Here is a recent conversation on singing that you might find interesting.  Kinda long, but persevere to the end!

Brothers,

First of all, we're not selling anything! :-)
Our church has a ministry called Heart & Voice to help congregations
learn to sing 4-part harmony...to improve our praise of Almighty God.
Toward that end, we are producing learning tracks for psalms and hymns
in SATB format with full-mix so all the parts can be heard as you would
sing them. If any of you have a list of psalms or hymns you would like
to teach your congregations, we will consider producing the 5 tracks for
each song. H&V has a learning track specialist helping us produce the
audio files. He has given us a steep discount: $50 per song. His usual
price is $100. If you send us a donation to cover the learning track
production, that would be great! The songs will go on our website for
all to share. You can hear a sample here: www.heartandvoice.weebly.com

Blessings,

Pastor Brian L. Penney
Christ Covenant Church
Copiague, NY

First response...

How does singing in 4-part harmony "improve our praise of Almighty God"?

T.B.
Immanuel CRC
Burbank, IL

My reply....
Greetings T.B.

It has been my experience that not everyone in a congregation has the
"gift" of singing the soprano part for the ladies, or the tenor part for
the men. I used the word "improve" to mean finding the part that fits
your voice range...your gift, if you will...that may help congregations
sing more skillfully to the Lord. The folks who have gone through our
singing schools have testified to that.

Blessings,

Brian Penney
Christ Covenant Church
Copiague, NY

And next...
But does it matter that one can sing "skilfully?"  I think not.
 
D.B.
Lynwood [IL] URC

Excellent reply....
Dear All,

The Psalm settings and hymns in our Psalter Hymnal and most other hymnals are intended to be sung in four part harmony. The vocal range of the settings we have makes them difficult to sing if you only sing the melody. You will note that several of the selections in the PH state "May be sung in unison". This implies that the tonal range is suitable for all to sing the melody line rather than the harmonies if the pastor so states before the song is sung. The vocal range is also a factor that separates our hymnody from other, less musical, forms in use today. Today's praise choruses are a manifestation of musical "dumming down" in the same way that today's modern translations and paraphrases of scripture cater to a limited language facility.

Our music should be the best we can offer our God. Instruction in singing harmony, "reading" music if you will, would improve the praise we offer our God but would also improve the appreciation of the words sung by the congegation. I will use a dirty word here but I believe in it with all my heart. Better singing will instill an emotional response of reverence and awe in the presence of our God that is lacking in much of the singing in our churches.

I am guilty of blaming worship space acoustics, the organ and other factors for the singing in some of our churches including my own but the thing offered here, which I consider entirely appropriate for this list, would do more for our worship and our people than better instruments and spaces.

A Son of Korah,
M.N.
Elder
Community URC, Schererville, IN

And my addition...
In Ecclesiastes 9:10 and Colossians 3:23 we are urged to do things "with
all your might" and "heartily, as to the Lord". Psalm 33:1-3 indicates a
joyful skill musically. If our singing in worship, whether unison or in
parts, is to be a pleasing offering of praise and thanks to our God, why
would we be content to offer something less than skillful? Granted each
congregation has its skill level, as does each individual. Why not
strive to offer our best? Why not try to improve? We could muddle
through, putting no effort into improving, but that seems a poor
option. Certainly we would want a decent level of skill in the pianist
or organist, as well as the choir (if you have one), why not the
congregation of the Lord?

Brian Penney
Christ Covenant Church (CREC)
Copiague, NY

Where is this going....?
Brian

There were these Old twin ladies in a church that I used to go to that when they sang were so off key and thier voices were strained. They were horrible on a talent level. They would have gotten buzzed in a heartbeat on America's got talent.But I beleive God was more pleased to hear them than he was to hear the morman tabernacle choir in all its splender. Because these ladies sung with all thier might and heartily as to the Lord. They definitly sang from the heart.

My original post was not to criticize the heart and soul ministry but I beleive the phrase improve our worship was an unfortunate one. The implication being that one key and good voices improve the quality of our worship. These ladies offer something less than skilfull to the average human, but I beleive it was beautiful noise To God because it was from the heart.

I think to improve our worship is also unfortunate because in Isa it says Our best works are like filthy rags to the Lord.

T.B.
Immanuel CRC
Burbank, IL

Filthy rags...?
T.B.

You'll get no argument from me concerning those who struggle to sing.
They offer up their best with the gifts God has given...or withheld.
:-) My point is that there is always room for improvement, and I bet
the twins would be the first to admit that, since they sang from the
heart. However most folks can carry a tune, and even those who think
they can't, with a little practice can do better. We're not expecting
perfection...that awaits us...nonetheless, our "best works" are not
filthy rags, but thankfully sanctified offerings which are acceptable
through Jesus Christ. Our hope is in Christ, we are no longer alienated
from the Father, but received in the Beloved...our singing, too.

Blessings,

Brian Penney
Christ Covenant Church (CREC)
Copiague, NY 11726

Focus, please.....
Are we loosing focus here a little?

Would you hold the same loose level of standard to preaching? "Well if the
preacher means well and is from the heart then he doesn't have to practice
or study".

Wanting to improve the congregation in how they sing does not necessitate a
snooty attitude or an unwelcoming environment.

My 2 cents...

D.E.
Member, University Reformed Church
East Lansing, MI

Now where....?
Mr Penney,
 
Then please explain Isaiah 64:6, in light of your "filthy rags" comment.  I do believe Heidelberg has something to say about that as well.
 
D.B.
Lynwood [IL] URC

Good works....
D.B.

We are talking about  Christians singing, those justified in Christ.
So if our singing the praises of our God is a "good work", we're in the
realm of sanctification, are we not? The Belgic at Article 24 says,
"These works, as they proceed from the good root of faith, are
acceptable in the sight of God, forasmuch as they are all sanctified by
His grace." How are works done in faith "filthy rags"? Isaiah 64:6
speaks of the confession of a covenant people acknowledging that their
sins are the reason for the divine rebukes through the Chaldeans. Even
their "righteousnesses" are corrupt. I think in the context of the
passage we are not talking about works done in faith, by the help of the
Holy Spirit, but rather the many rebellions of the people as they
"grieved His Holy Spirit" (63:10).

What Q/A in the Heidelberg did you have in mind?

Brian Penney
Christ Covenant Church (CREC)
Copiague, NY 11726

Grand finale...
D.B. wrote:
> But does it matter that one can sing "skilfully?" I think not.

Because the Lord commands us to sing, and singing requires skill, I
think to sing with less skill is to sing less; to sing hardly well is to
hardly sing. This is no reason to think the Lord is not merciful to
those of His creatures who can merely lisp--some of whom sing in our
congregation--but it is to affirm that He made us to really sing, and
that He will enable us to do so once again in glory (Rev. 5; 14:3;
15:3). Our congregation has revived its choir for this reason--to teach
and encourage the whole congregation to sing.

That it is the Lord's good command to sing is beyond dispute:

Psalm 30:4 *Sing* praises to the LORD, O you his saints

Psalm 92:1 It is *good* to give thanks to the LORD, to *sing* praises to
your name, O Most High;

Psalm 147:1 Praise the LORD! For it is *good* to *sing* praises to our
God; for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting.

Is not artistic skill God's gift, and does God not call us to use those
skills when they are required in the elements of worship which He commands?

Exodus 36:2 And Moses *called* Bezalel and Oholiab and every craftsman
in whose mind the LORD had *put* *skill*, everyone whose heart stirred
him up to come to do the work.

1 Chronicles 28:21 And behold the divisions of the priests and the
Levites for all the service of the house of God; and with you in all the
work will be every willing man who has *skill* for *any kind of
service*; also the officers and all the people will be wholly at your
command.

That singing requires skill is self-evident, but is also manifest in
scripture:

2 Chronicles 30:21-22
21 And the people of Israel who were present at Jerusalem kept the Feast
of Unleavened Bread seven days with great gladness, and the Levites and
the priests praised the LORD day by day, *singing* with all their might
to the LORD. 22 And Hezekiah spoke encouragingly to all the Levites who
showed *good skill* in the service of the LORD.

Psalm 137:2-6
2 On the willows there we hung up our lyres.
3 For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth,
saying, "Sing us one of the songs of Zion!"
4 How shall we *sing* the LORD's song in a foreign land?
5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its *skill*!
6 Let my *tongue stick* to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember
you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!

1 Samuel 16:17-18
17 So Saul said to his servants, "Provide for me a man who can *play
well* and bring him to me."
18 One of the young men answered, "Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse
the Bethlehemite, who is *skillful in playing*, a man of valor, a man of
war, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence, and the LORD is with
him."

1 Chronicles 25:5-7
5 All these were the sons of Heman the king's seer, according to the
promise of God to exalt him, for God had given Heman fourteen sons and
three daughters.
6 They were all under the direction of their father in the music in the
house of the LORD with cymbals, harps, and lyres for the service of the
house of God. Asaph, Jeduthun, and Heman were under the order of the king.
7 The number of them along with their brothers, who were *trained in
singing* to the LORD, all who were *skillful*, was 288.

2 Chronicles 34:12 The Levites, all who were *skillful* with
instruments of music,

Proverbs 22:29
29 Do you see a man *skillful* in his work? He will stand before
*kings*; he will not stand before obscure men.

Our congregation may be obscure, but our King is not. So,

1 Shout for joy in the LORD, O you righteous! Praise *befits* the upright.
2 Give thanks to the LORD with the lyre; make melody to him with the
harp of ten strings!
3 *Sing* to him a new song; *play skillfully* on the strings, with
*loud* shouts.

Psalm 33:1-3

In Christ,

Tim Black
Pastor, /Caney Orthodox Presbyterian Church <http://caneyopc.org>/, 206
N. Vine St, Caney, KS 67333