One of the highlights of attending a Renovaré conference back in the 1990s and 2000s was George Skramstad leading songs and hearing his History of Worship” presentation from the piano. Nathan talks with George about worship as expressed in music and life.

    Resources by George Skramstad

    Show Notes

    [3:35] Q: How did you get into music professionally?

    At 4 I would pick out music on the piano from songs I heard on the radio. So my parents started me on piano lessons. When I was 6 or 7, the piano player didn’t show up for church. When it came time for the offertory they thought I should play, so I got up and played a song from the radio called Buttons and Bows and everybody was in hysterics, and I started crying because I thought they were laughing at me, but they were laughing at the song. That was the first time I learned that there were certain songs you played in church and certain songs you did not. In fifth grade I took up the violin, and then majored in violin with a music education degree, and took piano as well as other instruments.

    [6:32] Q: What do you like about music?

    It gives me an inner life, a life of tonalities that gives me a greater understanding of God. It is a gift you give back to God and hopefully people can live through that, see a bit of God through that.

    [8:00] Q: When you’re leading worship, what do you hope is happening?

    Those of us who are leading the band or orchestra or the single person, we’re prompters prompting people to put out their voice, their singing, their worship to God, and then God becomes the audience. Unfortunately, we have built a culture where worshippers are the audience and the worship leaders become the performers, and God … I guess we think he’s the prompter or he’s giving to all of us the ability.

    [10:57] Q: Why is the word worship synonymous with music?

    It shouldn’t be, but it is. Worship is anything that we do out of a love for the Father who created us; it’s what we do to make our creator known, to show Him our love. The whole congregation is the worship team.

    [12:34] Q: You’ve created a masterpiece that we get to talk about today, and I’m very curious to know how this came to be.

    Your father and I were doing a combined teaching course at Fuller Seminary, a summer course on worship – the elements of worship and what worship was. One class, your dad asked me to go to the piano and just give us a history of worship. So I all of a sudden I have to go back and think through what I think worship might have been in the very beginning of time with the Hebrew people. It says that people would be on one mountain, and others would be on the other mountain, and they would shout back and forth the praises of God. Early liturgy become more written down as time went forward. And Gregorian chant and the development of notation for music even into medieval times where many of the artists were banned because they were thought of as too emotional for the church or they were always wanting to do bizarre things. The creative people many times were thrown out of the church, and there was a time when even most music was thrown out. Drama, for instance, was not used within the church in those days, and so they would wheel flatbed carts into the village center and they would do the passion play for the people. Then we went into the Reformation movement and Romantic period and on into the modern time. And that’s how it all began.

    [15:48] Q: And that developed into the recording we have now. Why do you think is helpful for folks to catch this big picture of the worship of Christians through the ages?

    Right now we are in a very artist driven culture because of media. Worship was not as complex as it is now. Now we’ve got lights, mist, sound, electrically bound instruments; if we don’t have an instrument playing, we can get a track and load that in. We can tune voices. We don’t have what I would say is the authentic gift of its people, but it’s manufactured. Worship has had a long lineage, that God’s people have always had a song, a tune, a yearning to express the inner heart. Our appreciation for music should go beyond preference.

    [17:58] Q: Do you have a favorite era in church music?

    I say that whenever God was moving, that’s where I’d want to be. But God places us with certain congregations in various times, so I need to be where God plants me, to be that individual that can support worship and become small so that God can do his thing.

    [19:09] Q: So God’s presence supersedes style?

    God’s presence and the work of the Spirit within that. François Fénelon said, The wind of God is always blowing, but you must hoist your sail.” Worship is a bit like that – we have to hoist our sail so that the wind can blow through us and in us. We attach ourselves in worship, and there is preparation before worship that has to happen; we can’t just go into worship without a purpose, without a focus, without intentionality. People go to football games, they go to concerts, they go full of expectation. But how many people walk into worship with expectation? That’s either because we have not trained or we don’t see it as something of importance, or that those who are leading don’t lead with that in mind and don’t make it seem important or the work of the people doesn’t bring that excitement. 

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