Enthusiastic singing please!

[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]

Lately SABC TV3 has shown Andre Rieu concerts, and we have enjoyed immensely their 21h30 slot on Saturday evenings. Andre and his orchestra have the knack of popularising classical music. What was serious is now fun. He takes his orchestra all over the world. People of all ages and cultures thoroughly enjoy his concerts. His studio packages each programme into a 60-minute production that is available on DVD and broadcast on TV.

I was fascinated by the moments when their Performance spontaneously became Participation, as the Classical gave way to Folk. In Sydney it was “Waltzing Mathilda”. In Sun City it was “Sarie Marais”. Within a bar or two, thousands of people were singing along with the orchestra. The cameras zoomed in on crowds. They were standing, many clapping the beat. Everyone singing. Joyful enthusiasm beamed from each face. They were thoroughly enjoying singing these old folk-song favourites.

On holiday in the Berg last week we were treated to the Drakensberg Boys’ Choir’s Wednesday afternoon Concert. Their youthful enthusiasm rocked the auditorium. And when the audience knew the song, we all spontaneously joined in, clapping to the rhythm. Enthusiasm is contagious!

In the early 2000s our church hosted an annual “Songs on Sunday” afternoon. A band/orchestra of musicians and vocals from local Pietermaritzburg churches rehearsed for three weeks. On the Day an eclectic mix of old and new hymns, contemporary songs thematically linked by short continuity Scriptures and bridges, had the packed sanctuary singing with an enthusiasm that needed no cultivation. Everyone had come there to sing. For two hours they sang their way through the projected songs and hymns. They took home with them annotated programmes so they could infect their own churches with the enthusiastic singing virus.

Is your church’s sung-worship ‘enthusiastic’? Is there a spontaneous joy in singing out loud together? If not – what are the inhibitors that cool down the enthusiasm that belongs to sing-along songs when sung in a crowd? I’ve noticed some:

a. People tend to be afraid of hearing their own voice. So everyone murmurs the words. If anyone does sing out with loud enthusiasm they get noticed! And people don’t like to stand out in a crowd.

Too many loud instruments
b. Too many loud instruments, especially heavy drumming, drown the 200, or the 2 000 voices, of the church congregation. Chris Molyneux’s April Music Musings endorses this inhibitor: “Congregational singing is usually at its best either unaccompanied or with the minimum of accompaniment, simply because this encourages people actually to use their voices. The use of numerous instruments diverts the focus from singing to the accompaniment (Phil Harmonia – Evangelical Times June 2013)”

c. Electronic amplification for the platform vocals dominates the singing, so that unamplified congregants give up their unequal attempts to sing together. Listening is the easier option.

d. Wispy, throaty or croony pop-singers, whose voices emanate from the tops of their torsos, are regarded as more cool than full-voiced ‘opera’ singers who sing from the depths of their lungs and abdomens. Such singing is fine in the studio, but not in the sanctuary. Thin voices cannot sing enthusiastically – no-one uses thin voices when cheering on their sports-teams. Enthusiastic singing enjoys using “everything that is within me” to praise the Lord.

e. Long instrumental introductions, and mid-song riffs, so well-suited to Idols’ performances, do not generate enthusiastic congregational singing. The people don’t know when to start singing, so they dribble into the song when they see the Vocals have started singing. When we’ve got a good song to sing, let’s sing it. Get the note, identify the melody and get going with full confidence.

f. Many songs are written for Performers to sing, and then we assume Congregations can sing them just as well. Not so ~ Song-writers should intentionally write for either Performance or Participation. The dynamics, the criteria for each are distinctly different. Molyneux quotes Richard Simpkin’s plea “There is the lack of strongly congregational songs being written these days – Christian songwriters, …. please write us tunes that are easy to sing and that serve the words well.”

g. It’s not for nothing that Folk Songs like ‘Waltzing Mathilda’ and ‘Sarie Marais’ are so easily sung with enthusiasm by crowds of people everywhere. And they seem to last through many generations. It’s not for nothing that some (not all) hymn-tunes, which your great-grandmother sang with enthusiasm, are still sung today. Hymns such as “Amazing Grace” and “What a Friend we have in Jesus”. Why? Because their melodies a simple, predictable and regular in their rhythm. So select such melodies for your Sunday Song-list.

Let’s sing God’s praises, and God’s message, enthusiastically, with enthusiastic enthusiasm in our church services!


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  2. I agree wholeheartedly and applaud your boldness and appraoch