Anyone who has . . .
known me for a while, or
read my blog for a few months, or
corresponded with me, or
shared thoughts about congregational worship with me, or
been near me in a church assembly lately
. . . probably won’t be surprised that I’m putting myself out there, yet again, as an unequivocal, unabashed supporter of music notation in church gatherings. Most congregations have no excuse for not making some kind of notation available — whether printed sheets, hymnals, or projected digital image. Words-only 1) assumes total musical illiteracy (not a valid assumption for the majority who have attended school in the U.S.) and 2) guarantees a lesser participation dynamic on the part of the people in the seats.
(Here, I jab, with a wink, at a friend who may read this.) Recently, I was in an assembly in which one of those add-a-part songs was sung. You know the type: in most of them, sopranos start, then altos are added, then tenors and basses.
Well, in this particular song (“That’s Why We Praise Him”), the projection provided words only, even as it invited, almost sarcastically, “add altos,” “add tenor,” then “add bass.” But there were no notes to add! One just had to know the parts. Funny. (I double-dog-dare you to monitor whether people actually make up the same harmony parts out of thin air. In every normal, congregational instance, there would be variety in the spontaneous part guesswork.) I ask you: how are we supposed to remember the other parts when we can’t even sing the melody consistently in unison? Answer: we’re not expected to. By not providing music notation, we are expressly un-expecting decent part-singing.
It doesn’t make sense to ask for part-singing without having notated parts available.