Second Guild Meeting: November 1943
By J. Spencer Cornwall
Director, Tabernacle Choir, and
Member, Church Music Committee
The Lord himself acclaimed the power of music when, in July, 1830, only three months after the church was organized, he gave a revelation through the Prophet Joseph Smith, directed to Emma Smith, the Prophet’s wife, part of which reads as follows:
“And it shall be given thee, also, to make a selection of sacred hymns, as it shall be given thee, which is pleasing unto me, to be had in my church. for my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads …” (D. & C. 25:12-13.)
This commandment and promise, together with the definite admonition of the Lord that the Saints were to sing in their church services, gives music an essential place in the worship of the Latter-day Saints. all those who have charge of music work in the church should regard this revelation as a treasured source of encouragement. Musical expression as a part of our church services is commanded by divine revelation.
Value of Congregational Singing
It seems quite evident that the most important phase of the music of the Church service is congregational singing. The Lord did not intend that the singing should be done by proxy, although there are some people who feel that they cannot sing and therefore do not take part. Upon asking one of these non-singers for his opinion on congregational singing, he said, “I cannot sing, unfortunately, but my heart and mind move in perfect sympathy as the others sing. I feel that we would sustain a large loss if congregational songs were eliminated from our church worship.” It appears from this and other similar observations that congregational singing deserves our best efforts toward its enhancement.
President Heber J. Grant has always been a powerful advocate of singing by the congregation. He has said:
“The singing of our sacred hymns, written by the servants of god, has a powerful effect in converting people to the principles of the gospel an din promoting peace and spiritual growth. Let us not forget our hymns when we go to the house of worship. Let the congregation sing; and by all means let the choir members become familiar with the beautiful sentiments that are contained in our hymns. And so shall our Father in heaven delight in the songs of our hearts, which shall become prayers unto him, and which he will graciously answer with blessings upon our heads. I am confident that the hymns of Zion, when sung with the proper spirit, bring a peaceful and heavenly influence into our homes, and also aid in preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. I say God bless our individual singers and the members of our musical organizations.”
Henry Ward Beecher has said:
“The highest music for religious purposes is not vocal and instrumental music pure and simple, but the music of hymns sung by the congregation. When religion is made attractive by singing, when it makes the sanctuary a place where men are so happy that they would rather part with their daily bread than the bread of the Lord which they obtain there, then there will be no difficulty in getting men to observe the Sabbath day.”
Direction of Congregational Singing
The director, or chorister, as we commonly call him, who leads the congregation in song, is an innovation which is peculiar almost to our church alone. There is a stabilizing factor in the chorister-led congregational singing, especially so where the chorister is efficient. The Church Chorister’s Manual, which has been used as a text for our choristers’ classes throughout the church, has in it this helpful paragraph:
“Since congregations are rarely rehearsed it is evident that a conductor must be satisfied with the way in which he can induce the members to sing by sheer magnetism and carefully timed beats, and should school himself to be insensitive to everything else which he sees to be faulty. No procedures on the part of the conductor, such as abruptly stopping the congregation for explanations or reprimands, stamping the feet, pounding the stand, can be justified in congregational singing. The general spirit of worship should never be disrupted during the progress of a service. Congregational singing should preserve and enhance this spirit.
Suggestions for Choristers:
1. Direct, if possible, without a book in your hand.
2. Let your movements be in harmony with the spirit and mood of the hymn. Do not distract the attention of the congregation from the hymn and center it on yourself. The hymn should be the center of attention.
3. The proper timing of your preliminary beat is all-important if you would have singers begin well. Make all beats anticipate what follows. It is not so much a matter of beating time for a congregation as it is a matter of timing your beats to keep the congregation well together.
4. Be at the chapel sufficiently early to allow time for all preparations.
5. Your main task is to instil the love of hymn-singing in the members of the church.
The Hymn-singing Project
For a period of about two years, the church music committee has been conducting a hymn-singing project in which all the organizations within the church are encouraged to participate. It is felt highly desirable that the members of the church have a common hymn repertoire, especially of such hymns as are of best quality. to this end all organizations are asked to rehearse or use a selected hymn each month.
The ideal place and time for the practicing of congregational singing is in the Sunday School, for this is the teaching organization of the church. Practice time is here allotted, and our most beautiful and faith-promoting hymns should here be learned. Such a rehearsal should be different from a choir or chorus rehearsal. The conductor should not indulge in technicalities. Everything he says should be of the good-natured variety, and all explanations should be made in common understandable language. The actual teaching of the music should be largely by rote. Emphasis should be placed mainly on the learning of the melody. The message of the words should be given sympathetic attention, so that the members of the congregation may appreciate the spiritual message of the words to which the tune, after all, is merel an enhancement.
Questions for Consideration:
1. Does a good director act as a dictator, or does he guide by gentle persuasion?
2. How may choristers and organists best cooperate before the congregation?
3. What should be the leader’s chief contribution to congregational singing? What may be some disadvantages of having a leader?
4. What are the responsibilities of the organist in congregational singing?
5. What do we strive for in congregational singing?
6. Announcement: The subject for consideration at the third meeting will be “Functions of the Organist.” Give some thought to this subject.