In the July, 1961, copy of the American Guild of Organists quarterly, James Boeringer calls attention to "the Liturgical Revival, which has affected every branch of the Hebrew and Christian music. The Jews are reviving their ancient cantillation; the Catholic church is emphasizing better performances of Gregorian chant, urging its people to participate in the singing and—God be praised—outlawing the electronic organ; the Byzantine churches are reclaiming their ancient heritage of chant; and the Protestant churches no longer are willing to accept inferior anthems, gospel songs, bad organ-playing, and disorganized, pointless services in which holy sentimentality is substituted for true religious experiences."
Seventh-day Adventist workers should be aware of these movements toward the betterment of the music in our churches. There are many ways in which our churches can and should improve their music so that our church services and our timely message of salvation may be presented in the most attractive and beautiful form to the world. There is no virtue in mediocrity and inferiority in our musical offerings when we have it within our means to improve our services.
The following suggestions may be of help in bringing about a more attractive musical service in our churches.
Wherever possible our churches should endeavor to obtain a moderate-sized pipe organ instead of any type of electronic organ. Upon investigation they will discover that an adequate medium-priced pipe organ is within their reach, and is far superior to any of the electronic organs so far produced. It is not necessary to spend money for a large instrument, or for certain sweet-sounding stops such as the vox humana, chimes, and other luxuries. A good organ, properly placed in a church with good acoustics, is a great asset in accompanying congregational singing.
Having secured a good church organ, the next need is to train someone in the proper playing of the organ. Many organs, especially the electronic variety, are played in a theatrical and sentimental manner that lacks the true dignity of a sacred service and that reminds one of secular places of amusement. The tremolo is much abused by some, being used almost constantly. It should never be used for congregational singing, and it should be used only sparingly otherwise. A good church organ should be made to sound with dignity and beauty, and not like a merry-go-round. The overuse of the swell pedal, giving too much change from loud to soft, is another evil of some organists.
Our church organists need to study to choose strong and beautiful music for the services rather than sweetly sentimental melodies that are cloying to the ear and unworthy of the church. The carnal heart prefers the sweet and sugary music that is all too frequently heard in our churches. We are in great need of a stronger type of music, organ music that has strength and power and real beauty.
The most important part of our music is the singing of hymns by the congregation.
Hymn singing is a peculiarly Protestant act of worship. It was a tremendous power during the Reformation. It can be one of the most effective means of worship and of reaching unconverted hearts. To be most effective we must use hymns that are worth singing, instead of ditties and trivial songs of no literary or musical value. There are many excellent hymns in the Church Hymnal that are still unknown to our congregations. Many of these hymns have stirred congregations in the past, and they are capable of doing this again if we but learn them and sing them with understanding.
Our ministers have a responsibility to study the hymnal and learn the treasures that it contains. Then they have a duty to choose appropriate hymns each week and to inspire the congregations in the proper singing of these hymns. This is part of the work of the pastor and should not be neglected. Of course, he should enlist the aid of qualified musicians to assist him.
There are many kinds of hymns in the hymnal. Some are to be sung slow and others. fast. Some are rugged and powerful, others are gentle and quiet. The tune Old Hundredth is frequently sung in our churches at much too fast a tempo. It is a tune of great breadth and dignity, and yet it is often sung in a trivial manner. Another tune that is often sung much too rapidly is Nicaea, to the words "Holy, Holy, Holy." Probably in some of our churches the hymns may be sung too slowly and in a lifeless way. Our ministers should give this subject careful study and give our churches leadership in this matter.
A choir is not a necessity in a church, but it may add much to the service if properly organized and directed. It is really a specialized segment of the congregation, and its primary purpose is to lead the congregation in hymn singing. It is never for the purpose of entertaining the congregation with some kind of pretty music. It is unfortunate that so many choirs face the congregation as though they sang to the people. They really should direct their singing toward God. An ideal place for both the choir and the organ is in a rear gallery where the congregation does not see them at all.
There is a wealth of good choir music, simple in nature and appropriate for our services. The music should not be showy, too difficult or complex, or too long. Hymns make suitable choir numbers.
The least appropriate type of music in our church services is the vocal solo or the instrumental number. Usually this deprives the congregation of its prerogative of singing a hymn, and this is unfortunate. The congregation should sing at least three hymns in every worship service. Instrumental solos can hardly be defended in a service of worship, and vocal solos all too frequently are of inferior and insignificant music, hardly worthy of a place in the worship service. It would be better to concentrate on improving the congregational singing.
It is not necessary to add a lot of choral responses after prayer and other places. And no enlightened organist would think of intruding upon any of the prayers with a soft accompaniment of organ music. This should never be done. If a moment of silent prayer is called for, let there be silence, not music! We are in danger these days of forgetting the blessed experience of absolute silence in parts of our worship.
These are but a few of the items that deserve study as we try to better our church music. Let us improve our organ playing and the type of organs we place in our churches. And above all, let us sing unto the Lord a new song. Let us learn the great hymns that we have in our hymnal, and let us make our churches hymn-singing churches.