"Just like each person has at least one heart language, we all have our own heart music and arts; it's like a mother tongue for expressing your heart."
The request came from an Asian Bible Institute professor living in the United States. Daniel (not his real name) teaches online courses to pre-seminary students in a country that harshly represses Christian activity. Daniel told me he needed professional music accompaniment files for worship services at the house churches of his students. In that country, it is not possible to go into a studio and record Christian worship music. Moreover, among the house churches, there were no professional musicians available for clandestine recording in their homes.
What Daniel did have available among the house church members was Chen (not her real name). Chen is a vocalist and composer trained at one of the most prestigious music conservatories in her county. It is critical to have worship music composed by a national. As Christian ethnomusicologists emphasize, choices in worship music styles need to be in the hands of the people of the culture. Every culture has its own "heart music." (See quotation above.) The nationals will know the music styles that permit them to truly sing from the heart in worship.
To fulfill Daniel's request for music accompaniment files in the circumstances he faced, we used the following strategy to experiment with producing professional recordings in music styles chosen by the indigenous church.
- Chen composed lyrics and music for three Bible-based worship songs. Chen's worship music styles are influenced by world music and global worship styles. However, Chen's intervals, phrasing, chord progressions, and other musical elements convey a distinct Asian influence. Chen's lyrics were, of course, influenced by her faith and her familiarity with the Bible. Daniel reviewed her lyrics to confirm that they were doctrinally sound.
- Chen recorded the songs in her home with a simple acoustic guitar accompaniment provided by a friend. Chen's vocals were recorded on a separate track. Voice and guitar were recorded to a metronome. The simple guitar accompaniment used Chen's chords for the song.
- Daniel received the music files of the three songs over the internet and sent them to me. I received only music files; neither the melody nor the chords had been transcribed. There was no reason for me to have the Word file of the native language lyrics.
- I sent the music tracks to my dear friend Gigio (real name!) at his professional recording studio in Lima, Peru. Over the years, Gigio has made nearly 100 recordings for our world mission work. His studio uses world class musicians who have played on nine Grammy-nominated albums. Gigio works in a variety of world music styles. (Lima also is home to one of the largest diaspora communities from Daniel and Chen's home country.)
- Gigio and his musicians arranged the music for standard global worship music instrumentation. Gigio was able to add tracks from sampled traditional Asian string and wind instruments from Chen's country! The many instrumental tracks were recorded, mixed, and mastered with the vocal tracks Chen recorded and sent from her home. The completed recordings were sent from Lima to Chicago to Daniel's home in the U.S. and then finally to Chen and the house church leaders in Asia.
By the grace of God, the recordings were extremely well received among the brothers and sisters of the house churches. We are now repeating the process. Chen is composing more worship songs as I write this!
Praise the Lord for showing us a technological path for providing culturally-appropriate worship music for the Asian house churches of Daniel's students and friends.
We will never stop battling the devil, who tries to thwart our production of music for the advancement of the Kingdom. We are reminded of the beautiful words of the inspired psalmist:
We will sing and make music because of your might. (Psalm 21:13)
Opening quotation is from Robin Harris, “The Great Misconception: Why Music is Not a Universal Language,” in Worship and Mission for the Global Church, ed. James Krabill (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2013), 82.
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