For more than 8 hours in a small Primitive Baptist Church outside of Hoboken, Georgia, a group of more than 50 singers participated in the annual Tri-State Sacred Harp (Cooper Book) Singing and from Lloyd's Hymnbook that evening. Americans did not quickly embrace the idea of hymn singing brought to them from England but in the plain spoken sound of unaccompanied voices singing in parts the congregations perfected what they had come to know and love.
Here is Psalm singing from Calvin College. Just folks, not choir, singing with joy the words of Scripture in metrical setting of the Psalms. It is clear that they are singing not only in parts but in joy and thanksgiving for the Word on their lips.
Hymns were once sung with more gusto than we usually here them today. In fact when visiting other churches we find in some very few voices are raised and in others a semi-professional group does all the singing (praise band or choir). The joy of singing has been replaced with too much passive spectating. Although our congregation is fairly good at singing, there are times when none of us can hear enough from the singers to even guess which stanza the hymn is on and join our own voices. Although our congregation is fairly good, some visitors are amazed at how well we sing (thus suggesting that they come from parishes where the singing is pretty poor).
Why is this? We seem to entertain a timidity about our voices in church (except when we are trying to get the attention of people or just want to gab). Perhaps this is a consequence of listening so much (walking around continuously with ear buds). Perhaps it is a consequence of reduced programs of musical instruction and appreciation in schools. Perhaps it is also a consequence of acoustical environments more adapted to theaters than the live, reverberant setting so conducive to the human voice. In any case, I hope we learn to love hymns again, learn to love to sing, and learn to sing with enthusiasm and joy the faith we confess.