One thing over which we as song leaders often stumble is tempo. A good song is often ruined by the wrong tempo. The tempo of a song may vary according to the occasion. A large congregation calls for a more deliberate tempo in hymn singing. Experienced leaders know that a song is better too slow than too fast. Next time there is a revival in your church, notice how the congregation sings, "Just As I Am." The song moves rather slowly, but it seems natural. A sure way to kill the spirit of the meeting would be to speed up a song during a revival. Worship should never seem hurried. Inexperience usually leads a song too fast. At first it will be a little difficult for the younger leaders to sense the truth on this question of tempo.
A song does not have to be fast to be alive, but when a leader wants a real spirit in his song service, he usually speeds up the tempo. Some of the people fail to keep up the pace, and finally give up trying. Others come in a little late on the accent, and that makes the song sound as if it is dragging, however fast the song may be moving. The leader hears that dragging tendency, and in his inexperience again speeds up the tempo, hoping to thus remedy the situation. However, he and the congregation are caught in a vicious circle. Interest in the singing fades, and the leader secretly blames the congregation (sometimes not so secretly), but the congregation cannot keep up. The leader heartily wishes that sometime he could find a group that could sing without dragging. He knows not that he himself is at fault.
Here is a suggestion on how to help prevent the dragging song service. First call attention to the words, and getall to say them distinctly. Now for a surprising experiment. After you have sung the song through two or three times, cut the speed down half. Add emphasis to the accent. Keep the song moving solidly, but very slowly. More will begin singing. The little children will be able to keep up. The grandmas will adjust their glasses and join in. All will take new interest. The song will grip the congregation, and the results will fascinate the leader.
The effect upon the congregation will be past expectation. A surprising solidity will come into the singing. It will move forward with an unbelievable, inevitable, conquering zest, like a great army marching toward certain victory. After singing the song at half speed a few times, the tempo can be increased without losing the attention of the people or without diminishing the vitality of the song. Do not say that it cannot be done, but try it. It will bring a new, higher note of confidence into congregational singing—yes, a note of victory. W need that victory, young and old. Why not sing and be victorious?
Such a song service brings great pleasure to the song leader, and unconsciously it will have a tremendous psychological effect on the congregation. Men and women come to the meeting with all their preconceived ideas, all their prejudices, aversions, and dislikes. Many a man comes and dares anyone to change his ideas or convictions. Yet he will change if we can get him to invest. His interest will center in that in which he has invested. If he can be induced to spend a little time and effort in the song service, he will be interested in the whole service. Why ? Because he has an investment in that meeting. It is his meeting.
Barriers are broken down between him and the speaker, even before the speaker begins. He does not realize it, but during the song service he has become more ready to hear, and to believe that which he hears. The Spirit of God begins to work. Minds are made receptive. When the last song is finished, the congregation settles down to listen. Already the folk are defending the speaker in their minds. The preacher does not have to prepare his hearers to receive the message, for their hearts are wide open. He launches into his subject, and pours forth the conviction of his heart. The message strikes home, and men are brought to decision.
Concentrate Efforts on a Few Songs
At an informal song service, as in an evangelistic meeting. there is considerable latitude given the song leader. Because of such freedom, he should be the more careful not to scatter and frustrate his efforts. Too many songs have such a tendency. Four or five songs are plenty for the usual song service. Better take only one and really digest it, than to use many carelessly and make no impression upon the congregation. Spend time on one. Go over the refrain several times until it can be sung without books. Sing the last phrase of the refrain several times in succession. Give special help to some special part, while the rest of the parts hum or sing softly. Encourage the altos and the tenors. Usually there are fewer of them, and a little encouragement will help.
Fasten the attention of the congregation upon the song. Get the folk to start on the very first word of each stanza. The beginning and the ending of a song are important. Put stress on good pronunciation. The congregation should not feel that they are forced into a schoolroom for musical instruction, of course. Folk come to meeting for other reasons. Make the song service a time of relaxation, rather than a time of tension. Most congregations will gladly sing if they are understandingly led. Removing all obstacles is the task of the song leader. If he can do this pleasantly, he will be hailed by the congregation as a great song leader, when as a matter of fact he has merely let the congregation sing.