The Quality of Our Singing: excerpts from Connie W. Adams

From Connie W. Adams, “The Quality of Our Singing” Plainfield Church Bulletin. Church of Christ, Plainfield, Indiana, March 7, 1983:

I am not disposed to be a chronic censor of the song book.  While there are some songs which are unscriptural (and we have never seen any song book totally exempt from all criticism), we certainly do believe in poetic license.  It is possible to become so literal in our understanding of words that it would be impossible for some of the brethren to ever understand the book of Psalms or some of the prophetic writings where figures of speech abound.  But for the life of me, it is hard to derive much spiritual food from “The Jericho Road”, “Let Us Have a Little Talk With Jesus”, or “I’ll Be Somewhere List’ning For My Name.”  Some of the songs which the brethren seem to glory in were written for Pentecostal-type camp meetings and were designed to show off bass, alto or tenor leads.  The start and stop, hold your breath, let it out, pat your foot, up, down, in, out type of songs seem to be what many of the song leaders prefer.  Meanwhile, we have reared a generation of young people who do not know the great songs of faith. They are being greatly deprived and impoverished and we have many of our song leaders to blame for it.

Earlier in the article he cited the widespread use of Ellis Crum’s Sacred Selections as one reason why “congregations have been victimized by song leaders who prefer only the show-off quartet type songs, mostly of the Stamps-Baxter variety” and laments “in a book with well over 600 songs, why must a congregation be limited to about 75 songs while some of the greatest songs of faith are never used?” Adams then noted that in the prior decade (which would have been 1973-1983) “every time “The Old Rugged Cross”, or “Amazing Grace”, or “Tell Me The Story of Jesus” was sung, [he] had to ask for it.”

My thanks to Chris Cotten for calling this to my attention some years ago while we sorted a great deal of bulletins—a great deal– and along the way found a few nuggets.  In the thirty years since Adams penned this article  so-called mainstream Churches of Christ experienced a decade or so of worship wars.  I wonder how things panned out among Non-Institutional churches during this same period of time.  I don’t know Connie Adams preaching appointments for 1973-1983, but wonder how representative his observation might be today.  Does a similar situation obtain today?  Can a generalization even be fairly made?

A Choir: A Quote Without Comment from Benjamin Franklin

J. A. Headington and Joseph Franklin. A Book of Gems, or Choice Selections from the Writings of Benjamin Franklin. St. Louis: John Burns, 1879, p. 230:

We find some brethren call a few members of the church who sit together and lead the singing a choir.  This is no choir in the popular sense, nor is it at all objectionable, specially if the singing is so conducted that the members generally sing.  But this is not the meaning of choir.  The choir in a church is composed of artistic performers, who sing for the church; sing difficult pieces that the masses can not sing, for music and musical display, to attract, entertain and gratify the people–to charm them with music.  These are professional singers, chosen without any regard to their piety, and frequently without any regard to their moral character.  They sing to show how they can sing, amuse and entertain.

Christian Unity Hymn

HYMN 165.

1. Come, my Christian friends and brethren, Bound for Canaan’s happy land, Come, unite and walk together, Christ our leader gives command. Lay aside your party spirit, Wound your Christian friends no more, All the name of Christ inherit, Zion’s peace again restore.

2 We’ll not bind our brother’s conscience, This to God alone is free, Nor contend with one another, But in Christ united be: Here’s the Word, the grand criterion, This shall all our doctrine prove, Christ the centre of our union, And the bond is Christian love.

3 Here’s my hand, my heart, my spirit, Now in fellowship I give, Now we’ll love and peace inherit, Show the world how Christians live; We are one in Christ our Saviour, Here is neither bond nor free, Christ is all in all for ever, In his name we all agree.

4 Now we’ll preach and pray together, Praise, give thanks, and shout and sing; Now we’ll strengthen one another, And adore our heavenly King; Now we’ll join in sweet communion, Round the table of our Lord; Lord, confirm our Christian union, By thy Spirit and thy word.

5 Now the world will be constrained To believe in Christ our King; Thousands, millions be converted, Round the earth his praises ring; Blessed day! O joyful hour! Praise the Lord ­his name we bless; Send thy kingdom, Lord, with pow’r, Fill the world with righteousness.

From the “Love and Union” section of

The Christian Hymn-Book, compiled and published at the request of the Miami Christian Conference. By B. W. Stone and Tho: Adams. First Edition. Georgetown, Ky: N. L. Finnell, 1829.

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The Stone-Adams hymnal did not have accompanying musical notation. “Words-only” hymnals were the standard of that day and even after the Civil War. Though a few tunes work with these words, I think “Nettleton” fits best.  Also, the language of this hymn is quite comparable in places to the words most often identified with the tune “Nettleton”, namely “O Thou Fount of Every Blessing…”  One tip for singers: on stanza 5, if you are singing it to Nettleton, you will want to pronounce ‘constrained’ with two syllables, as in ‘contrain-ed.’

Here it on YouTube:

fa sol la

One of the highlights of our Stalcup Seminar for Congregational Historians was the sacred harp singing Thursday night.  The Harpeth Valley Sacred Harp Singers treated us to a fine program.  And… this being my first singing, I really loved it.  If you are not familiar with sacred harp, check out their website above.  You’ll especially want to poke around fasola.org.  I characterize sacred harp as acapella bluegrass.  It is soulful music…close to the bone as they say.   It is music for singers, not listeners.  It is certainly not performance-oriented: it is highly participatory and the style is intentionally accessible for those of us with (so-called) untrained voices.  If you haven’t heard it before, best to listen to some online audio clips before you invest in a CD.

The next Harpeth Valley singing is November 8 from 9.30-2.30  at Immanuel Baptist Church in Nashville (the big Baptist church in Belle Meade).