La, la, la

For a variety of reasons, one of which is that it sometimes sparks post ideas here, I regularly read some of the most thoughtful columnists in other genres of Christian music. When it comes to worship music, one of those voices is Bob Kauflin.

Several weeks ago, he posted a column on generic syllables in Christian songs at his Worship Matters website. He notes an increasing trend in worship music to sing “lengthy portions of songs using vowel sounds rather than actually singing words.” Of course, this is a more prevalent phenomenon in worship music than in Southern Gospel, but we still see it on occasion in our own genre.

Kauflin’s examination of why we sing words with our melodies (and melodies with our words) is well worth taking the time to read his column. His thoughtful conclusions, though intended for congregational singing, have relevance for any genre of Christian music:

This seems to be a matter of balance. If there was one song or even an occasional song that used “oh’s” as a filler, this would be a non-issue. But when every third song we lead incorporates vocal sounds rather than words, we’re developing an unhealthy pattern and could possibly be teaching people that the feeling of singing is more fulfilling than the truths we express. . . . 

Single syllables are easy to learn and people tend to belt them out passionately. In fact, at times I’ve heard crowds at their loudest when they’re singing generic syllables. As I lead a congregation, my hope is that they’ll be most excited about who God is and what he’s done for us in Christ. It’s not hard to get a crowd singing “oh oh oh” at the top of their lungs. What is harder and certainly more fruitful is to lead them in loudly singing something like, “And on the cross as Jesus died the wrath of God was satisfied.” The point isn’t how loud we sing, but why we sing so loud.

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8 Letters to the Editor

Southern Gospel Journal welcomes letters to the editor. We will post the most thoughtful and insightful submissions. Ground rules: Don't attack or belittle groups or fellow posters, or advance heresies rejected by orthodox Christianity. Do keep comments positive, constructive, and on topic.
  1. Good read! I’ve always been a huge fan of Bob Kauflin’s arrangements…here’s a link to his arrangement of The Easter Song sung by one of my all time favorite groups, GLAD

  2. This past week, we pulled out the Chris Tomlin song, “Forever,” during our worship set. I wanted to get the arrangement closer to Tomlin’s recut this past year, which included a men’s choir singing “Oooohhhhhhh….” in the intro and in the middle of the song. Rather than have our vocal group just sing “oh’s” in the song, I inserted the chorus to “O Praise Him,” which at least removed the seemingly insignificant vowel sounds. It also removed the overly-repetitive original bridge that just sang “His love endures forever” over and over.

  3. What a wonderful column!! Our focus should always be on the truth which we are proclaiming or singing. The truths of God’s Word are powerful enough to stamd on their own. “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto me.”

  4. Daniel: You probably not print this and I understand, But this sort of fits with my personal standards of why I don’t sing for younger people’s weddings any more. Aside from the fact I don’t know their music, the fact is it’s so over produced by the original artist and most of the lyrics (which are very secular) and half the song is “ewe, ewe, ewe, Ah, Ah, Ah, love”. Guess I’m just an old man complaining. Besides that it used to be dealing with two psycho mothers and now it’s 4 or 6. I digress, whenever I’m invited to a P & W driven church, and there is always at least a modest amount of the “Oh’s and Aah’s” I come away thinking what did I learn, as in doctrinal reinforcement and did I worship?

    • Actually, it’s relevant to the topic, and not criticizing fellow posters or artists within the genre, so I can approve it. The comment guidelines don’t prohibit all negative comments! 🙂

      • Thanks, Daniel. Sometimes I can get a little tangential. Ask my kids. This is a terrific site. You address a lot of peripheral issues.

      • Thanks! Seriously, though, at 3,499 posts on this site—3,152 of which I have written myself—I would be hard pressed to come up with a post every single day unless I touched on peripheral issues at least once in a while!

  5. I personally don’t know if its fair to compare the lyrical content of contemporary worship songs with Southern Gospel songs. They are very different categories of music meant for two different audiences and meant to get different responses from the audience.