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Congregational Singing by David Fulk

When I was asked to write a blog article, I decided my topic immediately: congregational singing. It is, without question, my favorite thing about church.

I’ve always been singing. My first memories of singing are with my mom who also loved to sing. We sang together with mom playing an old upright piano. We had a hymnal but sang mostly out of paperback songbooks which I still have. We seemed to sing the same ones a lot, “The Cattle on a Thousand Hills” (appropriate since we raised cattle!), “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” “His Name is Wonderful.” Mom and I would always give each other knowing looks when we sang these at church.  

At six or seven, I decided I wanted to play the hymns, not just sing them. At home by myself I sat at the piano singing from the hymnal, pounding out a jumble of notes, moving my hands and arms over the keyboard like I was doing calisthenics. I sang loudly. The dog howled. Instead of hearing the awful sounds coming from the piano, I heard a congregation singing to wonderful accompaniment. In my high school years, I really got connected to congregational singing…not as a singer, but as the worship pianist. (By this time I could play the notes!) 

I fell deeply in love with congregational singing when I first came to Second…people who sang in harmony, embellished accompaniments, and, of course, last stanza descants!

So this congregational singing love affair has been going on now for nearly 33 years. What’s your story on congregational singing? How did you come to love it? (I know I’m making an assumption.) Regardless of how little or much you love congregational singing, here are some components I think make a big difference when we sing together.

Text: Hymn texts are often as important to us as biblical texts. They’re as familiar, and they’ve helped shape our faith, particularly in times of challenge and joy.

Accompaniment: The accompaniment of a hymn can make a big difference in how we sing and get absorbed into the singing. The added instruments and their embellishments, thanks to our capable accompanists, lift our singing heavenward.

Harmony: Hymns can be sung in unison on the melody note, or in harmony. Most all of our hymns are printed with chords so harmony can be sung if the singer chooses. Harmony, like many things in life, can give us a broader perspective on something extremely familiar. This can be as nice as a soft breeze in a stuffy room. Harmony provides texture and color to the text.

Shared Experience: Whether you think you’re a good singer or not, there really is something to the scriptural phrase of “making a joyful noise.” Each of us has a voice bringing an individual component to the singing. But as a congregation, something wonderful happens. We are sharing in something together. Our collective singing illustrates working together and support for each other as we lift praise God.

A cappella Singing: Singing a grand hymn with lots of instrumentation can make spirits soar. Singing without accompaniment can create a deeply personal moment connecting us to God. It takes a lot of confidence to sing a cappella because we’re on our own. This is where harmony makes the difference. I love that we’re unafraid to sing a cappella.

In my recent perspective as the interim worship leader, I’ve had confirmed how important the song leader is in helping the congregation feel comfortable and confident in singing, especially when singing something new or difficult.

Planning is equally important. For each hymn, Ann Posey usually finds different accompaniments for herself, the pianist and instrumentalists to use on each stanza of a hymn. We decide in advance if it’s men or women only,  when it's sung a cappella, when the setting should be played and sung softer or louder. This combined thought greatly enriches our singing experience.

Congregational singing is the highlight of worship for me. When this interim ends I’ll miss leading our singing. We do it well. Let’s never take for granted we are a singing church!

Is anyone else craving a hymn sing?