Is Musical Frustration Tolerable?
Howard L. Whittlesey
Brethren, we are commanded to commit regularly the five acts of worship on the first day of every week. With that the child of God will not ague. Holy Writ plainly directs us as individuals to participate in an five acts. With that there is no argument. However, there seems to be plenty of argument concerning the quality of performance of the five acts, separately or collectively. Why?
The five acts of worship are: (1) Bible Study; (2) Giving; (3) Lord's Supper; (4) Praying; (5) Singing. Christians who please the Lord are Christians who not only believe in doing their personal best in these acts of worship, but they contribute all they can to their own personal (and the congregation's mutual) growth and development in the performance of these acts. The Lord would have it no other way (Eccl. 9:7-10; Matt. 22:37; Matt. 4:10).
Some would place unequal importance on the performance of these acts. Some say that the Lord's Supper is the most important act of worship. This cannot be proven by Scripture. Some might be impressed with the amount given in the collection by the well-to-do; so much so that he may say that his giving is less significant due to the smaller amount. One may say that his responsibility in Bible study is all but absent since he is neither the teacher nor one of the more knowledgeable of the group. By the same token, a brother might seek to escape his responsibility in prayer with a self-evaluation that indicates low self-esteem. This thought cannot be complete without suggesting that many brethren discard their responsibility of singing by way of claiming that their voices are not pretty, or that they can-not read music. When one looks for an excuse to avoid a responsibility, or an issue, eventually anything sounds good. Be that as it may, the rive acts of worship are equally important, as is the performance by each Christian in any given act.
The balance of this discussion will rest on the act of singing in worship. Our responsibility in any aspect of life is determined by, and according to, our given ability (Luke 12:48). A real sin against which we need to guard is the discounting of our abilities. Just because we have not developed a talent by no means excuses our lackadaisical attitudes and behaviors. A great majority of our brethren in the Lord's church avert their imperfections in singing by saying that it is not important how you sing. They go on by adding that God gave some the talent to sing, to some He added the ability to lead songs, but to some He did not give the ability to sing. Too many seem to slip whatever ability they have out the back door by underplaying the importance of singing.
Sad but true is the fact that all too seldom do brethren engage in singing outside the church building. It is as though the worship service was such a strain that a release from such hypertensive activity is needed. Singing hymns together in someone's home does not provide that release for some. Again, the "cop-out" line is "I can't sing," or "I don't have a good voice." Thus, the "I-can't-sing" singers and the "I-don't-have"good-voice"singers are freely spread among the conscientious, improving singers who do care what they sing and also how well they sing. It is conceded that abilities of singers vary vastly. Is that not also true of leaders of prayer, teaches of classes, and servants at the Lord's table? There ultimately seems to be an entirely too casual approach to performing the acts of worship.
How Important Is Singing?
Singing is done by the only instrument that God made. Paul told Christians in Corinth to glorify God in their bodies (1 Cor. 6:20). If one reads the verse, he will also find that we are to glorify God in our spirit as well. Therefore, our disposition is to be such as would glorify God. Singing with the spirit, as Paul was inspired to suggest (1 Cor. 14:15), requires one's consistently conscientious effort. Singing with the understanding includes both the text and the melody. If we say that it is not important how we sing, then it stands to reason that we could say it is not important who writes the hymns, or how one writes them. If it is not important what notes or pitches are sung, do we feel the same way about the words of Scripture that are read? Keep in mind that this is not a rebuke to those who ere not perfect singers. Only God can issue such a rebuke. Only God has perfect pitch. A rebuke from God which we should fear is the one which cites the attitude that evokes a somewhat happenstance performance. All the parts of. our bodies are made by Him and are to be used to His glory. Our voices are no exception, especially when we know that we are commanded to sing. The command sounds a clear call from God for us to make melody, and make it right, to the best of our knowledge and ability.
The Text Of The Song
The words we sing are to be understood by all who sing them. They also we to be scriptural in their context and application. With them we teach and admonish one another. Together, these thoughts indicate an absolute importance of text.
The Mechanics Of The Song
Melody, harmony, and rhythm are the integral parts which together give the song its distinct flavor, personality, appeal, and spiritual result. To perform every song flawlessly in every service is not the charge which is herein set forth. The foremost quest of the Christian should be to give God all of His best, as well as to strive for improvement. Anything with which, or by which, we can glorify God is worth improving. How else can we ever say that we are doing our best?
The exact melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic scheme of a song we scientifically arranged according to an intended psychological and spiritual effect. The effect is changed by any alteration of the original scheme. Not every change is necessarily bad. When we misread a Scripture, we alter the thought and we change the effect. How bad the alteration of effect depends on the magnitude we plea on the error in the misreading. Let us strive to perfect our reading of Scripture in order to get God's message (at its best) across to the hearer. Let us also strive to perfect our singing mechanics in order to get the message of the lyricist and composer across at its best. The message cannot be at its best if we are not.
Musical Frustration Defined
Frustration results from lack of achievement. That achievement may have been denied due to lack of effort or desire, or due to misapplication or misunderstanding of musical principles. Other things may have contributed also. On an individual level, the frustration may best be understood by the realization of the difference between where one is musically and where he wishes to be. Again, the one who says he cannot sing will likely face little frustration unless he determines to emerge from that level and realizes the effort required to rise above. Young or old, it is possible to increase one's knowledge and skill in singing. So it boils down to one's desire and determination.
At times we we more easily frustrated. We give up more easily if it is not something we dearly wanted in the first place. Good singing seems to fall in that exact category for many brethren. We do not dearly want to sing well or to improve our singing. So we just pass it off as a simple, tolerable frustration. It is possible to just "get by" with our singing (albeit not to God's glory) and, granted, it is very much a matter of conscience. However, we do not treat the preacher with the same privilege. If we are frustrated by the preacher due to an unfulfilling sermon, we urge him to get with it and do better. If he tries too often to just get by on what he already knows, it will catch up with him. He may frustrate many of his hearers. On the other hand, how many times has a preacher been frustrated by an uninspiring song service? Probably more often. No one will ever know how many times a given preacher has had to build his own fire for the intensity of his presentation of the gospel. The natural fires inherent in good singing were quenched by unintense, frustrating Christians who say they cannot sing or that they do not have pretty voices.
Of course, the number one remedy is a motivating desire to improve singing, individually and collectively. There are men who are capable and more than willing to assist in this improvement. We place much importance on gospel meetings. Rightfully so. They are to strengthen the members, edify the collective body, and convert sinners to Christ. Why could not the Lord's church spend a week on improving that most spiritually inflaming activity - singing? It does so many things to unite the brotherhood - more so if it right and beautiful. Then when the singing is better, how much more inspiring the entire service seems to be.
Singers can be taught to read the music in the songbook. Song leaders can be taught the skills, or reinforced. The result is a singing with the spirit and with the understanding also.
"Making melody in your heart to the Lord" (Eph. 3:19) is not a substitute for good singing, but it requires good singing (at least the effort for such). "Singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord" (Col. 3:16) is not an escape valve for lack of effort to do one's best. It rather requires one's best effort. That best effort includes the determination and desire to improve.
All acts of worship have their justifiable effect - they are equal in importance. Singing is an act of worship and it deserves to be recognized for the effect it can have on all its participants. If brethren replace their excuses for poor singing with their determination to improve their singing, likely more song services will be good and commendable. Abilities of singers an be developed. The Christian must first find in his heart the desire to grow in this regard. The mechanics of singing can be taught, learned, and performed to the glory of God. Frustration is neither desirable nor necessary. The honest heart will seek all means to avoid it reasonably. Congregations of the Lord's people could put brethren who can and will help. to work with intentions to grow musically. Allow these mm to teach the singers and song leaders what it really means to make melody with grace in your heart.
Let our frustrations be turned into motivations for bet-ter service and for spiritual growth. All acts of worship deserve our best effort. If we give less, we may frustrate God due to failure to bear fruit. Let us glorify God in our bodies and make our singing a true spiritually fulfilling act of worship.
Guardian of Truth XXVII: 15, pp. 464-465