Tis’ the eve of the Sufjan Stevens Christmas spectacular in San Francisco. Tomorrow night I will be traveling to the city by the Bay with my brother-in-law to participate in what promises to be a unique live concert event. I have heard rumors that there will be much singing and merriment, those in attendance beckoned to join in the Sufi songs. I have also heard rumors (and I hope that they are true) that the printed version of the evening’s program will include certain instructions for communal singing penned by a famous 18th century preacher. In the name of hopefulness and anticipation, you will find the famous words printed below. John Wesley included these instructions for communal singing within the pages of a (now ancient) hymnbook that was written in 1761. Not only are these words worth re-printing on “the internets,” but they are worth considering if you ever plan to sing with others, particularly in the context of a Christian worship service. Come hell or high-water, I don’t plan to leave the worshipping up to Sufjan’s professionals tomorrow night. Let the people sing.
Directions for Congregational Singing
- 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 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 closely to the leading voices and move therewith as exactly as you can. And take care you sing not too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from among 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 to 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 your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve of here, and reward when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.
From John Wesley’s Select Hymns (1761)