January 25, 2011 § 2 Comments
I’m currently taking an Editorial Writing class, which is basically teaching us to write our opinions persuasively and effectively. “Don’t be afraid to have an opinion,” my professor says. In fact, we’ll probably fail if we don’t present our opinions with enough punch and bias. Upon reflection, I find that I try to stay somewhat neutral in my blogging — wouldn’t want to offend anyone! But I won’t survive in this class with that kind of bland outlook. So as a preliminary exercise, I’m going to express my opinion on an issue that has bothered me for a few years. Of course, it’d be great if I could get people to agree with me, but because this is merely a rough editorial piece, eliciting any kind of reaction would be a boon. It’s a bit longer than the recommended length of typical editorials, but I suppose that’s because I have a lot invested in the backstory…
Sexism is pretty deeply entrenched in the Christian church structure. We have multitudes of complementarians to thank for the lack of women in the higher strata of ministry – pastors, deacons, etc. Worship leaders also come in mostly the male variety, and as far as I know, worship leaders are the ones that write most of the worships songs used in contemporary churches.
Although they compose compelling songs, they naturally do so within a musical range that is comfortable for them to sing, and my seven years of youth group took place under male worship leaders that fit worship songs to their vocal ranges as well.
My voice is naturally lower than those of most women, putting my range somewhere between the typical ranges of males and females. As a teenager in my church congregation, I was at a loss during many songs simply because they were too high for me to sing. As the boys sang comfortably and the girls stretched their falsettos, I forced myself to learn to harmonize in order to participate. I gained an invaluable skill, but it planted a small seed that blossomed into resentment as I grew older and became more aware of the male-female imbalances in the world.
Last fall, I served as worship team leader for the Asian Christian Fellowship at Mizzou. It was my first time being a worship leader, and because I had difficulty playing either piano or guitar while leading, I could only lead vocally while the rest of the team took care of instrumentals. Thankfully, one of my friends served as the team’s mentor as well as member, and his expertise in both playing guitar and leading worship helped things run smoothly on the musical side of things.
Excited to have such a privileged position, I went through my entire 250-page songbook and transposed all the songs I knew into keys that I could sing comfortably — I knew from the beginning that most songs did not fit into my range in their original keys. I didn’t expect this to be a problem until our mentor brought it up during a practice early in the semester.
“These chords make it too low for me,” he said during a pause in the playing. “I don’t think most guys would be able to sing it.”
This happened more frequently than I would like to recall. Each time, we had to stop and come to some sort of a compromise. Either we would tweak it a little, or he would end up leading it in its original key, or we would nix the song from the set list completely.
I realize that being a leader means being a servant, and to serve my fellowship is to consider their needs. If the guys can’t sing part of the song, then it’s not very considerate of them, is it? And I might be espousing my opinion due to years of built-up bitterness, but I believe that I have a point worth arguing.
Even when I was a vocalist on my youth group’s worship team during high school, I don’t recall anybody wondering, “Is this too high for the girls to sing?” In most worship services that I’ve attended, it’s either sink or swim. The women don’t complain because they’re simply used to this treatment.
Men, on the other hand, are raised with inherent privileges that they don’t even realize. They expect small things like a worship song to be done in a way that is most beneficial to them because that’s the way it’s done. It’s no wonder that women are more successful in the corporate world when they behave like men, or that women who participate in “manly” activities [such as watching football] are glorified vastly over men who enjoy “effeminate” activities [such as knitting]. In this society, to be a woman is still to be a second-class citizen, no matter how rosy and progressive things might seem.
During today’s worship team practice, we played “In Christ Alone,” a hymn containing soaring verses that are typically way out of my range. Though I’ve retired as worship team leader, I’m still a member, as is our ever-faithful mentor. Our current leader, PN, was a soprano in choir, but even she had to transpose the song down a few keys to get it within range.
Our mentor usually played it in the key of E major. Transposing it to D was still somewhat uncomfortable for PN, so we tried it in C.
“C is too low for me,” our mentor said after going through the first verse. “I would prefer D.” He also mentioned something about “most guys.”
Blessed with an eternally good nature, PN agreed. I bit the insides of my cheeks and swallowed the protests that rose in the back of my throat.
Did you not hear that we were struggling to reach the high notes in D? Did you not hear her say that it was uncomfortable for her? Do you think that just because we could narrowly squeeze the notes out that all of the rest of the women in our fellowship will enjoy hearing and following our high-pitched melodies? And do you really think that the men will lose that much from not being able to sing a few lines when our needs as women have been overlooked for as long as I can remember?
He tries. I know he tries. But I’m outlining a larger issue here. It’s tiring to carry around this resentment, which is why I’m finally laying it out now. I don’t think anyone cares about this as much as I do, and if I have to come under fire for my opinion, then so be it. I would love to have kind thoughts and think lovingly of my brothers in Christ all the time, but in this area, it’s about time they tried putting us first.