Jonathan writes an email each week to all those who help to lead our worship in song. In addition to the selected songs for any given Sunday he usually adds some encouragement. The following is from this week’s “Music Ministry Weekly” and includes a bit about how hymns and psalms fit into our overall singing strategy.
Roughly 50% of our library is made up of hymns (plus three psalms). About half of those are found in the Cantus. When possible, I am trying to push us to use the Cantus. That means that we’ll sing around a 1/4 of our songs from there, at least for now. I would hope that number would be going up, because that would mean that we’re learning more psalms, too. (In case you haven’t thumbed through one, a Cantus is 1/2 hymns, 1/2 psalms, roughly. It’s like chocolate and peanut butter.)
That’s all to say, I believe that when we can sing from the Cantus, we should, and I will plan to have us do so. And THIS is for a few reasons, too. Lemme give a fistful.
From the time I got to TEC in summer 2011, we have tried to have a music library that is marked by variety. The body of Christ is varied, and so is our local expression of it. So variety in music is at least fitting. However, we were definitely lacking in the category of psalms, and we have taken some baby steps to grow in that. We continue to expand our library in every direction, ’tis true. It’s possible that as we grow, we’ll do so in one direction over others, but right now we’re just trying to shore up our weaknesses. Stated differently, in our current context, singing from the Cantus actually helps us to be varied.
Related to Variety above, if we want to be varied in our musical offerings, this requires a growth in our collective skill. We’re less varied than we could be collectively because we can’t sing in parts. That doesn’t mean we’re in sin, or that it’s bad, but it does mean we have some room there to grow. And people don’t generally just learn musical skill on their own, because it’s hard. But they’ll often welcome coaching in a fun context, and we’ve tried to provide that in bite-sized portions. And it’s empowering! When we’ve sung a song in parts, our people have been exited to hear the sound they’re generating…that they didn’t know they could generate.
And one really exiting part about this heading is that harmonious singing is Trinitarian. When the altos don’t covet the soprano part, and the tenors complement the whole, we get a picture of what Trinitarian harmony looks like. Because the sopranos sing the melody (the preeminent part) does not mean that the others are unimportant, or that the sopranos don’t need the others.
To be sure, unison singing can be powerful, but there’s no question that it’s more powerful on the heels of harmony. When unison singing is the default because we can’t do anything else, we have room to grow.
For more on this, listen again to Sean’s message from last night (March 16, 2014, PM service). He provided some good, pithy thoughts for consideration.
Paul encourages his Colossian and Ephesian readers to sing (or greet one another) in “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” We’re pretty comfortable with #3, but #2 and especially #1 still need some work. So, let’s get to work!
Al Mohler has called good hymns “systematic theology put to music.” And, of course, psalms are Scripture, so the substance of these two categories make them worth our attention and effort. We want to worship the True God as He has been revealed in His Word, and songs with good quality lyrics help in this. Of course, we want all of our songs to be substantive, regardless of when they were written, but all of the songs from the Cantus (we are talking about the Cantus, after all) have that substance. (NOTE: The Cantus is not inspired. I’m not saying it is. There are probably psalms and hymns in there that we’ll never sing…on purpose. But it is a great collection with a variety of options for our singing.)
Yes. I said it. For us, I believe singing from the Cantus sometimes is better than not. (Go ahead and read that sentence again to make sure our context is settled.) Is this an opinion? Yes. But I believe we can defend it with (for example) some of the reasons listed above.
Besides all this, we’re going to sing. And if we’re going to sing, we’re going to have to pick some songs, and some ways to sing them. And whatever we do, we ought to be able to explain “why.” So we should do what we believe to be the best of the available options, right? (Right. This is obvious! Of course we’re not going to choose to do something if we don’t think it’s better than the alternative!) The Cantus is a combination hymnal/psalter, so it’s a helpful resource that we can – and should – utilize.