Often our young men, and older ones too, are pressed into the service of conducting the music in our meetings, even when without previous experience. For such, a few suggestions may be timely.
First, do not attempt to conduct in public until you understand the rudiments of conducting. You should be familiar with the different kinds of time, and the value of notes, rests, and holds. You will deal largely with three-four, four-four, and six-eight time; therefore you should master these thoroughly. Any good rudimentary instruction book will give you this information.
The purpose of the song service is not to amuse or to kill time, but to bring the mass mind into one harmonious whole, and prepare it for the sermon to follow. This being true, it is a mistake in announcing the service to divide it into two parts,—song service and preaching. To repeat: Do not advertise: "Song Service at 7:30; Lecture at 8 o'clock." It is difficult to conduct a rousing song service with empty chairs. Try to have the people present when the first song is announced.
It is also a mistake to announce, at the close of the song service, "We will now open the meeting with Number so-and-so," when the opening song was sung perhaps half an hour before. Such an announcement never fails to chill the hearts that may have been warmed and solemnized by the songs already sung. It implants the thought that the song service is not of any real importance, ,just something to fill in and entertain, a pleasant way for those who arrive early to while away the time until the meeting begins.
Selecting the Songs
Keep in mind the subject for the evening sermon, and select songs that will lead the mind in the same direction. Intersperse the group singing with an occasional special song that has a bearing on the same subject. When you announce a solo, duet, trio, or quartet, the people expect something above the average. Therefore you should know just what is coming. Remember that it is better to do without special numbers than to put on something that will give rise to just criticism. A "special" need not always be a. new song. And old, familiar hymn, with a real message, well sung, may have a good effect. Often an encore of a familiar song, effectively sung, will be received with more appreciation than the more ambitious number that preceded it.
Avoid elaborate sheet music; it draws attention to the singer instead of to the message which it should contain—but too often does not. It is in better taste to stay by the old, simple hymns, which have a place in the hearts of the people. The average audience will appreciate them more. Remember always that the great purpose behind all the effort is to save souls.
A choir of mixed voices is a valuable asset in an evangelistic effort. Each member should be able to sing by position, and to carry his part independently. Such a choir gives wonderful support to the leader, keeps him from constantly straining his voice, and adds greatly to the interest of the song service. A well-trained choir will carry the audience over many difficult or weak places, especially when a new song is introduced. Often a song can be divided with good effect between the choir and the audience.
The writer has found by years of experience that to have the choir wear a uniform, preferably white, adds to the dignity of the service, eliminates unfavorable criticism, and has a sobering effect on the singers themselves.
Of more importance than the choir or even the chorister is the pianist. He can make or break the song service. Unless there is absolute co-ordination between pianist and leader, the song service may become tragic instead of heavenly.
No set rules can be laid down to govern the playing, but there is a happy medium between following strictly the notes and time of the sacred music and falling into the jazzy "swing" of popular songs. Playing the octaves is almost indispensable; and filling out the measures with additional harmonies adds life and spirit to the singing.
The pianist must watch the leader, and become familiar with every move and gesture. There should be a sympathetic understanding between them, so that every movement of the leader will be instantly registered through the pianist. Of course this is impossible when the player must keep his eyes fixed rigidly upon the music.
Suggestions for the Chorister
Do not talk too much. The people have come to this part of the service to sing, not to listen to preliminary sermonettes by the song leader. Recently the writer visited a song service, and overheard the remark: "I wish he wouldn't talk so much, but would sing more; we want to sing." However, occasionally a brief history of some outstanding song, or of some incident connected with it, will make a helpful appeal to the audience.
Avoid the spectacular and the ludicrous. Do not act smart. Do not try to imitate someone else. To do so only makes you ridiculous.
Be yourself. Until you feel at home with your audience and your work, it is safer to stick strictly to routine.
Do not joke. A little pleasantry may be allowable occasionally, but joking kills the spirituality of your work, and so thwarts the purpose of it all—the salvation of souls.
Pray with the preacher, pray with the choir before you begin, and above all pray in secret for the blessing of Heaven upon the ministry of song. If you feel blue and discouraged, keep it to yourself. Be happy and cheerful, radiate sunshine with choir and audience. The result will be a joyous service of song that will warm hearts and prepare them for the message to follow.
Los Angeles, Calif.