“Most people don’t like singing”

[notice]Hugh Wetmore is a songwriter and student of worship trends. He invites you to join the worship conversation by commenting on his monthly column.[/notice]

Church needs to lead a singing revolution

As a Marriage Officer, I have married over a hundred couples – most of them unchurched. 15 years ago, every couple wanted the guests to sing a song or two. A wedding is a joyous occasion, and the joy was expressed in singing together. I built up a varied repertoire of suitable singable songs from which they chose the ones they liked. And everyone sang them. 

This singing tradition began to wane. I worked hard to ensure the Wedding Singing was not a damp squib. But, over the past 5 years the couples I married (with the exception of Black couples) have chosen not to sing a single song at their weddings. Just this week a couple, whom I will marry in March, said it bluntly, in an email: “We don’t particularly want the ‘song’ for the congregation to sing, as in my experience MOST PEOPLE DON’T LIKE SINGING”. 

That’s the verdict of typical non-Christian youth today “Most people don’t like singing”. 

That’s the (Western) world we live in. Today’s cultural trend. People don’t like singing. Previous generations used to enjoy it, but this generation doesn’t. 

We can all identify other symptoms of the 21st century’s aversion to Singing:

  • The many who listen to music, with headphones as they walk, don’t even move their lips.
  • One hardly ever hears white people humming a melody to themselves any more.
  • Hardly anyone knows what a ‘folk song’ is.
  • At school rugby matches one seldom hears the full-throated war-songs motivating one’s team to victor
  • Those enjoying a social hour at the pub no longer break out into group singing.
  • Those who enjoy listening to music made by others don’t make music themselves
  • Many know a lot about the artistes, their band and hit songs, but cannot sing their songs. 

This anti-singing trend disturbs me. I find myself lying awake in the wee hours worrying about it. I wonder why people deny themselves the high pleasure of sing-along songs, secular or sacred, which have lifted my spirits so often in the past. I’ve been searching for reasons …. 

1) Is it because much of today’s music lacks a singable melody line?  This morning a car stopped at the robot 20 metres from where I was standing. Its speakers bellowed a repetitive two deep-bass notes, totally tuneless. During this past ‘silly season’ I found Safm radio’s “news and information leader” seriously lacking in news and information, and overflowing with what the witless announcer called “music for your enjoyment”. Most of it was mere synthetic noise produced by cacophonous electronics, with a wheezing or shrieking voice feeling its lost way among the decibels. Disorganised noise. No discernable regular beat, no actual melody line. No actual melody line. No melody line. 

How low has the popular ear-ppetite sunk? You couldn’t sing-along to such noise, even if you wanted to. No melody-line in ‘music’ is the same as saying there is no taste in your food, no outline to the objects you see, no colour in the rainbow. Just mist. Dreary, boring, confusing mist. And just to make sure we really get it: the same noise, the same phrase, is repeated over and over again until one is ready to puke. People will listen, but they don’t like singing. 

2) Has singing died because of the dominance of professional artistes?  They are so ‘perfect’, their music is mixed so professionally, their songs are in a class of their own – what ordinary mortal can sing like they do? It is easier to sing-by-proxy. Just listen to them, enjoy their expertise. Perhaps their professionalism discourages ordinary folk from attempting to sing-along themselves, so that “most people don’t like singing”. 

3) Has sing-along singing been killed by money?  The professional singers build their reputations and their bank-balances by the money which their thousands of Listeners pay to listen to their songs. The more famous they are the richer they become. The richer they become the more famous they are. Huge expensive Concerts raise their profile and pull in the hysterical crowds.  Crowds don’t pay to get hysterical at a sing-along event. And the ordinary hoi poloi population is feeding with finance the frenzy these professionals develop, rather than trying to create their own entertainment by singing along together. Why make music when you can buy music?  After all, “most people don’t like singing”. 

4) Has electronic amplification stifled the desire to sing?  Go along to a Concert, or even a gig in local night-club, and the noise is (literally) deafening. Even if you want to sing along you won’t be heard. So what’s the purpose? Just enjoy the vibe, leap around and jerk your rubber-neck, but you won’t bother to sing. Because “most people don’t like singing”.

That’s the world of music and song which we live in today. Plenty of Song, but very little Singing. Except by the professionals on stage. “Most of the ordinary people don’t like singing.” 

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Sadly, many of these negative, anti-singing traits are spilling over into the Church. The shallow religious veneer covering the core worldly-music style somehow confers on the event the title of “Worship”. The ‘congregation’ has become the ‘audience’, because in the church as in the world, “most people don’t like singing”.  Look around and see how many people are actually giving all they’ve got to ‘singing’. Are they “singing and making melody with ALL their heart to the Lord”?  Listen – do you even HEAR the people around you ‘singing’?  Or are they drowned out by the speakers on the ceiling and walls?  Even in Church, “most people don’t like singing”. 

It’s time the Church rebelled, and led a revolution against these worldly trends, so that at least the people who come into the presence of the Lord “come with SINGING”! Let us “SING to the Lord a new song”. “Oh come, let us SING to the Lord, to the rock of our salvation!”  “Be filled with the Spirit so that you address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, SINGING and MAKING MELODY to the Lord with ALL your heart.”  (Psalm 100:2, Psalm 98:10; Psalm 95:1; Ephesians 5:18,19).  

Will YOU join me in this Rebellion? Will YOUR CHURCH be part of this SINGING revolution?

7 Comments

  1. I think it depends on the couple; individual or church. I love walking and in my walks I am always singing praises to the Lord. It is my special time with the Lord. Also at my church we love to sing and dance…I hope this is not a growing trend because praise and worship are some of teh powerful tools that our Lord has given us to war against the enemy!! Thanks for a great article..

  2. Great article, Hugh – indeed it is a disturbing trend. Most people today, if they don’t hear live worship music in church and they only listen to modern, secular pop music, will seldom hear real human vocals. Lip-synching and the use of electronic vocal enhancement technology such as autotune is rife in the pop music industry today. And everybody is doing it now. It has been said that music artists today have become lazy and don’t need to keep up the rigorous vocal training required by performers in the past, because the autotune will correct and improve their voice for them. This is a crisis for the music industry: why should fans pay hundreds of rands for concert tickets, when they are not even hearing the performers’ real singing voices? Faced with this sterile, clinical vocal perfection, most ordinary people won’t even try to sing lest they be ridiculed by their peers.

  3. Thanks Neziswa: you confirm my experience: In recent times, Black people love to sing, White people don’t want to sing. I call on our Black brothers and sisters to challenge their White family-members to SING together as fervently as you do. Lead the way! Let’s start the Revolution!

  4. West Men: Thanks, your comment is educating me. I’d like to learn more from you. Please write me: wetmore@singingtheword.co.za

    • Hi Hugh,
      I’m not an expert by any means, but I have read a few articles and seen a couple of news inserts on the subject. Here are two Youtube videos for reference:
      -https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZUdL_Pt2nYQ
      -https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9r_HQ4VLoEI
      Both videos cite New York music writer Chuck Taylor. The comment about it being rife in the industry comes from Fab Morvan (formerly Milli Vanilli). Daily Telegraph Music Writer Neil McCormick suggests the live music industry will decline as a result.

  5. I am a Zimbabwean living in the UK and belong to a secular choir, a church choir and a group that visits homes and clubs for the elderly and disabled. The latter group encourages the audience to join in with well known songs that date back many years. Everyone says how much they enjoy it and our list of gigs grows longer each year. The most noticeable difference is when we visit homes for people living with dementia. At the beginning the inhabitants are slumped in chairs like a bunch of vegetables. An hour later most of them are joining in and thoroughly perky. Music has enormous healing power. Singing is very good exercise, physically, mentally and emotionally.
    What is happening to school assemblies nowadays? When I was at school in Southern Rhodesia we used to sing at least one hymn and have a scripture reading and prayers five days a week.
    The arrival of ‘potted music’ – gramophones, radio, TV, walkmans, smartphones, etc. has been a double edged sword to music and singing. On the one hand we have had a chance to experience the very best, which might have been inaccessible live. But on the other, it seems that we are increasingly more content to listen than create. However, potted music makes it easier for us to learn songs we might not have had access to.
    I agree about the quality and monotony of a lot of modern music – especially that which is heavily marketed. There are active composers who are writing very tuneful and accessible songs, cantatas and other works. Robin Nelson is one with a considerable opus that is particularly appropriate for children. Antony Le Fleming’s ‘Jubilate’ was an absolute joy to sing. I am sure there are many more. Graham Kendrick’s choruses are very popular in England.
    In my grandmother’s generation it was fairly common for women to play and/or sing to a very high standard. This seems to have diminished as potted music has become increasingly common.
    I still think that school music can have a considerable impact and also the churches. There are some that have worship sessions for half an hour before the service starts. Teaching children choruses in Sunday school is also beneficial. I can still remember many of those I learnt some sixty years ago. Catch ’em young if possible, infect them with a love of God and music and when they are old they won’t depart from it.

  6. Thank you Sheena for your encouraging and creative response. I’m glad you encourage sing-alongs with your choir gigs. Older people DO sing along more freely. From 2001-2005 I hosted an interchurch SONGS ON SUNDAY 2-hour Sing-along (in Pietermaritzburg) of all genres of Christian songs which was popular and packed out. We need more Sheenas in our world!