Ascending congregational singing?

I started out to say one or two things in this post, subtracted one, added something, subtracted half of those … and what I’m left with probably meanders a bit.  Some days the thoughts just aren’t clear.  In this prior post, I had quoted Darryl Tippens, who said, “The trouble with talk is that it tends to position the speaker in a place of power. . . .  A different, humbler posture of spirit emerges in worship and song.”[1] And I would follow that by affirming that the primary activities for a church should be those congregationally participatory activities that constitute a collective voice.

As for me, I don’t really like singing all that much.  It’s the process and the experience I’m talking about here, not the concept.  There are only a few pitches in my own voice that I’m relatively pleased with.  Singing is not a pleasure for me.  Yet there is something unique and God-ordained about it, so I continue to run after rich, congregational singing  in a time when emphasis on it is fading in many corners.

In some RM churches, congregational singing is taken for granted or under-emphasized because of leadership.  It should be intentional, not merely utilitarian.

This is probably not universally perceived in the same way, but in my experience, there is no more edified state for a congregation than that which comes from congregational outpouring of worship to God.  Put another way:  when the local church is moving well in realms of worship, it is naturally, as a result, built up and strengthened for service.

Recently, Pepperdine University — incidentally, where Darryl Tippens is provost — hosted the 2nd triennial Ascending Voice symposium.  Life’s responsibilities and the expense of a trip to California dictated that I couldn’t consider attending.  In reading a review or two, concern arose that this forum was dealing in realms apart from most congregations’ lives.  Then in scanning the event program, I realized that the event was intended to focus more in scholarly spheres than in congregational life, anyway.  So, after all, my interest in being there would have been less since I’m not a choral musician, and my academic interests follow different paths.

It’s congregational singing that I’m interested in, not choral music.  It’s the simple beauty of voices devoted to God, not a Chanticleer performance or a historical excursus into 16th-century Scotland.  It’s the dynamic of worship and the textual content of God-directed poetry, not the artistry of choral composition or the confluence of a broad ecumenism.  For what it was intended to be, the Ascending Voice event appears to have been well-conceived.  But this was not primarily a gathering of musicians engaged in congregationally participatory worship.

The world doesn’t need more special groups who have more resources and talents than most churches.  We don’t need icons of the church and music communities showing-and-telling us all what to do.  Not all of it is very realistic for the masses, and the masses need more help than the high-end choirs of the world.

Although several high-recognition speakers and groups were present at the AV symposium, I’m not sure Harold Best, now in his 80s and living in the Pacific Northwest after retirement from Wheaton, would have been there.  His feeling about congregational music is essentially my own, although he says it better:

The center of all church music—whatever the style, the size of the assembly or the training of any leaders, choirs, ensembles or instrumental groups—is congregational song.  There should be no attempt in any music program to undo, cover over or compromise this primary musical action.  It is imperative that organists, pianists, choirs, song leaders, worship leaders and plugged-in worship teams understand that it is the congregation that is to be heard above all.  (Unceasing Worship, 144)

[1] Darryl Tippens, Pilgrim Heart:  The Way of Jesus in Everyday Life (quoted by New Wineskins online).

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