From the Music Ministry….

Congregational Song
Part 3

This article is the third in a series on congregational song in worship. The first two parts of this series quoted Harry Plantinga’s blog post, The Future of Congregational Song, published March 9, 2019. Harry Plantinga is the Director of and faculty member at Calvin College.This month, I present what I believe to be some of the essentials for congregational song. Because this topic is so broad and deep, look for more articles on this topic in the future.

In our culture we are surrounded by music – on the radio, in movies, at stores, and even at the gym. Yet most of this music functions as background rather than as an opportunity for serious listening or participation. Much popular music, including popular “Christian” music, is composed for performance rather than for participation. In fact, in North America outside the church or a school, there are few opportunities for participating in group singing.

Because group singing, or congregational song, is such a vital part of Christian worship, everything needs to be supportive of congregational singing. This means the instruments accompanying the congregation encourage and support singing together. Practically, the instruments do not play so loud as to cover up the congregation or play so soft that the congregation feels unsupported while singing. In addition, the choir does not distract from or call attention to themselves during congregational singing. Instead, they encourage the congregation by modeling less familiar hymns and by joining with them in singing.

Encouraging congregational song also requires balance. Balance is expressed in a number of ways. For example, balance is expressed through tempo. If the tempo for congregational singing is set too fast, it makes it hard for the congregation to accurately sing the notes and get the words out. However, a tempo set too slowly makes it difficult to maintain any interest, energy, or enthusiasm while singing. (Personal comment – I would rather err on the side of singing a bit too fast rather than too slow. Singing too slowly is dreadful! Of course, the tempo should reflect the character of the hymn, the text, and its place in the service.)

Balance in congregation song is also expressed in familiarity. Effective congregational song needs a balance between the familiar and the unfamiliar. The biblical record calls for both old songs and new songs. The familiar provides a sense of security and comfort while the unfamiliar provides freshness and delightful surprise.

More on this topic in coming months. Keeping singing!