I started reading Paul S. Jones’ 2006 publication, Singing and Making Music: Issues in Church Music Today. I’m enjoying it very much. Having scanned ahead, I must concur with J. Ligon Duncan’s endorsement which is emblazoned across the front cover. He says, “Theologically astute, musically adept, construcively provocative.” Provocative, indeed. There are some thought-provoking preferences publicshed and recommendations made, of which only someone of Jones’ level of training would ever get around to thinking. But that shouldn’t make us shy away from considering the value of those opinions, but lead us to think a little more thoroughly about all facets of the way we worship God through music in corporate worship.
I thought I’d share an interesting excerpt with you from chapter six, “Leading in Worship as Accompanist.” Jones writes a few paragraphs that reminds us of the importance of spiritual, theological and biblical depth in the words we sing as a church, as well as the fact that accompanists can help highlight the lyrical content of the music in an effort to aid us in comprehending and understanding (and thus properly participating in) what we sing. Jones writes the following on pages 42-44 of his book:
The Accompanist’s Role
The accompanist directly influences singing. This is true not only of congregations, but of choirs and soloists. An accompanist can influence the singer as much as the choir director can (and often more). Why? Because we respond naturally in music to what we hear more than to what we see, read, or are told. For example, in a band or orchestra, the percussion section must be especially attentive to the conductor. If the snare drum moves a little faster or slower than the baton, the entire ensemble will move with the drummer. The percussive nature of the piano has a similar rhythmic effect. The choir or congregation will typically move along with what it hears. The organ, if it is a good one, has sufficient sound capacity to lead with force; but even here it is articulation that provides much of the rhythmic clarity.
So, then, if the accompanist influences the way in which a congregation sings, in what ways is this true? In addition to tempo and rhythm, which have already been mentioned, the accompanist influences volume and dynamic. Pacing (time between verses and how long chords are held), style, and articulation can also be included in the list, as can breathing and ensemble (togetherness/unity). Most significantly, through these various parameters one can affect people’s thinking as well as their connection to the truths being sung.
This last sphere of influence–thought–is the most important, and all the others are connected to it. Thought is missing more and more in worship today. Apparently we are more concerned about our emotional connection and what we are “getting” out of the worship experience than in being cognitively engaged or spiritually awakened. This mindset is one of the primary reasons that hymns have fallen out of popularity and use in many churches. It is because they require thought; and as a people, we do not want to think. Not many years ago I read a short article by a seminary professor in a prominent Christian periodical. He wrote something along the lines of, “Let’s stop being enslaved to the present rationalistic, intellect-centered approach to church that characterizes much of evangelicalism.” Well, he got his wish. Today most evangelicals come to church to be refreshed, not to work or think.
Yet proper worship does take work. It also takes thought, preparation, and action. If we understood that our singing is not for ourselves or directed principally to each other, but to and for God, that understanding would make a difference in how we engage in it. If we were more conscious of the fact that when we sing we are praising God and praying to him, that we are in the presence of the King of Glory, we would realize how important it is to know what we are singing.
Congregational music should deliver Christian doctrine, quote Scripture, or offer a message of challenge or encouragement to fellow believers while pointing all to Christ. Often, congregational song is prayer. How we think about these songs and how we sing them matters. The accompanist has a lot to do with that. I would venture that it is the single most important thing that one does as an accompanist. Such responsibility demands preparation on our parts. It requires practice. . . . “
Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing currently has this listed among their “Bargain Books” going for $8.50, if you’re interested in obtaining a copy. I recommend it for those who want to learn more about how to worship God well through the gift of music.