“New Horizons” on Church Music

New Horizons is the denominational magazine of the Orthodox Presbyterian Churches (OPC).  It is an excellent magazine, whether or not you are a member of an OP church.  It’s available in print and also digitally at the site linked above and is well worth a look.

Their June issue caught our attention here at URC Psalmody, for they had an entire issue dedicated to church music.  Their cover article, “Better Singing in Small Churches,” was complimented by a few other choice essays on the subject.  The entire June issue is available HERE.  This issue is really a worthwhile resource for worship leaders, accompanists, pastors, or any Christian who is interested and invested in the music of their congregation.

Here are a few highlights from the issue (click the title for a direct link):

“Singing in the OPC” by Danny E. Olinger

Don’t let the title fool you – this article is helpful whether or not you happen to belong to the OPC.  Rev. Olinger traces the history of singing in the OPC, beginning with J. Gresham Machen’s (a key figure in the founding of the OPC) recommendation to put together a new hymnal in reaction to the 1933 Presbyterian Hymnal, which contained vague and loose theology.  Machen understood the implications of singing such hymns.  Olinger quotes a contemporary of Machen stating, “If you want to know the trends of religion, listen to the way a congregation sings.”

Machen knew that the singing of these looser, less carefully constructed hymns would lead to looser, less carefully constructed theology in the hearts, minds, and pulpits of the churches.

In response to Machen’s warnings, the church began to reexamine their singing habits.  They emphasized the singing of the biblical psalms and other inspired songs of Scripture, but also saw that “there is freedom permissible that is not contrary to the regulative principle.”

Rev. Olinger goes on to lay out and interact with the biblical foundations for why the OPC sings the way they do.  His exegesis is very sound and concise, making this an excellent resource for anyone who asks why we sing the way we do.  Once again, his answers are helpful not just for those in the OPC, but are also fruitful meditation for us in the United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA).

“Hints for Pianists” by Frances W. Folkerts

I wish there were more articles like this one.  In fact, it was a desire for material like this that first led me to URC Psalmody.  This article is written by a church musician for church musicians, and is written with frankness, humility, and a sincere desire to serve Christ and His Church by our accompaniment.

The article is simply a series of fifteen pieces of advice gathered from decades of accompaniment experience.  The author is salty, honest, and helpful.

I especially appreciated some of the more practical bits of advice, such as:

  • “Play eighth notes distinctly. Don’t forget that, in addition to trying to sing those notes, the worshipers also have words to read and, hopefully, think about! You might even consider slowing ever so slightly when playing eighth notes, especially where each is assigned its own syllable, as in ‘Praise him! praise him! Jesus our blessed Redeemer!'”
  • “In music, mistakes happen all the time. Get over it and get on with it. Most people don’t even notice. The few that do will admire your ability to keep going, seemingly unperturbed.”

The author also wraps up the article with genuine encouragement:

  • “God gives gifts to his church, and one of yours is being able to accompany the congregation during worship services. Trust him also to give you the ability to use this gift, limited as it may seem to you, for his glory and the good of his church.”

I highly recommend this short piece to all accompanists.  I wish that I had something like this article to put into my piano bench when I first started playing for church (thankfully I had an encouraging and experienced pianist mentoring me).  Even if you’re not an accompanist, consider printing off a few copies to hand to your church’s organists and pianists, along with a helping of encouragement and a word of thanks, especially if they’re just starting out.

“Better Singing in Small Churches” by Alan R. Pontier

The cover article contains solid advice from a pastor concerning how to “pursue excellence in congregational singing.”  Rev. Pontier reminds us that our sacrifice of praise “reaches its highest expression not in the polished music of the soloist or in the contemporary beat of the praise band, but in the singing of the congregation.”

And yet, we all know from experience that this can be hard to organize, especially for those of us in smaller congregations.

Rev. Pontier divides his comments into advice for the music leaders and advice for accompanying music when a pianist or organist is not available.

Usually, Rev. Pontier points out, the leading of the singing falls to the pastor or an elder, most of whom are untrained for this sort of thing.  So, he offers a few pointers:

  • If the pastor/elder/leader sings well, the congregation will follow.  You’re not just leading by announcing the hymn or psalm, you’re also leading by example.  Rev. Pontier offers some pointers on breathing techniques that can help improve anyone’s singing.  It wouldn’t hurt to talk to your choir director or any trained singer for more tips.
  • He also discusses the importance of tempo.  As we’ve mentioned multiple times here on URC Psalmody, tempo makes a huge difference.  As a worship leader, try to learn the meanings of “all those numbers” at the beginning of the song – 3/4 or 4/4 or 6/8 or whatever.  A little knowledge can go a long way.
  • Rev. Pontier writes a bit about basic conducting.  Perhaps this sounds foreign to those of us in the URCNA, but in many churches the worship leader helps out both the congregation and the accompanist by helping them maintain a consistent beat.  It can be a very effective way of drawing more out of a congregation and helping them sing their way through new or difficult songs.  It’s worth considering, especially in the context of a small church or a church plant with many new converts unfamiliar with singing together in public.
  • The worship leader also has the responsibility and delight of introducing new songs to the congregation.  Don’t just stick with the “old favorites,” constantly hitting those same twenty or thirty hymns.  Take time to teach new psalms and hymns from the Psalter or Hymnal to the congregation.

Writing about accompaniment, Rev. Pontier laments the lack of pianists that is becoming more common in the church today.  In such a situation, he recommends the surprisingly easy solution of simply downloading a MIDI file off of the OPC website.  The OPC website has a link to MIDI files for all the tunes in the Trinity Hymnal.  Rev. Pontier walks through the process step-by-step so that even the most technologically challenged (like myself) could navigate the process.

Many of the tunes of the blue Psalter Hymnal are found in the Trinity Hymnal, so this could be a valuable resource for many in the URCNA.  Otherwise, we always recommend our ever-expanding “Psalter Hymnal Resource Library” found right here at URC Psalmody.



0 Responses to ““New Horizons” on Church Music”

  1. Leave a Comment

Share Your Thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Welcome to URC Psalmody

We hope you'll join us as we discuss music, worship, the psalms, the church, and much more here on URC Psalmody. You can learn about the purpose of this blog here. We look forward to to seeing you in the discussions!

With this feature, just enter your email address and you'll receive notifications of new posts on URC Psalmody by email!

Join 211 other followers



%d bloggers like this: