In fourth grade I made the school choir. You would have thought I won the lottery. In my memory, we stayed after school and sang soaring songs such as “Let’s Go Fly A Kite!” It was a heady time for sure. Truth be told, I’m not sure anyone was actually turned away from joining. I know everyone was welcomed (if not welcome) when a few years later at 15 I joined the choir with my best friend at church. He could, and I suspect can still, sing well. I can…sing.
We all can, even if not everyone, perhaps including ourselves, delights in hearing us. After all, as Buddy the Elf reminds us, singing is “just like talking, except longer and louder, and you move your voice up and down.” And I have grown up knowing this to be true. I have vivid memories of my dad and uncles and cousins turning up the radio and belting it out as if the song was originally theirs or sitting in a circle working to harmonize like they knew what they were doing. There were more than a few false notes, but did that stop anyone? Not that I recall. They just kept on singing because singing is good.
This may be part of why I am an United Methodist. We are a singing people. John Wesley may have had some great spiritual insights and a panache for organization, but it was brother Charles Wesley who translated those truths into verse the common folk could learn and remember. Would we even be here if not for his and the songs of so many others?
So every once in a while, and occasionally as part of a worship gathering, we open up our songbook, The United Methodist Hymnal, and we giggle, chuckle and chortle our way through a reading of the Directions for Singing.
I. Learn these Tunes before you learn any others; afterwards learn as many as you please.
II. 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.
III. 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 a blessing.
IV. Sing lustily and with 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.
V. Sing modestly. Do not bawl, so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony; but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound.
VI. Sing in Time: whatever time is sung, be sure to keep with it. Do not run before nor stay behind it; but attend closely to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can. And take care you sing not too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from among us, and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.
VII. 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 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 of here, and reward when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.From John Wesley’s Select Hymns, 1761
They’re actually pretty solid as far as “directions for singing” go. I especially value the final direction to “sing spiritually.” While some will make a distinction between sacred and secular music, I tend not to. Dividing music into “God music” and “non-God music” is silly. There is good music and bad music. Who gets to decide which is which? Yes.
Which again is why I like this last direction. Singing spiritually isn’t about the song we sing. It has nothing to do with the lyrics. Singing spiritually is about the heart of the singer. As Wesley points us to consider, it is about the subject to which we sing, namely God.
So keep singing people. Can’t carry a tune in a bucket? Well maybe sing softly or in the shower or become good friends with the guy in the choir who can sing and stay near him and just try to do what he does (it sometimes worked for me anyway), but don’t stop singing.
And don’t stop singing to God, for I am convinced God loves for us to sing. And I am certain God sings over us. So let’s follow Wesley’s directions, or better yet, the advice of the Psalmist.
1 Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.Psalm 100
2 Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
3 Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
5 For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.
Pardon me while I sing a new song to the Lord.
“Oh for just one tongue to sing…”
Life is better (when we sing) together,