Singing Congregational Songs

One of the things we love to do when we gather as the body of Christ every week is to sing. We are told from Scripture that “… when (we) come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up” (1 Corinthians 14:26). We are also told to “let the word of Christ dwell in (us) richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in (our) hearts to God”. To this end, when song leaders choose songs for the congregation, they must be mindful that we sing songs with gospel focused content and that are congregation driven.

Gospel Focused Content

The songs must be true. In singing, we proclaim God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) to the world. We sing about who He is and what He has done for us. The songs we sing must accurately depict the one we are singing about. This means the first question to ask about a song is not whether the song “dey be” but whether the song speaks truth. Every song teaches something. A gospel song should teach the gospel. We often think of gospel as its own genre of music that we sometimes forget that ‘gospel’ should be a description of the content of the song. And that content should be Biblically accurate else it ceases to be gospel. We should ensure that we are proclaiming the truth about God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit).

The songs must be clear. The message of the song should not be confusing or muddled. This is because when we are together singing as the body of Christ, our primary goal should be building each other up as we await the coming of the Lord. So the congregation should be able to understand what is being said in the song. We should ensure that we are proclaiming the truth about God(Father, Son and Spirit) in a manner that is clearly understood. In that way we will be indeed teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in our hearts.

In a multi lingual community such as ours it is also important that the songs we sing is understood by all. This means providing translations to songs in cases that they are needed. The question then should be: is what we are singing clear and understood by the congregation? When picking that dope Joyous Celebration song, we should remember to get the translation of as well and either explain it or show the [insert appropriate language] translation to the congregation. This applies as well to our local language songs as well.

Congregation driven singing
The congregation can sometimes feel like a passive member of the service when it comes to singing. Instead of us singing together, it’s feels more like the choir or music group performing for the congregation.

The congregation should be able to hear the words of the song. This is a similar to the point about the content of our songs being clear. If the song is clear then we should sing it clearly. This is especially important for congregations where there is not the luxury of projecting the words of the song. That means the congregation learn the song based on what they hear so we should make sure that they can clearly hear what is being sung by singing clearly and pronouncing our words correctly. People will be more encouraged to sing if they can hear and understand what is sung.

The congregation should be able hear themselves sing. As good as having very good sound equipment is it can become a distraction when all the congregation can hear is the sound from the speakers and they can’t even hear the person next to them singing. It is always wonderful when the song leader tells those with amplified sounds (instrumentalists and vocalists) to keep silent for a moment and calls out for the congregation to sing. It almost seems like the congregation is encouraged to sing when they can hear the people around them singing as well. The sound mix during a congregational song should reflect the intent of singing to one another. It shouldn’t be so overpowering that the congregation is quite content to watch the choir perform for them since they can’t hear their involvement in the singing.

We shouldn’t let the innovations and technology we have in the areas of sound and instrumentation overshadow the joy of the people of God lifting their voices to him in praise and adoration for the wonderful things He has done for us. All these innovations should be used to enhance and improve on how we sing to each other in praise of our King. We should also make sure that what we sing is meaningful not only to those in church but to any outsiders who might be visiting the church as we teach them the truth of our Lord through our songs.

The Art of Listening

There are several elements that make a band sound great. One of those elements is the ability of the individuals in the band to listen to each other. Paying attention to what each person is playing and supporting the lead instrument so that the band sounds like a cohesive unit . No matter how brilliant the individual musicians are, if they don’t listen to each other the overall sound can be cluttered.

Bass virtuoso Victor Wooten uses this analogy to describe playing as a band. He says it is like having a conversation. When you are having a conversation with a group of people, not everyone talks at the same time. Someone is always leading the conversation and everyone else listens. They might nod and say a few things in agreement with what the lead is saying but that is only to support the lead. When everyone starts talking at the same time it becomes noisy and cluttered.

In this live performance of the track “Monterey” from the smooth jazz band Fourplay, Nathan East (bassist), Lee Ritenour (lead guitarist) and Bob James (pianist) play some of the most inspired improvisations I have heard:

The interplay between the three of them is simply brilliant and the way their solos blend with each other can only be that smooth because they are listening and supporting each other the entire time. And they are also able to express themselves fully because drummer, Harvey Mason, has built a solid support structure to keep the entire band going. He builds up and slows down, plays quieter or louder all depending on what the other instrumentalists are doing.

 

The same thing applies when the lead instrumentalist is the vocalist. Sometimes, we as instrumentalists, can get so carried away with what we are playing that we compete for space with the singers. Instead of supporting the vocalists and giving them space to be heard we overshadow and drown them out. In gospel music, words are very important. It is from the content of what is being sung that people can actually hear the gospel. We can aid in that process or hinder it, depending on how well we support one another musically in the band.

 

This is Keith and Kristyn Getty performing their song “In Christ Alone”. Notice how the piano and the vocals work together. The pianist supports the vocalist so that we can truly appreciate the words of this great song.

So next time you are playing in a band, it will be helpful to ask yourself a few questions:

What are the other members of the band playing?
Is what you are playing blending in with what they are playing?
Is the band creating space that allows the congregation to actually hear what is being said in the songs?
Is it possible for you to play less in order that the entire band sounds better?

Gospel Music – Shai Linne

I’m not ashamed of the gospel, y’all
It’s the power of God that can save us all
In the gospel, the righteousness of God is revealed
And who lives by faith? The righteous will!

On the Playlist today is an amazing song by Shai Linne titled “Gospel Music” from the “13 Letters” album. This album has various Christian rap artistes summarizing Paul’s epistles. This particular song is breakdown of the letter to the Romans. It is just really great to see this level of creativity used in expressing God’s word. Here’s just a snippet of Shai Linne’s take on Romans:

Awake from your slumber, rise! A letter from the wise
The book of Romans- the Christian faith summarized
By Paul, a bondservant of Christ Jesus
Called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel
Chapter 1: 16-17 is the thesis
Because our sins are colossal, hearts are harder than fossils
That’s everybody’s plight; cant’ solve it- goodnight!
How do sinners get right in a Holy God’s sight?
Amazing is the answer, see- Romans states it candidly
The first three chapters- God’s case against humanity
Whether it’s idolatry or religious hypocrisy
No one can possibly see the charges and say “It’s not for me”
Everybody’s guilty, everybody’s filthy
Before God on judgment day is where everybody will be
For those who believe in Jesus who suffered and died
“It feels so good to be justified”

Check out this song and the whole album in fact.

Deezer Link

Itunes Link

Spotify Link

Will Your Anchor Hold?

“We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain”
Hebrews 6:19

Priscilla Owens, born on 21st July, 1829 in Baltimore, Maryland, wrote this hymn. She worked with youth groups and was a Sunday School teacher at the Union Square Methodist Episcopal Church in Baltimore, Maryland. Most hymns written by her, including this hymn, were written for her Sunday School students.

Hebrews 6:19 was the inspiration for this hymn. When sung at the door of dying Mary Maude (Hymn Writer), she (Mary Maude) sent her singers this message: “Tell them it does not fail. It holds.”

Priscilla Owens died on December, 5,1907 in Baltimore, Maryland.

Indeed in Jesus Christ, we have an anchor that is able to keep us through the many storms of this life and secures our souls for eternity.

Verse 1

Will your anchor hold in the storms of life,

When the clouds unfold their wings of strife?

When the strong tides lift, and the cables strain,

Will your anchor drift or firm remain?

Refrain

We have an anchor that keeps the soul

Steadfast and sure while the billows roll,

Fastened to the Rock which cannot move,

Grounded firm and deep in the Savior’s love.

Verse 2

It is safely moored, ’twill the storm withstand,

For ’tis well secured by the Savior’s hand;

And the cables passed from His heart to mine,

Can defy the blast, through strength divine.

Verse 3

It will firmly hold in the straits of fear,

When the breakers have told the reef is near;

Though the tempest rave and the wild winds blow,

Not an angry wave shall our bark o’erflow.

Verse 4

It will surely hold in the floods of death,

When the waters cold chill our latest breath;

On the rising tide it can never fail,

While our hopes abide within the veil.

There is a fountain filled with blood

“On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.” – Zechariah 13:1

Most likely written in 1771, first published in 1772 and republished by Cowper and Newton in 1779, this hymn written based on Zechariah 13:1, was written by William Cowper (pronounced “Cooper”). He was born on the 26th of November 1731 in Great Berkhampstead, England to George II, a chaplain, and his wife, who died when Cowper was 6 years.

William Cowper battled with depression from an early age beginning when he was sent to a boarding school at Markyate. Here, he started suffering from frequent emotional difficulties. He was then transferred to a school in Westminster where he was much happier. After graduating, he was apprenticed to a solicitor. In 1754, he was called to the Bar, but never really practiced law. Later in 1763, he was nominated to the Clerkship of Journals of the House of Lords but suffered a panic attack at the interview causing him to lose his chance of that position. This pushed William Cowper into a state of deep depression requiring treatment at a hospital in Huttington during which he stayed in the home of Rev. Morley Unwin and his wife.

After the death of Rev. Unwin in 1767, William Cowper moved to Olney with Mrs. Unwin and her family after John Newton’s persuasion. Newton and Cowper became close friends over the years, and started an influential joint publication. It was during his depression that Cowper wrote the hymn, “There is a Fountain Filled With Blood.” The hymn which is a meditation on the saving power of the blood of Christ was one of Cowper’s best hymns. After a long battle with depression, William Cowper died on April 25, 1800.

There is a fountain filled with blood,
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins,
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains:
Lose all their guilty stains,
Lose all their guilty stains;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains.

The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in His day;
And there have I, though vile as he,
Washed all my sins away:
Washed all my sins away,
Washed all my sins away;
And there have I, though vile as he,
Washed all my sins away.

Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood
Shall never lose its pow’r,
Till all the ransomed church of God
Are safe, to sin no more:
Are safe, to sin no more,
Are safe, to sin no more;
Till all the ransomed church of God
Are safe, to sin no more.

E’er since by faith I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die:
And shall be till I die,
And shall be till I die;
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die.

When this poor, lisping, stamm’ring tongue
Lies silent in the grave,
Then in a nobler, sweeter song,
I’ll sing Thy pow’r to save:
I’ll sing Thy pow’r to save,
I’ll sing Thy pow’r to save;
Then in a nobler, sweeter song,
I’ll sing Thy pow’r to save.