We tend to think the issues in our churches are contemporary issues that we alone have had to contend with. Yet when we read voices from ages past, we are often reminded that many issues come and go, rise and wane. This is the case with the music we sing at church. At some points the church is (rightly) focused on enabling the amateur voices in the pews and at other points (wrongly) focused on prioritizing the professional voices in the choir or band. This was of some concern at the end of the 19th century as evidenced in this little snippet from De Witt Talmage. Like him, when I hear many of today’s worship bands, “I would prefer the hearty, outbreaking song of a backwoods Methodist camp-meeting.”
In many of the churches of Christ in our day, the music is simply a mockery.
I have not a cultivated ear nor a cultivated voice, yet no man can do my singing for me. I have nothing to say against artistic music. The two or five dollars I pay to hear Miss Thursby or Miss Abbott or any of the other great queens of song is a good investment. But when the people assemble in religious convocation, and the hymn is read, and the angels of God step from their throne to catch the music on their wings, do not let us drive them away by our indifference.
I have preached in churches where vast sums of money were employed to keep up the music, and it was as exquisite as any heard on earth, but I thought at the same time, for all matters practical, I would prefer the hearty, outbreaking song of a backwoods Methodist camp-meeting.
Let one of these starveling fancy songs sung in church get up before the throne of God, how would it look standing amid the great doxologies of the redeemed? Let the finest operatic air that ever went up from the church of Christ get many hours the start, it will be caught and passed by the hosanna of the Sabbath-school children.
I know a church where the choir did all the singing, save one Christian man who, through perseverance of the saints, went right on, and afterward a committee was appointed to wait on him and ask him if he would not please to stop singing, as he bothered the choir.
As the French say, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” The more things change, the more they stay the same.