are permitted; indolence is not.