Think of the first six modern worship songs that come to mind. How many of them have a structure very similar to this?
middle 8 (repeated)
It seems that a lot of writers have fallen into a pattern of writing into that structure. There are perhaps further subtleties that could be found to be repeated to the point of being clichéd, but let’s just deal with the question of structure for now.
I’m not criticising the above song structure as such. It’s popular largely because it works, and it’s very effective for certain particular purposes. But like any other restricted convention, it’s never going to be flexible and accommodating enough to adequately express all that congregational singing in worship should – as I keep saying in this blog, nothing less than everything is enough to approach and offer to the Infinite.
Structure also tends to be tied up with emotional trajectory. And in terms of energy and positivity, the standard worship song structures tend to always head upwards. Patterns like the one I cited generally rise through verse, and bridge if there is one, to the chorus, drop down to do that again with another verse, and then either stay there through the middle 8 and closing chorus(es) or do the drop down and rise again. Even old-fashioned hymns like ‘Be thou my vision’, which only have one musical unit (the verse) with lots of words, are often done getting gradually louder throughout.
All of that’s fine, but if we’re honest – certainly if I, as a depression sufferer, am honest – the Christian life does not consist only of stories that go that way. Our walks as fallen humanity in a fallen creation with involve experiences that build up and fade away, hopes that trail off, confusion, searching and darkness. There will be minor keys as well as major, and diminuendos as well as crescendos. And to be genuinely honest, our music should attempt to embrace and embody that diversity. We are to ‘worship in spirit and in truth’, remember. Our present mixed experience is as true as looked-for unmixed one.