For centuries, instrumental music was forbidden in the Christian church. All the singing was unaccompanied. That is where the term "a capella" originated. Within the memory of some of us, there have been churches which banned instruments from the service. But this prejudice has been broken down, and now there are very few churches which do not have a piano or an organ. Wherever it is possible, the pipe organ is of course preferable. It has been rightly named the "king of instruments."
Not every church can afford a pipe organ, but where it is possible to have one, it should surely be installed, for it truly adds to the dignity and beauty of the service. Lacking a pipe organ, a good reed organ serves the purpose very well; or a good piano, preferably a grand, suffices in most churches.
Here again we must urge that the church service is not the place in which to exploit the talent or facile technique of the performer. A consecrated organist or pianist, who is humble and desirous of serving, can render invaluable assistance. The music selected should not be for the purpose of display, but should be quiet, serious, dignified, and worshipful. There is an abundance of such music. Often I have felt that the performer was using the church service for an opportunity to develop and display his technique. Very often a beautiful hymn, played with feeling and in a comparatively slow tempo, is appreciated by the audience more than a brilliant, difficult composition. Somehow, if it is played properly, the congregation will almost hear the words. I think I have received more expressions of- appreciation after playing a hymn for an offertory than when I played a regular organ or piano number.
There is a tendency on the part of some of our young people to introduce jazz effects into the playing of hymns. This, of course, is to be deplored. On the other hand, if hymns are played strictly as they are written, they are often dull, monotonous, and lacking in beauty. When hymns are arranged for a capella singing, extra voice parts are added. Sometimes there are eight voice parts. This is done for the purpose of enhancing their beauty.
If this is legitimate in vocal music, surely it is permissible to add parts to instrumental music by enriching the chords. Unnecessary frills and grace notes detract from the sacredness of the hymn music, but an enrichment of the chord structure adds to its dignity and beauty. Some will disagree with this, but I think the vast majority will approve of the method when it is not overdone. This type of playing, usually spoken of as the "evangelistic type," adds to the spirit and ease of congregational singing. The editor of Ministry has asked me to write out a specimen arrangement, to give an idea of what is meant. I have selected a simple, well-known old hymn, "Jesus Is Calling." When this is played exactly as written, it sounds choppy and monotonous; but it becomes a beautiful song when enhanced by a few enriched chords. It appears in this connection. [A second hymn, "Have Thine Own Way, Lord," will appear in the March Ministry.]
It is remarkable how few really good hymn players there are. Many people who have studied music for years, and can play difficult compositions, play hymns atrociously. Wise piano teachers include the playing of hymns in their course of instruction, because there is technical value in them. Music teachers in our schools ought to emphasize this point more than they do, in their teaching.
The importance of having a good pianist or organist in the church services cannot be stressed too strongly. The church is not the place to give practice and experience to some child or very young person. The accompaniment can make or break the musical part of a service. The local church should endeavor to secure the most efficient player available, but only one who will enter into the spirit of the work wholeheartedly.
Here let me say a word in behalf of the organists and pianists in our churches. They have spent many years and much money in study, and are constantly obliged to spend their own money for music. This they do without remuneration of any sort, except the joy of service. Would it not be a lovely gesture on the part of the church occasionally to contribute a modest sum of money for the purchase of new music? The shock might, of course, be too great for the poor organist! Even if this music remained the property of the church, it would be a great help to the musician.
I would also like to say a word for the choir director. I am not pleading for financial remuneration, because this is not a practice of our denomination. A director who takes his work seriously devotes hours every week to preparation and performance, he uses his car to transport choir members to rehearsals and church services, he frequently spends his own money for extra copies of music, and he often spends hours laboriously arranging music for the choir and making copies of it. If he is a professional musician, sometimes he has to give up remunerative engagements in order to be faithful to his church work:
this he is not paid, receives very little praise, and is often cruelly criticized if his efforts are not always crowned with success. A little financial assistance occasionally to defray expenses would be appreciated; but words of appreciation are often worth very much more.
Sometimes the music department of the church is called the "war department." This does not have to be so. If more kindness were practiced all around, if the music director would exhibit more of a spirit of willingness to cooperate and to serve, and those with talent could be made to feel that singing in a choir is as important as many other church duties, and if the church officers and members would show more sympathy and appreciation, then there would be a sweet spirit of harmony, and better music would be produced. There are heights before us in gospel music. Let us scale them.