Today, my last day of vacation, we decided to attend a larger, well-heeled Episcopal Church. It is a beautiful Gothic cathedral in a nearby affluent community. We went with high expectations and came away greatly disappointed. I won't go into the details, but our experience today reminded me of the importance of congregational singing, which I believe may be a dying "art."
My experience this Sunday stands in great contrast to what we experienced last Sunday up in Omena. Now, I have to note that my music minister is the summer organist up north, and he provides wonderful support to congregational singing. I need to also say that the people who attend this church love to sing. So, the service we planned last week featured a lot of singing -- I did a sermon that is rather unique in that each movement of the sermon included hymns.
So, back to the issue of singing, and my observations about its place in worship.
One of the keys to congregational singing is "singability." I think one of the reasons why people like to sing gospel songs is that they are melodic and easy to sing. Many of the early praise songs -- from the 1970s -- were also very singable. But there is a lot of church music, especially more recent material, that is very performance oriented and difficult to sing. Obviously that was true of the hymns that we sang this morning. It is also true of much of the recent "contemporary praise music."
A friend who has a Ph.D. in worship and the arts has been studying worship in these large churches which feature praise bands, and what he noticed is that no one was singing. There was a praise band with professional-level singers, and the folks in the "audience" might hum along, like you might at a concert, but there was very little fully engaged singing. This is very different from what I experienced years ago (back in the 1970s)
Now, I love to sing and I sing out -- as my congregants will tell you -- so I like to choose music that is singable. Now, I don't always succeed. Sometimes I'll choose a piece that doesn't work, and so we either move on or work on it some more. And when introducing new songs and hymns, I try to balance them with songs we know (again, there are times that I fail in this, but that is why I keep track of the songs we sing, so I know how often and when last we had sung a piece).
So, here are my questions:
- How important is congregational singing to worship?
2. What have your experiences been regarding congregational singing in your settings?