August 12, 2015

Keep on Singing

How can I keep from singing?

Singing is my very favorite part of church. I’m sure that my favorite is actually supposed to be Eucharist, and I do like that too...but I love to sing. I’m not a great singer. I have a decent voice, and can hold my own with simple chants, but I really do best as part of a group. Adding my voice to worship through song is a joy, almost no matter the type of music.

Group singing used to be a big part of American culture. Families sang together. Johnny Cash’s “Daddy Sang Bass (Mama Sang Tenor)” is a favorite of mine too, not least of all because I too am a mama who can easily pass as a tenor. Before we all got used to being entertained by professionals and screens, people entertained themselves and each other. Singing was a big part of that.

Church is just about the only place left where people are expected to make their own music. Even in church, entertainment models encroach. Fancy churches pay section leaders (or whole choirs!) to sing music that is just too hard for the average mortal. Megachurches and their followers produce band music that focuses more on the listening experience than participation. Oversized organs drown out shrinking congregations’ efforts to raise their voices.

Nonetheless, in most Episcopal congregations, we’re still doing some singing. As budgets shrink, we may have to depend more on the musical resources of our own members and less on professional leadership. This, I think, is good news. I am convinced that people need singing much more than we need perfectly produced music.

I pray that we recognize group singing as one of our spiritual gifts to the world, and that we nurture and strengthen that singing in our worship and our other gatherings. There are many musical resources for small and medium-sized congregations, with sing-able music that is easily taught and learned, even by the fast-growing number of people who don’t read music.

One of my challenges going forward is to work with the musicians and singers in my congregation (paid and unpaid) to explore new ways of singing together that fit where we are as a congregation.

What works to get people singing in your context? What are the challenges to doing music together? How do the musical forms that you have inherited work or not work for the people and size of congregation you have now?

Whatever you do, keep on singing!

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