By Major Terry Camsey—
For some reason, my vocabulary seems to be shrinking. Well, that may not be entirely true since it may be expanding at one end and shrinking at the other. I do go out of my way to increase it and always look up the meanings of words I have never seen before. But, there seem to be more occasions when the right word is on the tip of my tongue yet I can’t shake it loose on to my tongue and out of my mouth.
I was reading a book the other day that was talking about how to improve your memory. That article was from Brainpower, by Vernon H. Mark, M.D., F.A.C.S and Jeffrey P. Mark, M.S. It recommended this: Put information you want to remember in verse or song… combining melody with lyrics… improves retrieval.
It reminded me of something the Founder said many years ago (which is recorded in The History of The Salvation Army, Volume Two: 1878-1886):
“The General early set out that he considered the songs that made the best singing were those composed in the simple language of the people, insisting that the airs to which they should be sung must be such as would stick to the people whether they would or not and make them go humming them about their houses and their workshops.”
He was describing the television “jingle” decades before television was invented and the power of wedding words to music, over a hundred years before the Marks’. We know the power of the television jingle since–even today–daresay many readers can recall both words and music of those used to promote various products over the years.
Booth’s purpose was, of course, to help people to remember words important to our Christian development…Scripture verses and songs encapsulating doctrinal truths. Those brought up in the Army in an era when the Song Book was used extensively (rather than the 8-10 songs people seem to know today) can attest to the value of such religious “jingles.” There is not an event or occasion when words from that Song Book don’t come winging to mind…to inspire, comfort, bless…quote to others.
So, we have lost a great part of our heritage since–it is said–most congregations learn their doctrines from hymns. If we don’t sing them any more, where does such teaching take place in a way that the “common man” can recall the words, facilitated by their association with a good melody?
Mind you (or as the politicians say–too frequently for my taste–“Make no mistake!”) Booth’s strategy of wedding significant words to “airs” that “stick” is finding a contemporary echo in Christendom. Worship songs, reviled by some as being too repetitious, are finding a ready response in many churches reaching today’s generations. The biggest void they fill (in my book) is in enabling people to memorize Scripture. In my young days King James was the translation from which we learned Bible verses; there were few other translations then. But today, when there are many translations, from which do people memorize Scripture?
(In passing, an interesting note. Some few years ago I felt inspired to write some worship choruses and sent them to the appropriate “powers that be” for consideration. One of them was returned with the notation that the words were boring. I responded, “They are direct quotes from the Bible!” The response?” Not all verses in the Bible are inspiring. My response? “Have you read Doctrine #1?” The response? Overwhelming silence!)
But Booth was brilliant. He saw the power of words “in the simple language of the people” wedded to “sticky” tunes. We need to insure a balance between our songs and worship choruses and, perhaps, the greatest need is to paraphrase the texts of some of the great hymns in “the simple language” of today’s people.
How would you react if CNN started giving out the news in the language of King James’ era?