By Hoyt Houchen
Question: Is it proper for the one leading the congregational singing during worship services to sing harmony, tenor or bass, rather than the melody? I am not referring to those hymns with a tenor or base lead in the chorus.
Response: It makes no difference which part of the song (soprano, alto, tenor or bass) the song leader sings as long as he is directing the singing. When he is standing in front of the assembly and directing the singing, he is the song leader. What part of the song he may choose to sing himself while he is leading is incidental. The song director is to pitch the song, start it and then continue to direct it. Should he decide to sing bass or tenor (he may have a throat condition, or may not for some reason, be able to sing certain notes) would be optional. There is nothing in the Scriptures which teach that anyone must sing one part of a song only; in fact, in the early church there were no notes for music as we have them today. We are simply commanded to sing (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16; Jas. 5:13). All of us should sing the very best we can, following the song director so that we will all be singing in unison and also singing the same tempo and pitch. Each one should sing his own part to the best of his ability, regardless of what part the song leader himself may be singing.
It is believed by some that, when the song director sings some part other than the melody, the lead is being transferred to the women. This is not the case, because usually some men in the congregation are singing the melody also. All the melody is not necessarily turned over to the women; but even if it were, it would not be a violation of scriptural teaching because the man leading the singing continues to be in charge. His changing to tenor or bass does not turn the song leading over to women. It may not always be the best judgment for the song leader to sing a part other than the melody, because of the effect that it might have upon the quality of the singing; but it is not unscriptural for him to do so.
All of us should be careful that we do not bind our opinion upon others and thereby become contentious about matters of judgment or indifference.
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 9, p. 260
May 3, 1984