One Sunday, a member of the congregation got up to speak and thanked the music director for choosing just the right music that day. Each of the hymns and the special music of the choir were the messages of God's love and comfort that she desperately needed and helped her feel the Spirit's influence and healing that day. She was so grateful that by joining her voice in the singing of hymns helped her feel guided in her personal worship and united with the others in the congregation in singing praises to our loving Heavenly Father. And she also thanked the choir for the beauty of their interpretation of a meaningful text.
Singing hymns together as a congregation is altogether different from the singing of a choir. In congregational singing each person can join their voice and heart and soul with no regard to precision, technique or beauty. The point of congregational singing is to provide a vehicle for community worship, for uniting in purpose, and inviting the Spirit's influence into the meeting. Through the act of reading and singing the words of the hymn together, individuals can add their focus to the larger community's focus, to strengthen the combined faith of those present. There should be no judgment of how proficient the singing is because the entire purpose is more about individual worship than listening to collective body's performance.
But then, there are always those colorful conductors who treat conducting congregational singing as if they were directing the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They flamboyantly wave their arms around signaling various voice parts to do dramatic dynamic changes or other vocal virtuosities. Probably better not to draw so much attention to yourself as a conductor with techniques that are lost on the congregation. Rather, model the pathos of the hymn and give appropriate motions to keep the organ and congregation together in the right tempo. Setting the right tempo and mood for each hymn is so important for worship. Singing a joyful upbeat tune at the speed of a funeral dirge does nothing to promote true worship.
Choirs, on the other hand, are definitely judged on performance. Each time the choir sings, the listeners will attempt to understand the words and feeling portrayed, but unfortunately many times are blocked from any real understanding the message because of the lack of performance quality. Choirs should be expected to do more than the congregation could do. They should have beautiful line and phrasing. They should sing in harmony. They should interpret the words with dynamics and expression. They should appear prepared and polished. They should display good choir etiquette. When the members of the choir do all they can do to be prepared and follow their conductor, their offering will be acceptable to the Lord as well as the audience.
My gratitude goes out to those music directors who thoughtfully and prayerfully choose the music for worship services. As a choir director, I appreciate when I am given advanced notice of the theme of the meeting so that the choir can adequately prepare suitable music. I appreciate singing hymns of praise that support the messages of the talks and uplift my soul. I really appreciate it when the hymns chosen for the meeting vary in character and message and tempo from each other. And I am especially appreciative when the mood and tempo is set according to the suggested markings by the composer.
I do so love singing joyful upbeat hymns in a joyful upbeat tempo!!!