Sunday, November 15, 2015

The joy of hymn singing. . .

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.


John Joseph Flanagan said...

I agree. It is nice to have a choir, but it is even better when we all sing together the hymns of the faith. And for me personally, I love the old Gospel songs as well. Lutherans sometimes have less enthusiasm for Gospel music than Baptists, but many of these traditional songs are very uplifting and worthy of inclusion with the hymns we sing,

Unknown said...

Growing up, I experience full congregational sing at pretty my any LCMS congregation my Dad thought fit to take his family to.
That kind of singing died almost overnight with the Lutheran Worship hymnal and all those Paul Bunjes arrangements that made for some beautiful organ playing, but pretty much took the choral out of all those wonderful chorales.
LSB has brought many of the singable choral arrangements back, but still has way too many hymns where the choral arrangement is not in the hymnal, often because there isn't going to be anything in that arrangement that an Alto or Bass voice can sing.
For a large segment of our congregations, the only way to keep climax notes in the melody from becoming anti-climactic, is not to sing at all - so they don't.
Until our organists figure this out and start focusing on always providing the Altos and Basses with something in their sustainable ranges to sing, there is no point in trying to educate people to sing parts again.

Anonymous said...

I think hymns sound better when the popular hymns are song with the organ .
The organ or piano helps the people to be in tune or on key in their singing.