An emotional and thought provoking sermon from Jennifer Mills-Knutsen at Old South on Sunday, on the occasion of music director Gregory Peterson’s last service prior to taking his post at Luther College. In the course of the sermon, she raised John Wesley’s instructions to singers, which I hadn’t read in a while and which seemed particularly pertinent, not only to our choir on Sunday but to me as I prepare to sing Mahler’s 8th:
- Learn these tunes before you learn any others; afterwards learn as many as you please.
- Sing them exactly as they are printed here, without altering or mending them at all; and if you have learned to sing them otherwise, unlearn it as soon as you can.
- Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up, and you will find it a blessing.
- Sing lustily and with a good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, than when you sung the songs of Satan.
- Sing modestly. Do not bawl, so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony; but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound.
- Sing in time. Whatever time is sung be sure to keep with it. Do not run before nor stay behind it; but attend close to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can; and take care not to sing too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from us, and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.
- Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing Him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that you heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve here, and reward you when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.
While Rule 5 (also known as the Tenor Rule) and Rule 6 (the Bass Rule) are always pertinent, Rule 7 is interesting in the context of praise. The question of what it means to praise God through song (or any music, really) is of more than passing academic interest if, like me, you are starting to ask questions about the nature of faith, but you spend every Sunday in the choir loft instead of the congregation.