Those who have followed the suggestion in a former article [May, 1939, Ministry] have discovered that musical appreciation grows keener with the memorizing of a few hymns. They have also discovered that it takes more than a good tune to make a good hymn. A song which seems good at first may not wear. It takes a real song with a message to live. The experienced, therefore, choose songs carefully.
There are several ingredients that go to make up an effective hymn or gospel song; namely, words, melody, harmony, and rhythm.
The words are as important as the melody. They should carry a message, be thought-provoking, and challenge to new activity. The melody should be singable. Hymns are usually sung in concert, and of course harmony always increases the pleasure of the singing.
All songs, including religious songs, must have proper rhythm. But within the rhythm lies a danger. A small change in rhythm can so overbalance the whole song, that it becomes a monstrosity. All normal people like proper rhythm, but it should not be distorted. Rhythm can be powerful without being crude, interesting without being cheap. It can be inspiring and alive, without borrowing an atmosphere of frivolity from the world.
Now for a suggestion that will add zest to hymn study. Memorizing a few hymns tends to make the reader hymn-conscious. Why not let this consciousness help in further enjoyment? Men with hobbies make all kinds of collections. Why not make a collection of favorite hymns? Make a scrapbook of songs that you like. With this new-found appreciation, song collecting will be a real pleasure.
Use an old prospectus or a loose-leaf notebook, and paste the songs in it. Sing these songs often. Some songs that at first were thought quite good will be discarded as the days go by. Other songs which at first seemed father unattractive will take the place of those that have been discarded. Soon there will be a desire to know something of the history and legends of certain favorite songs.
Thus the collector will find himself launched into the subject of ,hymnology. One day he will awaken to find himself with a new and interesting hobby, one that will bring him rich reward. With this new interest awakened, there will be a growing desire to sing, in both solo and ensemble work. Melodies will take hold of the heart. Words, newly appreciated, will unconsciously demand a clearer pronunciation and a better diction. Thus the singing voice will be improved, and the singing itself will become a pleasure.
When called upon to sing, some hesitate because the voice has not been too well-trained; others because there is nothing at hand but an old, familiar hymn. But sometimes this is a great mistake. If the singer has prayed over a song as he would over a Bible study, if he has read the words over on his knees, asking the Spirit of God to burn those words deep into his own heart, that song will very likely reach the hearts of the hearers. The song may be an old one, or the voice may be more or less untutored, but someway God uses such singing to His glory. Even if the voice is perfect, if it be not motivated by a heart on fire from heaven, the song will fall dead upon hearts longing for salvation.
Why not pray over a song as over a sermon? Then let the heart sing it. Thus, men will be touched, and souls will be revived.