Why We Sing

My favorite hymnal (sorry, it’s not the UMH) was compiled by Benjamin Franklin White and published in 1844. It is titled “The Sacred Harp” and its name refers to the oldest and purest God-given instrument in the world – the human voice. Have you ever stopped to think that you carry around an instrument in your body 24 hours a day? It doesn’t cost anything, it is almost weightless, it is relatively simple to maintain, and it is arguably the most beautiful instrument in the world. String instruments were designed to mimic the lyricism and tone of the human voice and yet they cost a fortune. Yours is just as good if not better, and its free!

How often do you have an opportunity to sing with other people? You can sing with the Delaware Choral Society every week but it will cost you dues. You can sing karaoke at the bar but it’s not so good for your liver or perhaps your reputation. In our relatively small community, the only caveat-free singing opportunity I can think of is Sunday morning worship. On Sunday mornings you can come and become a part of a large chorus of worshipers, accompanied by one of our city’s finest pipe organs. In addition to this, you have the opportunity to partake in one of our country’s oldest musical traditions – Wesleyan hymnody. Many of the hymns we sing on Sunday mornings are the very same hymns that were sung 200 years ago in places like Barratt’s Chapel in Frederica. No other institution in our region, religious or otherwise, enjoys such a rich and well-preserved musical tradition.

Singing also serves as an expression of our deepest feelings. This after all is the reason why we love music and art, because it causes us to feel. Some argue that we should only sing in praise of God. I wouldn’t wholly disagree, but I offer a simple and humble supposition, that perhaps God receives the greatest thanks when we sing what is in our hearts. Sometimes we sing from joy and sometimes we sing from sorrow. I believe it is important to sing openly from what we feel inside because it is what our voices do naturally – it is what they were designed to do. Some churches tell us not to trust our feelings because they belong to worldly desires. Feelings, however, are an essential part of our humanity.  Benjamin Britten wrote a marvelous piece set to the words of Christopher Smart, where in one movement he considers the faith of cats in their natural rituals of devotion:

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For is this done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For he knows that God is his Saviour.
For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.

As the poem suggests, we all praise God in our own way, and it is a naturally occurring ritual in our human existence to sing. We were made to sing and we are meant to feel something meaningful by it. So the next time you sing a hymn in church, or a song with your kids, or a tune with the radio, think for a moment about the gift of music and the gift of your instrument. Enjoy music and singing as you enjoy life. I believe it is what God intended.

-Dr. James Wilson

Comments are closed.