Leading Your Own Song Service

Many conferences cannot afford to send out a song leader with every effort; so the evangelist must lead his own music. What, then, must a minister do to make the song service attractive?

By R. S. FRIES, Evangelist, Baltimore, Maryland

Many conferences cannot afford to send out a song leader with every effort; so the evangelist must lead his own music. What, then, must a minister do to make the song service attractive? After many years of lead­ing my own singing, with no other talent avail­able, I offer the following suggestions.

1. Secure a Good Pianist.—First, I would say, secure a good pianist. Get the best one possible. Hymn playing is an art in itself. If you listen to the way a good evangelistic musician plays a hymn, you will notice that instead of merely playing the four parts writ­ten for the voice, the pianist adds many appro­priate chords and embellishments. I have seen tears come to the eyes of an audience as a Spirit-filled musician played a simple gospel song.

If you can get only an ordinary pianist to assist you, buy a copy of "Evangelistic Piano Playing." The in­struction in this book will greatly improve the playing of your accompanist. Select the songs which you intend to sing, and have the pianist practice them over with you. Arrange your musical program beforehand. Never take your musician by surprise by calling for a song that was not planned for ahead of time. Teamwork will yield results that will more than pay for the time it takes.

2. Watch Your Time Beating.—Watch a good song leader and mark the way he goes about his work. Each has a method and gestures of his own. You will see that his motions are not stiff or awkward. He does not beat time thus—"down-left-right-up." He gets away from all straight-line, stiff-arm beating. He bends his elbow and makes his gestures along curved lines. Remember, you are not leading a choir, but a congregation. Many good song leaders use very few motions.

In beating time, learn to use the ictus for accent. This is the short, positive ending of the hand in accenting the beat. For in­stance, in the song, "Gather at the River," the chorus begins with the word, "Yes." The accented beat, or ictus, comes upon this word "yes." With the right arm stretched out horizontally to the right, sweep it to the front, raise it upward several feet, and bring it down quickly to a sudden stop in front of your eyes. This accented-beat gesture can be varied by using both hands, or by keeping one hand partly closed, and at the ictus straighten­ing out the fingers of the hand when your motion stops.

Practice beating time with your musician playing the song. Do not swing your arms too much. It is not necessary in beating 4/4 time to make all four beats. Try bringing your arm to the right for the first beat, and then swinging over to the left for the third beat. This will be more effective than if you used all four beats. Watch other song leaders, and adopt the motions that suit your individuality.

3. Preparation is Important.—Prepare for the song service. Never stand before your audience and fumble through the songbook looking for a song. Every part of the song service should be arranged with the pianist before the meeting. Pick out songs that fit the sermon subject. The first song should be familiar enough so that all can sing, such as "Wonderful Words of Life." Memorize the opening lines of each stanza. If possible, lead without holding the songbook. Do not think you have to sing every word. Your task is to get the people to sing, not to have them listen to you sing a solo. Intersperse chorus songs between the regular numbers. People love to sing chorus songs, but they should be carefully selected in advance.

4. Introduce Each Hymn.—After selecting your songs, study the words and have some­thing to say about each song. Do not make the mistake of merely saying, "Let us sing number 23." You must get your audience into the mood to sing. Tell something interesting about the song before it is sung. If there is a story to the song, such as the one about "Hiding in Thee," tell it. If you sing "Nearer, My God, to Thee," relate the story of the "Titanic" when the band stopped playing rag­time music, and played this grand old hymn as the ship sank to its icy grave. If there is no story, use the first few lines of the song for your brief remarks. For the song, "I Want to See Jesus, Don't You?" we might say:

"One day when Jesus was in the temple at Jerusalem a delegation of Greeks who had heard of His wonderful miracles came to Philip and said, 'Sir, we would see Jesus.' Friend, if you had lived when Jesus was here upon earth, you, too, would have wanted to see the Man of Galilee. Everybody learned to love Him. The children gathered around Him. They loved Jesus because He loved them. How many of you tonight have learned to love Jesus?" (Hands are raised.) "Good! Thank the Lord. Now turn to number 54, and we will sing, 'I Want to See Jesus, Don't You?'"

A few such words in introducing a song lead the congregation into the spirit of want­ing to sing. You can make the song service an outstanding part of your meetings if you will take the time to prepare for it. It pays, brethren, and best of all, anyone can do it. After singing this number, the chorus song, "Everybody Ought to Love Jesus," comes in just right. You might say, "I love Jesus because He first loved me. Don't you think everybody ought to love Jesus? If you do, say 'Amen.' Now let us sing it." The pianist strikes the chord, and you lead into the chorus song. Sing it once; then have the pianist stop playing, as you say, "That sounded fine. Let's all sing it." After sing­ing several numbers with chorus songs in be­tween, you come to the song before the prayer. Select a song that will bring in a spirit of reverence. You might introduce the next song thus:

"The Lord is looking for men and women who will follow Jesus every step of the way. Nearly two thousand years ago He met three fishermen, Peter, James, and John, and said, 'Follow Me.' They left all to follow Jesus. He is still calling sinners to follow Him. What a revival of primitive godliness would come to this town if, beginning tonight, God could have His way with this congregation, Will you not thoughtfully ponder the words as we sing number 27, 'Have Thine Own Way, Lord'?"

Sing the last stanza softly, and the audience will be in a reverent mood for the prayer. After your announcements and just before the sermon, say:

"Every night this week we will sing a chorus song before the sermon. We will learn a new one each week. Our song for this week is 'I Love  Him.' As we sing it, close your eyes and picture Jesus on the cross dying for you. Sing it softly."

Your audience is now ready for the sermon. They have enjoyed the song service because it was not a hit-and-miss affair. They probably thought you made all your remarks on the spur of the moment. Little did they think of the time and thought which you gave to prep­aration beforehand. A good song service breaks down the reserve which is found in a new audience. After such a song service, they have confidence in you, for their hearts have been touched. You have presented Jesus to them in song, and their prejudice has been broken down. Take time, brethren, to plan your song service, and you will find that it pays big dividends.

5. Use of Song Slides.—If you have a stereopticon and a selection of song slides, you will find it is much easier to lead the singing, for people love to sing from the screen. But be sure to have good picture songs with appropriate pictures. Using words only, or even words and music, does not make for a good song service. The same procedure can be followed with song slides as with books. Ar­range your electric wiring so that you can have the lights turned off and on, either by a master switch at your pulpit, or by a signal wire to the operator. Thus it will be easy to turn on the lights as you make the few remarks between the songs.

Another method is to use one or several slides on the life of Christ as you make your remarks. In singing "I Want to See Jesus," throw a picture of Jesus and the children on the screen. It will add to the words you say. A slide of the "Titanic" sinking will deeply impress the people as you tell the story before singing "Nearer, My God, to Thee."

I hope these few suggestions will help our younger ministers especially to realize the im­portance of preparing for every song service. The gospel can be preached in song as well as in sermon.

* Those interested in this work should see page 43.

* by George S. Schuler (Theodore Presser Company, Philadelphia)


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By R. S. FRIES, Evangelist, Baltimore, Maryland

January 1940

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