When I develop a set list for a Sunday morning I feel the tension between good music and good lyrics.
The definition of good music is very subjective. In a set list, good music is relative to song placement and delivery. Meaning the music of a song might be good in some cases and not good in others. So in selecting a song the goal is to find the appropriate music with the appropriate lyrics.
Many modern songs are written around simple chord progressions. Some of those progressions seem to resonate with people. If you play a 1-5-6m-4 chord progression with dynamics most people will like it. Many songs written around that progression have shot to the top of the charts. And that’s not the only progression that is musical candy. I will freely admit that I am biased toward the music of some songs. I do my best, however, not to allow that bias to dictate my set list. I don’t select songs based upon music alone.
A song with music I do not like could make my set list (and will hopefully be redeemed by a musical make over) if the lyrics are solid.
Good lyrics are difficult to find. There are many songs that I do not like because they have a verse, chorus, or bridge that contains something I don’t feel comfortable with. If a song has lyrics I don’t like it doesn’t make my set list. That’s a deal breaker.
Archaic and poetic language is another obstacle. I enjoy poetry and poetic language. I like to break it apart and analyze it. However, I find that very difficult to do the first time I hear a song. I need to look at the lyrics for a bit. See the song as a whole. Process the themes and progression. I’m not good at doing this on the spot. So when I prepare a set list, I spend a good deal of time thinking about songs with complicated language. I am hesitant to use many songs that use this style of language, because I feel many people do not attempt to interpret it.
In an ideal world I would love to be able to talk about a set list for 20-30 minutes before playing through it. We could discuss themes, the messages contained in the song, reasons why the song is fitting, and all sorts of interesting stuff before we sing one note. Maybe some day.
In a later post I will discuss song themes and what I feel the criteria for good lyrics is.
The tension does not just include music and lyrics. There are factors that complicate the situation. Examples are the key, the musical range, and the musicians available.
When I lead a set I like to be confident in the music and the lyrics.