We often read articles telling what song leaders do to make their song services attractive and inspirational, and these articles are very helpful. I am a young church organist with some training and Adventist musical background. In this short article I should like to discuss music in the smaller churches, from the ordinary church member's viewpoint.
To me the main object in our church singing is to give all the members a chance to express themselves and have a part in the service and feel that they belong there.
Needless to say, they should be able to take part in this exercise with fervor—whether they make mistakes or not. Usually a mistake in timing can be corrected by the time a couple of stanzas have been sung if the organist tactfully holds or quickens the offending note. Another method of indirect correction is to incorporate the hymn or part of it into a voluntary, so that the people hear it played over and over again and unconsciously absorb what is correct.
Of course, in choirs and in our school audiences such mistakes should not be tolerated, but in the small church congregation I believe it is best to ignore the mistakes until such time in the singing as they can be remedied. For to tell the average small congregation to quicken a certain eighth note, is just like bringing an iceberg into the church. Practically all the group will not know what is meant, and will suddenly feel afraid and guilty. They will sing cautiously or stop altogether, and immediately the good fellowship is gone, and they feel uneasy. But they should feel at home in church.
To meet a second objective in church music, we should always sing some hymns that the people can take away with them in their minds and hearts. It is very pleasing to the ears of a trained musician to hear a hymn with majestic chords and variety of progression, but a great deal of this kind of music wearies the average congregation, and the beautiful object of worship in song is buried.
There is a growing tendency in our churches to eliminate those hymns that have repetition of words or music. But to do this defeats this second purpose of music, just mentioned. People need something that they can sing when in trouble. Every soul has sorrow. The ordinary mind is too bewildered to remember whole stanzas -of hymns. So in illness or adversity or loneliness, people will remember, "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms," Church Hymnal, no. 6i x; "The Lord Will Provide," Hymns and Tunes, no. 1202; and "Never Alone," Christ in Song, no. 557. These hymns become their hymns of experience, and they enjoy singing them in the song service.
This brings me back to my starting point. People will want to go to church if they can take part in singing their favorite hymns. These may sound monotonous to the highly trained ear, but, after all, what we need is more songs of experience—songs that will help us as we journey along the road to the city of God. Angels loved to repeat over and over the words, "Lift up your heads, 0 ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Ps. 24:7.
"As the children of Israel, journeying through the wilderness, cheered their way by the music of sacred song, so God bids His children to-day gladden their pilgrim life. There are few means more effective for fixing His words in the memory than repeating them in song."—Education, p. 567.
As I have read stories of pioneer days, I have noted that hymns were often sung by Elder James White and his companion just at the times they were needed. These melodies may not have been technically perfect, but they had the convincing ring of experience. Old hymns have accomplished a great deal in hope and inspiration. I believe some are still effective.
Ninety-nine percent of the church members are in the seats looking up to the one per cent (the song leader) to help them in song. Let us really help them sing!