This article was written by our music director Karla Paciejewski while reflecting on singing and worship in the church. Enjoy.
I was born in the mid 1950’s in Vancouver, B.C. and grew up in the “Little Berlin” neighbourhood of the city. Most of the kids were children of immigrants from Germany and central Europe who came to Canada after World War II. Our families didn’t have much starting out, but music seemed to be an integral part of our community from the very beginning, particularly singing. We sang, and saw our parents and grandparents sing, in so many different aspects of our life – home, church, school, socially. We didn’t have ipods or satellite radio back then, so if we wanted music we only had a few choices – listen to the regular radio, play our records on the stereo, or make the music ourselves! Sing-alongs were common in that world – we heard our parents sing at parties, around campfires, at picnics, and over the Christmas season. I’m sure that as kids we picked up singing in social settings by osmosis, so that by the time we were teens, we carried on singing on our own with our friends. School choirs were “the norm” and we were all exposed to lots of singing in elementary school and if we chose, in high school as well.
Singing was as natural to us as breathing and part of everyday life. I am sure that this is one of the main reasons that our singing at church was so vibrant and wonderful. We weren’t afraid to “Praise the Lord with a joyful noise”! All of us, young and old, sang out loud and clear, with beautiful harmonies. Why does this seem to be disappearing? Yes, we Lutherans still, by and large, do love to sing, but our singing often isn’t as vibrant or exhilarating as it once was – why?
I believe a number of things factor in. To name a few: 1) The number of people attending regular Sunday services is going down, so we don’t automatically have the natural volume that was once there. Human nature being what it is, most of us don’t want to “stick out” or be conspicuous, so singing is done more quietly, lessening the volume even more. 2) Music, along with many Fine Arts Programs in the school system, have taken some hard hits over the years in the name of more academic subjects. Singing isn’t as accessible to our kids, thus singing is more of a novelty than the norm for younger generations and they are not as sure of themselves and don’t sing out. 3) How many families regularly have sing-alongs anymore? How many times are our kids exposed to spontaneous singing just for the joy of singing? It seems that many people feel that singing in our present day culture is meant primarily for the professionals and not “everyday people”. Singing, which was once the common man’s mainstream form of musical expression, appears to be slowly dying. Church remains one of the few places where singing is still actively done, but with it being done in very few other venues, we don’t seem to be as comfortable with singing as we once were.
So, with many people having little exposure to singing in their secular life, how do we encourage vibrant singing in our church life? How do we encourage fearful or hesitant singers? Here are a few suggestions that I have come across in various avenues or have noted and used myself:
1) Beautiful, pleasing music to the ear, be it energetic or pensive, can entice people to sing. 2) Plant some strong singers in the congregation to help boost the confidence of the unsure singers.
3) Teach new music to smaller groups ahead of time (eg. Sunday School, choir, youth, seniors, etc.) – these groups can help lead the singing.
4) Teach new music to the congregation before the service.
5) Introduce new music as a choir anthem or organ/piano solo the week before it is to be used.
6) Use new music as the hymn/song of the month or season.
7) Choose new Liturgies for a specific season and repeat them for a number of weeks. 8) If using a new Liturgy, choose familiar hymns/songs.
9) As with all new things, introduce new music at a pace the congregation can easily handle – not too much at once.
10) As the musicians, you must know the music WELL yourselves. It’s a good idea to have someone accompanying and another person leading the vocals for new music.
11) Lastly, remember to convey that it’s OKAY to mess up! Treat the errors with humour – that goes a long way to ease any tension.
As Lutherans, we love our music, especially singing. Let’s make the effort to pass this great heritage of ours on to our children and grandchildren. All our lives will be richer for it!
Music Director, Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, Prince George, B.C.