This morning, my three-year-old son fiddled with the 30-year-old clock radio we keep in his brother’s room, spinning the tuning dial until he found Air1. The overpowering sound of worship music filled the room and as if on cue, my son immediately threw up his arms and spun like a modern dancer arcing through some Martha Graham choreography.
The response was so lyrical, so joyful. And also, innate. The kid has only been inside a church of any kind for a handful of events. He has not heard evangelical worship music except in passing, when we scan the car radio. My husband and I aren’t practicing anything, though I would consider myself a pseudo-wiccan, a crunchy spiritual-but-not-religious type.
Spinning around his bedroom, though, my toddler reminded me of the many folks who attend evangelical or nondenominational Christian services and sway, one or both hands up, eyes closed, as a worship band plays at the altar. His response, so pure, echoed that of people who associate worship music with spiritual experience. Heck, he looked like he was having a spiritual experience.
It made me wonder: what is it with worship music?
“Worship music” is the catchy, easy-to-follow music played by church bands across the country during all manner of Christian services. Protestant and Catholic churches play worship music, as well as denominations ranging from Pentecostal to Baptist to Lutheran. There are enormous gospel choirs that have twenty or fifty or thousands of singers, and there are worship bands made up of a few singers and guitar players, a drummer, a bass player, someone on the tambourine.
Regardless, they sing to inspire and teach. Keith and Kristyn Getty (Keith is always listed first, though Kristyn is the singer of the married duo), singer-songwriters who write worship music on the more traditional end of the spectrum, said in an NPR interview that they “write songs that teach the faith.” The number one song on Air1, the radio station my son found, is focused on praise, as many others are (sometimes worship bands are called “praise bands): “Gratitude” by Brandon Lake says, “I could sing these songs/As I often do/But every song must end/And You never do.” It is a slow, moving ballad, with an easy-to-pick-up melody that almost had me singing along after a line or…