Songs for Saint Lydia’s—How We Choose Our Repertoire

Hello, Song Leaders and all interested in music at Saint Lydia’s!

Our list of songs is ever growing, and from time to time, people have ideas for a song that they would like to add to the Lydian repertoire. If you have a song suggestion, the first step is to send a recording of the song (or a YouTube link) to Emily to see if it’s a good match for Saint Lydia’s.  Here’s a sort of informal list of criteria used to select songs for St. Lydia’s:

It’s a simple song that can be taught easily by ear and repeated.

It has a beautiful, well-constructed melody that is pleasurable to sing.  Despite the simplicity, the song is rich.  It’s not campy or cheesy.  The ability to harmonize it intuitively is an added bonus.

It’s a song that feels familiar or comes from somewhere far away.  We try to sing songs from all around the world, as a way of connecting with the global community of Christians.

It doesn’t require an accompaniment like piano or guitar for the melody to “make sense.”  Some pieces don’t really hold together without the accompaniment, which adds a whole lot to the melody.  The song “Taste and See,” is an example of this.  It is a gorgeous song, but needs the accompaniment to work.

It’s meant to be sung by a group of people, not by a solo voice.  For instance, a group of people singing a song that’s really virtuosic doesn’t work so well. This places a theological focus on the body of Christ united in song, rather than on the individual performer.  Our national anthem is a good example of this — it sounds better sung solo then by a group.  However, some songs have simple refrains for the congregation to sing, and then a virtuosic solo line over the top, which is great — the body is included and the gifts of the individual are lifted up.

It has theology that connects with the theologies we’re exploring at St. Lydia’s, which holds humans and humanity up as broken but fundamentally good and created by God, and focuses on God’s love and goodness rather than God’s judgment.  It stays away from militaristic images in which Christ as a conqueror.  For instance, the Easter hymn “Thine is the Glory” goes, “Thine is the glory, risen, conquering son, endless is the victory, thou o’er death hast won,” which subtly turns Christ into a warrior.  This is certainly one way to imagine him, but not the image we choose to focus on at St. Lydia’s.

It stays away from using male language for God, so that the image of God in our mind is free to be female, male, or gender neutral.  Sometimes it’s easy enough to change a “him” to a “you” or a “God.”  Emily is always willing to help if you’d like to adapt the language of a song.

It avoids telling the singer how to feel.  For instance, if you arrive at church and have just lost your job and are at the end of your rope and the first song starts with the line, “We are joyful we are glad…” that makes it feel like there’s no room for your emotions. We learn how to praise and sing Alleluia even in the midst of grief, but we avoid texts that seem to tell people how to feel or imply that they should always feel happy.

Suggestions for new songs are always welcome!