Cultural Music

Song Writing Workshop

posted Aug 3, 2010, 8:01 AM by Unknown user   [ updated Aug 3, 2010, 8:34 AM ]

"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one
another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,
singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord."
Col. 3:16  (NKJV)

On returning from our time in the Philippines, we are rejoicing with the Koronadal Blaan Christians over the wonderful gift God has given them in their traditional music.

The song-writing workshop began on Monday morning, June 29th, with what would become 11 participants. They were from four different church groups. All were pastors except one young man. One of the pastors was a woman. Many, it seems, had already tried their hand at writing songs, with varying degrees of success. They saw the training as meeting a need.
Trying new songs

Playing the Fuglung

One of the primary challenges to the participants was to look closely as Blaan musical instruments and see if they could be used for worship. Some felt they were not appropriate, but when Glenn Stallsmith, the ethnomusicologist leading the workshop, pointed out to them Scriptural examples of how the harp, the lyre, and others were used…

…for many purposes, they changed their minds. The harp, the lyre, and others had beem used to call people to worship idols, but then these same instruments were also used to worship the one, true God, and to celebrate events. So the instruments themselves are neither bad nor good, the purpose and use are what is significant. This new freedom was clearly a blessing.  
Playing the Tanan-gong

Playing the Falimak

From this the participants in the workshop were urged to look at traditional instruments in a different way. Likewise music used in events such as weddings and planting rice were also studied for their appropriateness in worship. When one of the pastors created a song using a traditional music form, but with words for worship, everyone grew very excited.

The song writers were given various topics to focus on. Their first assignment was to write a song that would address some problem the Blaans face. One wrote about the loss of their land. Others wrote songs exhorting people to turn from sinful ways. Some wrote about raising families to follow Christ. In each case we "heard" the Blaan heart.


Their second assignment followed a devotional talk about people who are the last, the least, and the lost. They were encouraged to use music that reflected traditional Blaan musical patterns. Blaans tend to view themselves as down-trodden and unimportant, especially when they have been cheated or swindled by outsiders. One pastor wrote a very moving song, reminding those who…

…think of themselves as unimportant to remember that they are chosen and loved by God. The third assignment was to write a song for a special occasion. The most popular in this category was a birthday song to be sung as a serenade early in the morning of someone's birthday, reminding him or her of how God has blessed them with another good year of life.

The First Blaan Music CD
The collection of songs grew, so that on the final day they chose the 12 best songs. Each singer practiced and then a recording session captured the songs in digital form. As the workshop drew to a close we held a rousing program of songs, dance, chanting, and playing of instruments. Each participant went home with a CD of the 12 selected songs.

The most significant part of the workshop was the great desire which sprang up for these 10 men and one woman to continue to write songs to present the Gospel message to Blaans. They formed a group and chose leaders. We assured them of our help to preserve the songs. Their plan is to write songs, gather every month or two to edit their songs and teach them to each other, then, when they have a set of 12-15 perfected, to contact us to arrange for SIL Vernacular Media folks to go there and record them. Of great concern is that they do not have the skill of writing the tunes so want to be sure the songs are recorded and thus not forgotten.

Blaan Worship Music

posted Aug 3, 2010, 7:54 AM by Unknown user   [ updated Aug 3, 2010, 7:57 AM ]

Opening the way for Blaans to use their own cultural music to create their own worship songs for church

A strong evangelical church among the Blaans has been alive since shortly after World War II. Churches began as small gatherings. Today some churches number over one hundred. Congregations have sent out members to begin new 'daughter' churches.

Hundreds of churches throughout South Cotabato and Sarangani provinces in the southern Philippines use Blaan Scriptures and enjoy the music of worship. The music they use today is translated western hymns. Our dream is to see traditional Blaan music used for worshiping God.

Blaans love music. Church gatherings begin with choruses, used to call others to the gathering. Youth rallies, women's conferences, and other gatherings often include singing contests. Special music is often a part of worship services.

The future of the Blaan church is strong. Young families are a vital part of the church. Children and young people continue to have a keen interest in church activities. Many young people go to Bible school to strengthen their faith and aid in church leadership.

Encouraging Use of Traditional Music
Blaans will gather June 29th through July 2nd to learn how to create their own worship music using their own traditional music. Mostly they just need to be shown that their traditional music is valid for worship. Working with them to create a few songs in the workshop will, hopefully encourage to continue creating worship music on their own. An ethnomusicologist will lead the time. We hope to see a number of new; refreshingly "Blaan" songs come into existence as a result.

Here is an amazing fact: Blaan is the 5th most used language of worship in the Philippines, outnumbered only by the major languages like Tagalog and Cebuano. There are hundreds of churches that use Blaan in their worship services, and singing is a big part of this.

Many Bible conferences or large gatherings include a singing contest. Until now, almost all their songs are translated western hymns and choruses, in particular the familiar hymns most of us grew up with like "To God be the Glory", "Trust and Obey" and "Higher Ground". The older people often cannot sing the translated western songs because they don't know how to handle the eight-note scale. Their traditional music sounds more like a chant or music sung on just a few notes. To our western ears it sounds a bit odd, but when Blaans hear it they get excited. Our desire is to see Blaans enabled through this training to create their own songs for worship. Songs that will speak to their hearts in a new way, increasing their depth of worship.

Sally's role in the music workshop will be as interpreter for the leader, Glenn Stallsmith, and to help with questions of spelling. Glenn is a highly trained ethnomusicologist.

Consider praying daily for us during the time we are in the Philippines, June 26th until July 16th. Pray especially during the days of the music workshop, June 28th to July 2nd. May God bless you for this gift of prayer. God only knows what gain for the Kingdom your prayers can bring.

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