Music in Soul Winning

Our monthly music column.

By MARJORIE LEWIS LLOYD, Organist, "Quiet Hour," Oakland, California

My work at the office was interrupted by a call on the telephone. As I picked it up I heard the one word, "Listen—" There followed a moment of silence, then the sound of my friend's radio. A voice was singing—

"Have you taken your heartaches to Jesus,

Does He know of the cross that you bear?

Look again through the clouds to the Master;

He will hear, He will answer your prayer."

There was nothing about the music or the message of the song to lend itself to a "swing" rendition. But there it was, being sung in the lilting rhythm of the cheapest of current popu­lar songs. I was heartsick. To sing any reli­gious song in that way was a disgrace to Chris­tianity itself. But there was nothing I could do. The copyright was not mine.

And I think of the time I tuned in the Sunday evening service of a large city church, and heard "Stand Up for Jesus" played as an organ and piano duet. I failed to find a great deal of resemblance to the song, but I do know that the rendition would have made some dance orches­tras sound very subdued.

A style of playing that belongs only to the world is creeping into religious music throughout the country. We should keep it out of the church. I am glad that the musical standards of the Seventh-day Adventist Church are high. Let us keep them that way. However, along with this justifiable concern for our standards, there is likely to creep into our music depart­ments a spirit strangely like that of the Phari­sees—a spirit of being thankful that we are "not as they are," a spirit that hedges itself about with rules and restrictions and traditions until even the Spirit of God cannot penetrate.

The Pharisees of old kept the standards high, so high that they excluded the Man of Galilee, who walked humbly among them. They frowned upon Him continually because of His disregard of tradition. He was always "break­ing the rules."

So today there is great danger that musicians shall become so concerned with raising music to a higher level, with preserving its dignity, that they forget the very purpose of music in religious service. For music, rightly used, is a mighty asset in the winning of souls. When we forget that fact, when music in our churches becomes nothing more than entertainment for ourselves, we have lost our way.

In the effort to uphold musical tradition, the winning of souls is likely to be forgotten. And all too often our choir numbers are rendered in the spirit of the Pharisees—"to be seen of men." All this is unintentional, I am sure, and yet if choir leaders everywhere could catch a vision of what music can accomplish in the great, all-important work of winning and keep­ing souls for the Master, our choirs would surely, be singing more and more of the simple hymns that reach and touch the hearts of men and women.

I, remember a talk on music that I heard a few years ago. The speaker, jealous to hold the standard high, told us that before a hymn could be considered truly good music, it must be three hundred years old.

Analyze that thought for a moment. That would mean that the grand old hymn, "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," could not be really good music until the day it turned three hundred ! It would also mean that a song like "Is Your All on the Altar ?" " which al­ready has accomplished so much, must remain on trial until long after the work of soulsaving is done. Does not such reasoning miss the mark?

I believe that much of the difficulty results from a lack of understanding between two classes of musicians. To one group God has given a natural musical talent; to the other group He has given a technical musical educa­tion acquired by long years of persevering study. The talents of both groups belong to God. But too often there is a tendency for one class to set standards for the other, and to frown when the rules are broken. It should be remembered that the accompanying of gospel songs is an art all its own, just as separate and distinct from the study of classical music as dentistry is from the practice of medicine.

Those who play classical music are accus­tomed to following copy strictly. It is easy to forget that most of our hymns and gospel songs are written in four-part harmony, with no ac­companiment. The printed notes are usually written for voices, not instruments. Most cer­tainly those notes may serve as an acceptable ac­companiment. A simple accompaniment played well is better than an elaborate one played poorly. But surely it is most fitting that the accompaniment for gospel songs should be made as beautiful as the ability of the pianist permits, care exercised that it be not overdone, and that a worldly spirit does not creep in.

In classical music, education is all-important, but the first requisite in the playing of hymns is a thorough consecration to the Master. A musician whose life is controlled by the Spirit of God will need no other safeguard against worldliness in his music.

Some, not understanding these things, have gone so far as to conclude that it is actually a sin to play any note that is not written in the book. Logically, it is no more a sin to weave a beautiful accompaniment about the few writ­ten notes than for a preacher to make a sermon out of a text.

Two young people were sched­duled to play an instrumental duet at the close of Sabbath school. A number of good accompan­ists were available, but since they had but one copy of the song, it was necessary to find some­one who could play it by memory. Looking about, they spatted a young woman in the back row and explained their predicament. Rather reluctantly she agreed to help them out. But before she went to the piano, someone stepped up to her and said, "It has been requested that you leave out the extra notes." Somehow I be­lieve the young women must have had a tight hold on Christianity, or she would not have re­turned to that church.

It is so easy to criticize others—and it is just as easy to be wrong in our criticism. Often those who are written down as worldly are much farther from the world than those who criticize.

I think of a young man who was a new Chris­tian, little more than a year away from a dance orchestra. He had an excellent voice, a voice fully consecrated to the Master. Whenever he sang in public, it was with the hope that someone's heart might be touched and won for Christ. Radio had taught him the delicate and difficult art of singing softly into the micro­phone, rather than booming out as used to be necessary before the days of radio and public address systems.

Perhaps some, looking at his background, whispered "crooner." I don't know. But I do remember visiting in the home of this young man and his wife one afternoon. I had been his accompanist for a number of months ;.yet in our rehearsing he had never heard me play anything but sacred music. I was playing for his wife, who was not yet a Christian. Upon her insistence, I was struggling through some classical numbers, but was necessarily a bit rusty.

I have nothing against classical music, but my interest in hymns and gospel songs is so great that it leaves little time for the other. I shall never forget the look of surprise and, I believe, disappointment, when her husband came into the room. At his conversion he had given his talent completely to the Master, so completely that he found no place for other than gospel music. And he thought I had done the same ! Sometimes those we expect to be worldly would put us to shame if we could know their devo­tion to the Master.

The Bible says, "The children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light." Sometimes we could even learn, if we would, from the churches of the world. Let me explain.

For some three years I lived next door to a large city church not of our faith. In that church there was the finest pipe organ I have ever heard, and it was my privilege to practice on it occasionally. As time went on I observed more or less of the music life of the church. The entire organization seemed to be fitted around the music. Never have I seen a church where everyone, from the pastor on down, had so captured a vision of the power of music in a soul-winning program.

Their talent was the finest. A man of excel­lent qualifications was employed full time in the music department. Yet the choir numbers were simple, designed to reach hearts. Their organ­ist had classical numbers by the dozen at his finger tips. Yet he seldom played them. He used instead the simple gospel hymns, and played them as beautifully as hymns have ever been played. If a church whose doctrines and teachings are so far from truth could so catch a vision of the power of music, why should we, to whom God has committed the giving of this last great message, fail to use music to the full­est possible extent?

Education in music is important. There should be more of it. But is there not a danger that we shall place more emphasis upon the ex­tent of education than upon the consecration of the musician? If we must choose, is it not more important to sing with the Spirit than to place every tone correctly ? The proper selec­tion of an organ is important. But is not the consecration of the organist, the type of music he plays, a more vital question than whether the manufacturer of the organ had in mind a theater or a church when he built it?

Some have been concerned that we shall have dignity, not emotion, in our churches. But shall we be so afraid of emotion that we cannot use the simple hymns that have demonstrated their ability to reach the hearts of sinners ? Shall we be so afraid of emotion that we crowd out the Spirit of God from our services ? David wrote, "A broken and a contrite heart, 0 God, Thou wilt not despise."

Not long ago I listened to one of our mission­aries who was but recently out of Japanese in­ternment. At the close of the service his wife stood up to sing. I had never heard her before, and I wondered what sort of voice she might have. It really did not matter—just out of a prison camp any voice would have been accept­able. She faltered just a bit at the beginning—and her book was shaking. At the moment a church packed with people must have seemed as forbidding as the Japanese. But she had something, Someone, to sing about. And in a clear, lovely voice came the words, "A Wonder­ful Saviour Is Jesus, My Lord."

She could have sung something more diffi­cult, and her friends could have told her she still sang as beautifully as when they last heard her. But no—she had a message. And the power of the song seemed to sweep over the audience. There were eyes that could not remain dry. Here was faith—faith that had trusted through long months of imprisonment, and still could sing! Could a sermon have been more power­ful?

When we musicians come up to the end of the way, God will not ask us, "How many years did you study music?" The question then will be, "How many souls did you win with your talent ?" What if He should say to us, as to the Pharisees of old, "Ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law"?

Are there not organists, soloists, choir lead­ers, everywhere who will join in laying their ability at the feet of the Master, with the prom­ise that from this day their talent shall be His?

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By MARJORIE LEWIS LLOYD, Organist, "Quiet Hour," Oakland, California

February 1947

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