God has given to human beings the glorious task of taking this gospel message to all the world. Preaching is one method of giving the message. Distribution of books and other literature is another method of scattering the seed. But to me, one of the most beautiful methods of scattering gospel seed is the use of soul-stirring songs, which use appealing melody to penetrate the hard, stony, thistle-infested soil as well as the fertile, with gospel seeds. The same gospel messages can be presented through song as through the preached or read word. The appeal of pleasing melody, rhythm, and harmony to accompany our penetrating truths, causes hearts to be attracted and to respond easily. We read in the book "Education :
"As the children of Israel, journeying through the wilderness, cheered their way by the music of sacred song, so God bids His children today gladden their pilgrim life. There are few means more effective for fixing His words in the memory than repeating them in song. And such song has wonderful power. 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."—Pages 167, 168.
Therefore, to those of us who have been gifted with a love for souls, a love for this gospel message, and a love for beautiful music, there is much comfort in knowing that we can have just as definite a part in the sowing of seeds of truth as have the evangelist, the preacher, and the colporteur. It is God who gives to each "severally as He will," the gifts or talents to carry on His work in the world. We are all members of the body of Christ, and God has a work for each member.
The song evangelist's field of service is a needy one. The song leader has a definite place in the preparation of hearts for the message of truth. As we just read, sacred music has power to promote harmony of action. "It is one of the most effective means of impressing the heart with spiritual truth." This is the preparation that is needed to unify the hearts of a heterogeneous group of people who come to an evangelistic meeting. Sacred music truly has a definite place in our evangelism. There is need for both young men and young women to prepare themselves for such a ministry.
This field of service and ministry has usually been filled by men, but I feel that it is one in which women can engage to the glory of God.
A man may have some advantages over a woman as a song leader. It is customary to see men as song leaders, of course. But the very novelty of seeing a woman song director is in her favor, provided she does her directing with artistry, convincing leadership, sincerity, and confidence. It is true that a man can do and say things in public that a woman cannot do or say. It is displeasing to see a woman act and speak in a masculine way. Therefore I feel that the secret of success for the woman song leader is to retain her femininity, and yet show leadership.
By your pleasing personality cause your audience to like you and enjoy your leadership.
Maintain grace of bearing, a well-modulated tone of voice, and refined manners at all times. A happy countenance acts as an impelling, pleasure-creating force. Attire yourself modestly. Avoid bright colors and frivolous decorations. Wear nothing that would cause the attention of the audience to focus on your attire or you, instead of on worship in song. Keep the feminine touch in your dress. Plain clothes are best, and dark colors are most suitable.
Too much stress cannot be laid upon the necessity of a pleasing voice. Your personality shows in your voice. Even though the auditorium may be large, keep your speaking voice from being strident, harsh, or masculine sounding. Love your work. Enter the platform with a love for God and man in your heart. Show that you are enjoying your part of the service ; the audience will sense your feeling and it will respond with wholehearted participation.
As to the preparation needed for such a God-given ministry, the prerequisites for both men and women are the same. They are:
(1) Natural endowment and ability to perform;
(2) Consecration—the basic requirement; and
(3) Musical training and experience.
Natural Endowment and Ability to Perform
Included in this prerequisite are five qualifications. They are as follows :
I. Definite Musical Talent. This talent shows up in early musical training. The ability to perform either vocally or instrumentally is a necessity.
2. Sense of the Artistry of Music. This applies to gospel music in particular. It is an inborn sense that comes with the genius of the true artist. It is that skill which distinguishes the artist from the amateur—the personalized expression of an inward feeling. It can be developed by performance, experience with music, and direction in training.
3. Talent for Leadership. Leadership is the ability to cause others to do what you want them to do because they honor your good judgment, and because you know what you want. A person who is master of himself, who knows just what he is going to do and how he is going to accomplish it, has a tremendous power with his audience. Be courteous, firm, impartial, tactful, and patient.
4. Pleasing Personality. The person who is pleasant, happy, unselfish, persuasive—who draws others to himself by the simplicity of his manners and his genuineness—has power with his audience. Your dress, manners, facial expression, quality of voice, grace of bearing, all make up personality to the audience. Don't be temperamental ; wear well with your audience.
5. Physical Fitness. Health, too, is an endowment, and it is a basic necessity for one in public life. The demands made upon the physical energies of a song conductor are strength-taking. A woman must therefore be well fortified physically.
Consecration—the Basic Requirement
One must feel and know that he is willing to leave all and follow Christ, if he is to succeed in this phase of gospel ministry. He must have surrendered his all—his talents, his being, his time—to be used by God in this work. He must sense that he is not there to exalt self, nor to exploit accomplishments, nor merely to entertain.
The song leader is there to bring a gospel message from every song that is sung ; to unify the hearts in the audience; to reveal Jesus and His love for sinners ; to keep preparing waiting hearts for the seeds of truth which the evangelist will sow a little later. He must have a high regard for and a definite sense of the high place of gospel songs in God's worship, and he must use them thus. Always ask God to direct in the selection of the songs to be used so that all will tend to the saving of souls in the kingdom. Keep humble. Rely upon God. Dedicate yourself, your talents, your life, to God each day.
Musical Training and Experience
The public is trained to recognize and demand the best in performance. It has been thus trained by the radio and the concert hall. Our message is the greatest in the world. Its presentation demands that the evangelist and his associates have extraordinary qualifications—qualifications blessed and sanctified by God. For good gospel song leadership, definite, extensive musical training is indispensable. One should have had experience with many kinds of music. The more musical background a person has, the better he is prepared. Courses in the history, theory, and harmony of music, as well as instrumental and vocal training, should be a part of his education. Above all, a practical course in conducting with ample opportunity for experience should be required in his school training.
The student should be trained to apply the techniques of conducting until ease of gesture and grace of performance are acquired. A definite sense of rhythm is an absolute essential. Originality of performance should be encouraged and achieved. There should be no rigidity. Angular movements of directing should be discarded. The ability to interpret through the use of arms and hands, facial expression, etc., should be acquired. A platform technique should be developed. Suggestions of new ideas and methods should be imparted. 'Ease of public performance, or just "being at home" on the platform, is a matter of thorough training, plus experience. Training at school should foster these qualifications in the student. Then good judgment, observation, originality, and versatility will enable him to develop methods, devise procedures, and add to his fund of information after schooling.
This musical preparation should include voice training as well as instrumental performance. A pleasing speaking voice and proper platform technique should be a matter of definite supervision.
A person's experience with music will give him a sense of appropriateness of songs, interpretation, and tempo. The proper tempo of a musical selection depends upon the sentiment of the text, upon its melodic and harmonic construction, its metrical and rhythmical character. The tempo should be slow enough to permit full development of melodic beauty in all parts. Every composition, every song, has a definite tempo of its own. Study the song, study its text, and adapt the tempo which best brings out the sentiment of the song.
Some songs are martial, some meditative, some prayerlike, some joyous. In other words, one must have the natural endowment of good musical judgment, a sense of interpretation, and musical experience, in order to make proper choices. There seems to be a tendency today on the part of some injudicious, evangelistic song directors to sing too fast. A metronome could be set up in place of such a leader, and he would not be missed from the platform. But we should remember that music is expression.
Realizing that the songs used are preparing hearts for the message and that every song has a definite message for every heart, we must be sincere. For instance, I never direct (manually) the well-loved song, "The Old Rugged Cross." I merely lend direction, if needed, by the voice. This song has general appeal, and if it is sung meditatively, its appeal is multiplied. There is a tempo that suits the audience and that it will adopt automatically.
Another requirement is the ability to sight-read music. This is essential. One cannot afford to be surprised and embarrassed by being unable to perform a request number by the audience.
Opportunity for Women Directors
I encourage young women to consider seriously this phase of gospel ministry. If God has given you native musical talent, if He is impressing you to use that talent in labor for Him, then definitely turn your capabilities over to Him. Secure a training that will better prepare you to serve Him. I appeal to the wives of our young ministers to train for this service. Many times our young ministers begin their evangelism in small efforts where it would be impossible to finance a complete company. If the wife can direct the music and is a soloist on some instrument, or a vocalist, then not much other help is needed. It is easier to get a pianist than to get a song director. Here is a good place to gain experience, and by experience we grow.
To many who possess latent, God-given musical talent, I dedicate this appeal, with the sincere hope that these words of encouragement will be to them a spark of inspiration, causing them to determine to let their light shine in a blaze of glory for God, and to help finish His work triumphantly