Religious services are usually, opened by the singing of a hymn, and the question often arises, Should the hymn be read aloud before it is sung? This may be better answered after considering the reasons for singing hymns during a religious service. Speaking of the wonderful power in song, Mrs. E. G. White says:
"It has power to subdue rude and uncultivated natures ; power to quicken thought and to awaken sympathy, to promote harmony of action, and to banish the gloom and foreboding that destroy courage and weaken effort. It is one of the most effective means of impressing the heart with spiritual truth. . . . As 'a part of religious service, singing is as much an act of worship as is prayer."—"Education," pp. 167, 168.
What a wonderful help at the very beginning of a service to have the thoughts quickened, sympathy awakened, harmony of action promoted, and gloom banished! All this results from the proper singing of a hymn. We therefore ask, Will the reading of a hymn before it is sung contribute to these very desirable results? If so, it should not be omitted. We find that David "spake unto the Lord the words of this song" (2 Sam. 22:1), and he "delivered first this psalm to thank the Lord unto the hand who Asaph and his brethren" (I Chron. 16:7), who with voice and instrument praised the Lord. Undoubtedly the speaking or reading of the words of a hymn do prepare the heart and mind for the reception of spiritual truth.
Perhaps some have regarded the musical feature of a service as mere form, devoid of any spiritual significance. But the apostle Paul exhorts us to "sing in the spirit," as well as to "pray in the spirit:" for singing and all that is connected with it is as much a part of worship as is prayer. He might have added, "Read in the spirit," for the benefit of the reader of the hymn. And for the benefit of the one who plays the musical instrument accompanying the words of the hymn, he might have said, "Play thine instrument in the spirit."
All the hymns and music rendered in a religious service should be carefully and thoughtfully selected. They should be closely related to the message given from the Word of truth, that harmony and unity may characterize the entire service from beginning to end.
Care should be exercised not only in the selection of hymns, but also in their announcement. The spiritual tone and dignified sentiment that pervade the words and the tune should characterize the, announcement. No careless handling of the hymnal, no undignified behavior or attitude, should be manifest on the part of the announcer, reader, or choir leader. A simple, quiet, and yet effective method of announcement should be followed. It should be made loud, enough to be easily heard throughout the auditorium. It would also be well to have the number of the hymn placed on a bulletin board in figures sufficiently large to be readily recognized. This will help those who are hard of hearing.
There should be no set form of announcement. It is well to vary the form, but it should always be simple, accurate, and complete. The following forms of announcement are in use: "Let us open the service [or, Sabbath school, meeting, etc.] by singing number 4,52 in 'Hymns and Tunes' [or, "Christ in Soria" "Gospel in Song," etc.]." Sometimes, "We will open" is substituted for "Let us open." Again we often have this transposition of the introductory words of the announcement: "The service [or Sabbath school, or meeting] will be opened."
Time limitations will not permit the reading of all the hymns. When all, or a portion, of a hymn is to be read, this should precede the announcement of the number. The hymn may be found while the music is played, thus avoiding rustling of leaves as the hymn is, being found. A still better plan is to allow a moment to find the selection, thus affording opportunity for undivided attention while the hymn is being played.
In announcing a second or later hymn, it is better to avoid the expression, "sing again," for it suggests singing the same hymn a second time during the service. The thought of "singing again," or resuming the singing feature of the service, may more clearly be expressed by saying: "Let us continue the service by singing hymn number 62o."
The word, "verse," is quite commonly misused for the word "stanza." A stanza is a combination or arrangem6t of verses, but a verse is properly only a single metrical line. Therefore, never say, "We shall omit the third verse," but rather, "Omit the third stanza."
Preparation for Reading
The first essential in preparation by the announcer is the silent reading of the hymn until its meaning or message impresses and appeals to his soul. Its reading will not impress the heart of the listener unless it has already impressed that of the reader. After the silent reading, then read it aloud as you would to a congregation. If it is read properly, the sound of the voice will deepen and strengthen the impression made during the silent reading. The voice will be modulated by the feelings and emotions that pulsate in the heart and soul as the hymn is read or sung. Certain emotions will be reflected in the tone of the voice, depending on the sentiments aroused by the words of the hymn.
The book of Psalms was the Hebrew hymnal, and the larger number of its hymns, both words and music, were composed by David, the sweet singer of Israel. There is no better preparation for proper hymn reading than the reading aloud of the Psalms. Every shade of feeling and emotion common to humanity is vividly and naturally expressed in the Hebrew hymns, and the tones of the voice should give full and free expression to them.
The one who speaks to the congregation should have the privilege of selecting the hymns for the service, and whenever possible, those who read the hymn, play the instrument, and lead the music should be notified in time to make preparation before the service begins. It is well to read and sing the entire hymn, for the omission of one or two stanzas allows only a fragmentary and disconnected expression of the thought of the author, and therefore does him an injustice. If the first stanza only is read, the omission of the remaining stanzas may be indicated by saying, "We shall omit further reading." This is much better than, "We shall omit further lining," which is not the best form of expression.
A good voice is essential to good reading. The voice should be clear, full, and flexible, not dull, empty, and rigid. This is especially true in hymn reading, where joy and sorrow, courage and despondency, hope and despair, may all be intermingled in the same hymn, thus calling for rapid and frequent changes of pitch, tone color, and movement to express the feelings and emotions of the soul. Joy, courage, faith, and hope are expressed in the higher pitch levels, with rapid movement; while sorrow, despondency, doubt, and despair are expressed on the lower pitch levels, with slow movement. Meditative thoughts and those of peace and contentment are expressed by medium pitch and medium rate of movement.
The names of a few familiar hymns are here listed, with corresponding Hebrew hymns found in the book of Psalms. A study and reading aloud of these psalms will be an aid in the public reading of hymns.
1. "Nearer, My God, to Thee." cf. Ps. 42.
2. "Rock of Ages." cf. Ps. 62.
3. "Jesus, Lover of My Soul." cf. Ps. 25, 63.
4. "Praise Ye Jehovah's Name." cf. Ps. 149, 15o.
5. "A Clean Heart." cf. Ps. 5'.
6. "Shepherd Divine." cf. Ps. 23.
7. "God Will Take Care of You.' cf. Ps. 91.
Praise, prayer, and meditation or reflection, are all expressed in Psalms 95, as follows:
Praise—Verses r-s ; joy and gladness (high pitch, rapid rate).
Prayer—Verses 6-8; reverence and humility (low pitch, slow rate).
Meditation—Verses 9-it ; recollection and reflection (medium pitch, medium rate).
If the reading of the hymn, as with David, is "unto the Lord," then it is an act of divine worship. Thoughtful, prayerful study and preparation in this part of the service will make it more acceptable to God and more beneficial to the congregation.