A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Thursday, June 28, 2012

It's a Hymn, Not a Funeral Dirge

I have a real pet peeve when it comes to worship. I strongly disapprove of playing hymns at a tempo slower than the tortoise racing the hare. I am thankful that the organist at our church plays the hymns at a brisk pace that allows us to sing with gusto and to remind us that as we stand and sing we are truly awake.

I know of some classically trained organists who seem to think that playing hymns at a snail's pace is somehow a holy endeavor, but in reality it is a cure for insomnia.

As today is John Wesley's birthday I think it is appropriate to be reminded of his rules for singing. I highlight the germane portions in bold print:
Learn these tunes before you learn any others; afterwards learn as many as you please.

Sing them exactly as they are printed here, without altering or mending them at all; and if you have learned to sing them otherwise, unlearn it as soon as you can.

Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up, and you will find it a blessing.

Sing lustily and with a good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, than when you sung the songs of Satan.

Sing modestly. Do not bawl, so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy harmony, but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound.

Sing in time. Whatever time is sung be sure to keep with it. Do not run before nor stay behind it; but attend close to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can; and take care not to sing too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from us, and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.

Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself or any other creature. In order to do this attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve here, and reward you when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.
The reason we Christians worship on Sunday is because it is the day of our Lord's resurrection. So we must sing joyfully and at a brisk cadence. Sundays are a celebration of resurrection life, not a funeral dirge to be played at a memorial service for a dead friend.

So, all you church musicians out there... please pick up the tempo if you haven't already. It will assist the rest of us greatly as we lift our voices to God in worship.

And leave the creeping laments for the funeral home.


Marie Beaver said...

Allan, I absolutely LOVE and AGREE with the thoughts expressed here... my pet peeve has been this very subject...hymns played as the very last resort, so to speak and slower than molasses in January..prime example...of
what's missing in that rendition..is the Spirit of God within the folks singing.. the Spirit gives life and cannot sing without life and liberty..the theology in Hymns are the basic foundation of our faith, written by men of God who not only used giftedness, but were led by the Spirit in the composing.. see.. once I get started, hard to stop.
thanks and God bless you for posting this fine article.

Oloryn said...

I pretty much agree with this. On the other hand, there are some songs that don't need to be taken uptempo. I've heard Graham Kendrick's "Knowing You" done uptempo, and it ended up very much with a 'Plastic Christian' feel to it. But when I heard Matthew Ward's rendition of it on his "My Redeemer" album, it took several hearings to realize that it was the same song. He's slowed it down, and it becomes very much a worship song.

Some of that could be that it's Matthew, who is very much an anointed worship leader. But at this point, I have a hard time imagining doing "Knowing You" uptempo and it not sounding wrong, or at least trite. A better point might be "Pay attention to what the words say, and adjust the tempo appropriately. Don't assume that downtempo (or uptempo) must always be better."

On the gripping hand, I note on one of the reviews (on Amazon) of "My Redeemer" the reviewer says he got the album for his mom, who had just diagnosed with cancer (because "My Redeemer" came out of Matthew's own experience surviving cancer), and his mom's response was the the music was "too upbeat" (on a song that the reviewer (and I) have trouble seeing as being at all upbeat). I think we often miss how 'subjective' people's experience of worship can be, and often how much what we consider 'real worship' is influenced by what we experienced early in our christian life (I'm experiencing somewhat this with the 'Jesus Music' of the 70s and 80s vs modern CCM - I'm occasionally finding myself the 'grumpy old man' who prefers the music he grew up with). If you have people who grew up with dirge-tempo hymns as worship, they may very well find that speeding up the tempo takes the music out of the worship realm for them.

Allan R. Bevere said...

Well said, Aunt Marie.

Of course, Ben, certain songs are meant to be played more slowly, but not all of them. There is no sacred and holy tempo. But to deal with some church musicians you would think so-- and that tempo is slow motion. That's my point.

TN Rambler said...

Amen. Nothing like having a tune that is meant to be an Irish jig played as if were a funeral march. That is one of the reasons why I always dreaded the hymn "God Hath Spoken By the Prophets." Once I experienced it in the hands of an organist who understood the tune, I began to enjoy it.