Sacred music rightly rendered is one of the most powerful agencies in the saving of souls. It is to be regretted that so many do not realize the power of music in their religious service. The procedure has often been to cut the music short so that there might be more time in which to hear the preacher. Perhaps this feeling on the part of some has come about because too often the musical portion of the services has been carelessly presented. At times the song leader has dashed to a meeting, opened the songbook, and announced the first song that met his eye as the opening hymn. Many song services have merely acted as time fillers until a crowd gathered. Some of our ministers have been disheartened with such music presentations, and therefore have minimized or eliminated the musical ministry in their service. As a result, music ministry, one of God's greatest agencies in the saving of souls, has been sadly neglected. Music was born in the heart of God.
"The melody of praise is the atmosphere of heaven and when heaven comes in touch with earth, there is music and song."—Education, p. 161. "The melody of song, poured forth from many hearts in clear, distinct utterance, is one of God's instrumentalities in the work of saving souls."—Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 493. "Let all take time to cultivate the voice so that God's praise can be sung in clear, soft tones, not with harshness and shrillness that offends the ear. The ability to sing is the gift of God—let it be used to His glory."—Testimonies, vol. 9, p. 144. (And I would like to add, Let us neglect it no longer.)
"As a part of religious service, singing is as much an act of worship as is prayer."—Education, p. 168. Music makes people kinder, gentler, and more reasonable. It subdues rude and uncultivated natures and promotes harmony, peace, and joy. Singing banishes gloom and - lifts burdens. How often the heart melts under the softening influence of a beautiful sacred 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.
Ministers of music.—The gospel singer has an important mission as does the preacher. He preaches a sermon musically. He must pray and commune with God as much as the preacher. He must be sincere and consecrated.
The musical portion of the service in which he leads out should be planned and presented with as much prayer and care as the preacher plans and prepares his sermons. Therefore I suggest he should not be called a song leader, but a minister of music.
Some young men who show musical talent are often asked in their early ministry to assist in evangelistic meetings as a song leader. Too often these 'song leaders think they are marking time until they get a chance to preach. Thus the level of the song leader has been lowered to a beginning preacher. I believe it is time that the song leader's level was lifted to that of a minister of music. More men who have a burden for souls and who are musically inclined should prepare themselves for service in the field of music ministry. Such a recommendation was made by the General Conference in session in 1941, and it ought to be re-emphasized:
"That we encourage our young men who possess musical talent to give prayerful consideration to God's call to give their lives to singing evangelism by preparing themselves for effective congregational song leadership, and by training themselves to interpret the gospel in solo singing, emphasizing in their vocal work the touching of hearts through the tender influence of simple effective songs."
The minister of music is an assistant to the evangelist in more ways than one. He must do more than lead the singing, sing special songs, and conduct the choir. He must carry the burden of soul winning as much as the evangelist. He should watch for souls while the evangelist is making an appeal. He may quietly leave the platform and go to those who are in the valley of decision. He can encourage them to give their hearts to the Lord, and even go with them to the altar. He must meet the people at the services and in the homes, presenting the truth to them in all its beauty. He should be a Bible student, able to present the fundamentals of the message.
The minister of music should be able to handle the advertising of the meetings. He should start a file of advertising samples which will give him ideas on how to lay out a handbill or newspaper ads. Othef responsibilities may be placed upon him in relation to the business part of the evangelistic meetings.
Pointers in Song Leading
In evangelistic meetings the minister of music is the first to meet the people. The impression that he makes on the people in what he says, the way he sings and directs, is very important. Therefore it is an excellent idea to have his part of the service well planned, not only selecting the songs he is going to sing, but also knowing what he is going to say. His friendly personality and kind, dignified, relaxed manner will make all feel welcome. A minister of music should know the fundamentals of beating time and the correct position of the arms, allowing his personality to guide in the leading.
The minister of music should cultivate ease of bearing and naturalness in directing. The audience does not need stick waving in order to sing. The baton brings in stiffness. In directing, the hands can be used to best advantage in getting the desired response. The people quickly understand when the leader wants them to sing loudly or softly, faster or slower—just by the expression of his hands. A strong vocal lead and simple, definite guidance in expression, keeping the arm movements high, being definite in beginnings, holds, and cut-offs, will make a good song director. In order not to wear out the voice in the song service, the leader may prefer using a microphone. In a large auditorium this is especially advantageous, and saves straining the voice, leaving it in better condition to sing solos. A good book to read on this subject is Song Leadership, by Rodeheaver and Ford, published by the Rodeheaver Hall-Mack Company, of Winona Lake, Indiana. [See page 41.1
Conducting the Song Service
It is wise to begin the song service with an attack method rather than slowly working into a beginning. We like to start the song service with the choir singing our theme song as the curtain rises, and before the curtain rises we have a word of prayer. The best opening theme song we have found is "Sing Along Life's Pathway with Jesus." After a word of welcome, everyone is invited to join in singing the-theme song. Then follows the singing of joyful gospel songs and choruses, gradually coming to songs of a more serious nature. The second theme song is a prayer song, such as "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus." It is sung as the ministers enter, just before the opening prayer. The prayer theme song generally needs no directing.
If the audience does not sing, it may be for any one or more of several reasons : (I) The song may be unfamiliar. (2) The tempo may be too fast or too slow. (3) The audience may not be able to hear the song leader. (4) The song leader may be stiff or overbearing in his words or actions. (5) The auditorium may be uncomfortable because of bad ventilation or because the temperature is too high or too low. (6) The auditorium may be poorly lighted.
Encourage all to sing. In order to do this you might say : "If you think you can't sing, try it ; you may surprise yourself and your neighbor. Soon the people next to you will also start singing." Encourage the singing of altos and tenors, because usually there are few of them. Commend your audience on their singing. Seek to draw them into a spirit of joy, and keep them happy, not with levity and banter, but by your general attitude.
A variety in the song service will break the monotony and add interest. Four or five songs are enough for the usual song service, interspersed with special numbers by the choir, quartet, or soloist. Don't have your audience sing every song the same way. For a variety, try these suggestions-
- Repeat the chorus.
- Have the choir sing a stanza alone.
- Song leader sings stanza while audience hums.
- Song leader reads a stanza or two, emphasizing message of song, while piano or organ fills background.
- Sing a song or chorus without any accompaniment ("Sweet By and By," "My Jesus, I Love Thee").
- Sing chorus much more softly (try this on "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms").
- Sing a familiar group of songs without using books.
Most Christians are inclined to look with disfavor upon new songs. Some say, "Sing the old hymns ; they are the best." But some new songs or choruses are as effective as the old ones. In many evangelistic meetings the new songs have become the favorites. Some of these are: "Christ For Me," "A New Day Dawning," "Some Golden Daybreak," "Why Do I Sing About Jesus ?" "Some Happy Morning," "Sing Along Life's Pathway With Jesus," "I Ste Jesus," "It Is Morning in My Heart," "Open Bible and Read It," etc.
The leader's selection of songs is as important as the minister's selection of his texts. The type of service conducted determines the type of songs to be sung. There is a time to sing worshipful, majestic hymns, and a time to sing evangelistic gospel songs. A hymn is a prayer or praise song addressed to Deity. Examples are "Nearer, My God, to Thee" and "Come Thou, Almighty King." The hymn should be sung with the same reverence, solemnity, and humility with which a prayer is offered. The gospel song is more of a testimony or exhortation, such as "Since Jesus Came Into My Heart" and "He Lives."
The gospel song should be sung with the same enthusiasm and earnestness as a testimony is given. Thus one could see that we could not sing "Since Jesus Came Into My Heart" in a slow tempo for a worshipful song service, and we could not sing "Nearer, My God, to Thee" in a fast tempo for the beginning of an evangelistic song service. For these reasons the songs should be well chosen. Their -selection is very important. Do not use every new chorus that comes along. Make a selection of the best choruses. Many of the choruses are not worth using, but the better ones will be the songs the audience loves most to sing.
The best way to teach your audience a new song is to sing a few standard favorites before introducing the new song. Then the song leader should sing it first as a solo. Next have the choir sing it. Third, have the audience hum the melody while the choir and song leader sing the words. Fourth, have all sing together.
Illustrations or comments in a song service are in order, but one need not preach a sermon. It would be wise for the minister of music to start a notebook containing favorite poems, apt stories, and illustrations which he could use in song service. Stories about gospel songs are always interesting. These should be included in the collection.
Film songs are excellent to use in adding variety to the program. People enjoy singing a song from the screen with pictures. Another featiire is having a chalk artist draw a picture while a song is sung.
One night a week can be devoted to home talent. Those who can sing or play an instrument are invited to perform on this program. Arranging for them to rehearse their numbers for you privately before public rendition is always advantageous. It may save some embarrassment.
The accompanist greatly affects your song service. A poor accompanist can hamper the directing of songs and can ruin the best sung solo. A good accompanist never goes ahead of the director, but always follows. The accompanist who is sympathetic with the program,- and whose heart is in the presentation of the songs, can add much feeling and beauty to the playing. The playing of evangelical songs can be enriched and beautified by the accompanist without syncopation or jazzing. The song leader should supply the accompanist with an outline of the song service and the songs to be sung so that she will know what is coming.
What the Song Service Does
- The song service provides a medium of congregational testimony. A ginging Christian has joy in serving Christ.
- It lifts the burdens and cares of life. Usually people who come to meetings are worried, perplexed, and troubled over the problems and cares of the day. These burdens and cares can be lifted by singing.
- It attracts people to Christ. Hundreds of people have been drawn to evangelistic meetings because of the inspiring singing.
- It centers the attention of all on spiritual things. It softens hearts and prepares the way for the sermon.
For these reasons the ministry of song should be as wholeheartedly presented as is the sermon. Let's not have song leaders who dash to the auditorium and sing the first song that meets the eye upon opening the book. Spiritual results cannot be expected from such a song service. Let us plan our song services with prayer, and know what we are going to do.