Vision for congregational singing — Hugh Wetmore

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

The menu for the Gettys’ Sing conference September 2017 got me salivating with desire. It would be exciting to attend and devour the good things offered by this menu. But this desire is repressed by the realisation that it takes place 10 000 km away, in the (overfed!) USA. Because the menu is so rich, so relevant, so practical — I am stimulated to use it as an outline for Gateway News Worship Columns.

Sadly for us on the South African fringes, there will be no input from the world-class speakers that Getty has lined up for the American feast.

I will kick off on each month’s selected topic. Everyone is invited to respond with a comment on the Gateway News site, and get a conversation going that will enrich all of us, and overflow into our respective churches.

Here is the Getty menu from which we will choose the dishes for our spiritual nutrition and congregational implementation each month:

Topic discussions: Sing — Created, Commanded and Compelled; Singing and the Christian Mind; The Radical Witness of Congregational Singing; Singing and the Community of the Church; The Journey of Life in Congregational Singing; International Discussion Panel — What Can We Learn From Other Cultures?; A Vision for Congregational Singing.

Breakout topics: Theologically Rich Songs in a Modern Context; How Church Leadership Shapes Congregational Singing; Teaching Our Children to Sing Their Faith; Engaging Millennials in Corporate Worship; Developing a Multicultural Approach to Congregational Singing; Building Creativity in Congregations; Singing the Psalms; Writing Lyrics That Matter; Writing a Melody That Sticks; Worship Leadership Panels; Getty Music Band Instrumental Panels; Vocal Technique For Worship Leaders; Building the Next Generation of the Church’s Musicians; Tools to Engage Your Congregation in Singing; Choir Panels; Orchestral Music in the Church … and many more!

A vision for congregational singing
Not a vision for any singing … but for congregational singing.

Singing that is …

  • Sung together as a crowd … not a solo, or a group, or as a choir, or in a studio.
  • Sung by ordinary okes like you and me … not professionals, or artists, or celebrities.
  • Sung in Church on Sunday, or at convention, or outreach or other Christian gathering.

This kind of singing has been going out of fashion. Since the 1970s, the focus has slowly shifted to platform performance of songs, with the backing of a band, trying to copy songs written and recorded by the big worship names.

This kind of singing is already coming back into fashion — on TV advertising, of all places. Did you notice the Pick-n-Pay Christmas ads which had crowds singing The Drummer Boy carol? These days we see Outsurance crowds singing “Lean on me”. Maq washing powder has hi-jacked that Christian children’s song “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine”, stripped it of any moral content, and linked it to the bright whiteness of laundry. All these songs have this in common: they get a crowd of ordinary folks (congregation) to sing well-pronounced words to rollicking simple tunes.

That’s what we should be doing in our churches. We should be singing worthy Christian lyrics with gusto, to easy flowing simple tunes. The band up front should facilitate — not dominate — the singing. The melodies should be so easy on the memory and vocal chords, that ordinary folk can easily pick them up and sing-along together.

Another model for a good congregational song is the South African National Anthem: Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika. Listen to it with an ear for congregational singing. Hear how the instruments play the melody behind the words. They don’t follow the trend of all the other songs heard on the radio — a wandering melody sung against the background of a monotonous strumming rhythm.

During the current political upheavals in our country, we have been treated to visuals of huge crowd-singing. Some of it has been led by a prancing president, but most has been spontaneous. Funeral crowds have also featured — and they were not singing funeral songs!

And we mustn’t overlook those ancient, yet still contemporary, folk songs which crowds all over the world have sung together, with easy enthusiasm.

Why should such sing-along crowd-singing not happen more in our churches? Let’s catch a vision for congregational singing! Let’s have a revival of enthusiastic congregational singing! Let the people sing!

Next month we will try to identify those common denominators in advertising crowd-songs, National anthems, political protest songs, and folk songs. Then we will see how these factors can help us boost the level of our congregational singing in Church.

One Comment

  1. Amen! Gedurende my senior skooljare 1951-1954 By Voortrekker in Pietermaritzburg het ons ‘n Nederlandse onderwyser uit Java gehad wat elke skooldag die sang gelei het met saalbyeenkoms, en hy het ons die hallelujaboek se liedere laat sing. Hy was mnr de Waal. Dit het ook bygedra tot my bekering in std 9! Ek mis daardie samesang,ons skoolkindwra het so hartlik saamgesing!Dankie Hugh, ek stem saam.