The one who leads the music in an evangelistic service has a most responsible position, for he holds the key to the first impressions of the audience. The song leader meets the public first. If he comes in with apology written over his whole being, the audience senses it immediately, and reacts unfavorably. Our song leaders should know how to wield a baton, and also how to put themselves in the background. The psychology of song leading is just as essential as a knowledge of the different tempi and times.
Before I became an Adventist, I had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with Homer Rhodeheaver, perhaps the best-known song leader in America, or even in the world. He was interested in voice production and wanted me to give him some of the things I had in this phase of music. I told him I would trade them to him for some of the good things he had developed in song leadership. This he willingly did. We met a few times and were both helped; but I feel that I received the most benefit.
I learned that the hands can be used to great advantage to get the desired response from your audience. I do not use a baton in song service, for this has the tendency to bring in stiffness. I have found that it is not good to lower the hands below the shoulders to any extent, for the audience will immediately lose the feeling of sincerity, so necessary to a successful song service. Would you have your hands waist-high if you were talking earnestly to someone and gesticulating? No, the hands would be about on a line with your chin. Any other position would be most incongruous. So it is with the song leader.
The song leader should be relaxed, but not too relaxed. If the audience sees a smiling, kindly man with dignity step forward and give them a word of greeting, putting life and personality into the song service, it will react on them, and set them at ease. The song service will very likely be a success under these conditions. Audiences are often like individuals and are sometimes tired or grumpy. Then the song leader must seek to draw them out of their condition into a spirit of joy and anticipation, ready to receive the message with eagerness, for he is directly responsible for the mental and spiritual condition of the audience. An evangelist has everything against him if he has to work his audience into a favorable frame of mind. This should all have been done before by the well-directed, lively but dignified song service.
The song service can have dignity, and must have it, if respectful attention is to be paid to the message that follows. Levity and banter should have no place in our song services. There can be informality without lowering the standards. It is impossible to give a set of rules to guide each song leader. He should know the fundamentals of beating time and the right position of the arms, and then he should allow his personality to guide in his leading. The sensitive leader will grasp the mental condition of his audience and be guided accordingly. Sometimes it is well to give a brief history of the song to be sung, as this adds interest, but make your remarks brief. Don't preach a sermon before each song—the evangelist will do all the preaching necessary.
The sooner our leaders see that the music department is not the "war department," the sooner recognition will be given to this most important part of our work. The attitude of the ministry toward the song leader, and music in general, has caused much mental and spiritual suffering among those interested in music, and many have gone into the ministry rather than accept the cross of music-and-song leadership. Song leaders and musicians can and should be truly converted Christians, the same as those in any other branch of God's work. But a few isolated cases of uproar in the music field have tended to close the door of sympathy more tightly than ever.
How often the heart melts under the softening influence of a beautiful song. How often the tears flow down the cheeks of some hardened sinner as he hears the strains of an old familiar hymn, or listens to the message of a new gospel song. Eternity alone will reveal the number of souls who have come to the cross because the Spirit of God spoke to them through a song.
The song leader will always be the evangelist's assistant. This must of necessity be. He is never to be the one to assume the responsibility of the meeting, regardless of the fact that his part is just as necessary to the success of the meeting as is that of the evangelist. Because the song leader must of necessity take second place, there must be a strong bond of sympathy between him and the minister. If the evangelist cannot display this sympathy and make the song leader feel happy, then he should look for the man with whom he can be congenial. There should be a close bond of fellowship between the two. Without this there is much sorrow, and it reacts upon the audience, no matter how hard the song leader tries to cover it up. It makes no difference who is at fault, the service is hurt.
O that the Lord would weld workers into a bond of love such as the apostles felt and expressed before Pentecost. The song leader is not one who is marking time until. he can preach. His is a high calling in Christ Jesus.