Whoa: Generic Syllables in Congregational Singing

Bob Kauflin: if this is a trend in congregational song, the word “Whoa!” does come to mind.

I’ve been thinking about the use of generic syllables in congregational singing for a while now.

It’s not a new phenomenon. I remember singing, “Lai lai lai lai lai, lai lai lai lai lai lai,” as the last verse of the song in the 70s that was called “Then shall the virgin break forth into dance.” I think it was supposed to be the dance section. We sing, “Deck the halls with boughs of holly, fa la la la la, la la la la” and don’t think twice about it. And the Beatles did just fine with “ob-la-di, ob-la-da” and the epic ending to Hey Jude (Na Na Na Na na na Naaaaaaa).

But recently an increasing number of modern worship songs feature syllables like “oh, ooh, and whoa.” Generic syllables can be enjoyable to sing and can provide a musical segue that involves the congregation. They also can carry meaning as they give expression to a burst of emotion that either respond or lead in to lyrics that actually say something. My good friend Matt Boswell reminded me that Paul begins his doxology in Romans 11:33-36 with “Oh,” the depth of the riches… There are times when an emotional “oh!” is the most appropriate lead in to a life-transforming truth.

But something more has been happening. Crowds are singing lengthy portions of songs using vowel sounds rather than actually singing words. Is this a good thing? Does it matter?

Continue reading.

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