Who Turned Down My Music?
The sun beat upon my skin as the countryside breeze blew over my arm. The windows were down in my old F150 and Journey was cranked up on the radio. I was singing at the top of my lungs without a care in the world. My old truck slowly creaked to a stop as I approached a red light. The euphoria of the moment was quickly drowned out when a neighboring driver yelled, “Hey, man, turn that music down.”
Adjusting the Radio Dial
Some situations seem to be repetitive. Like when I was yelled at for my rendition of “Don’t Stop Believing,” some are instructing churches to turn down the music volume during their Sunday morning gathering. We cannot dismiss these arguments as complaints from old curmudgeons within the church, such as the argument that a lower volume of music emphasizes corporate singing. However, I’m not sold that the best way to encourage corporate singing is turning down instruments’ volume. I also believe Scripture prescribes a different narrative.
A Musical Interlude
The use of instruments throughout the Old Testament is often tied to celebration and a declaration of victory. We see a great example of this in Joshua 6, as the Israelites were called to march around the city for six days and on the seventh day to make “a long blast” with the ram’s horn and trumpet. Did Joshua give instruction to the Israelites to ensure that the instruments were not going to be played too loud? No, the instruments were supposed to be loud and accompanied by shouting as a declaration of God’s victory.
Again, when David called for the Ark of the Covenant to be moved to Jerusalem (1 Chron. 15), he instructed the Levites to “raise sounds of joy” and to “play loud cymbals.” The shouts and loud music were both a declaration of soli Deo salus (ie., salvation is through God alone) and a thanksgiving for all that God had done. Examples like these occur not only when the Ark of Covenant re-entered Jerusalem or when God defeated Jericho, but also throughout the Psalms.
A Song of Victory
The Psalms were written to be sung in corporate worship. Psalm 150 calls for believers to praise God “according to excellent greatness,” “with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals! Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!” Like a proclamation of victory, the people of God shouted and played instruments loudly to declare the wonderful things God had done. We see similar commands in several other Psalms as well (e.g., 33; 95; 98). Not all Psalms call for loud instruments and shouting, but our philosophy of music must allow room for it.
Many people who call for a lower volume of music do so to encourage the timid to sing out. However, coaxing timid singers out of hiding may not be accomplished by turning down the volume. True hope for the musically timid are songs that display Christ as victor.
What are some practical things then that can be done to help those who may be afraid to sing?
Hope for the Hiding
1) Instruments that guide and voices that surround: One source of vocal timidity is vocal confidence. Some people have a fear of singing, because they believe they have terrible voices. In situations like this turning down the volume may hinder congregational participation. Rather than lowering the volume, allow the louder instruments and the stronger voices within your congregation to help the timid.
2) Frequency: Another root cause of vocal timidity is a lack of familiarity with songs. If you want greater participation in congregational singing, play a song and keep playing it. Familiarity makes it easy for a bad vocalist to belt Journey songs in their car with the windows down. People naturally sing songs that they know and love. There is no need for volume instruction when the car windows are down.
3) A capella Arrangements: Planning parts or verses of songs to be sung as a capella is simple way to build vocal confidence. Generally if people are singing and the instruments from the song drop out, they keep singing.
Maybe greater participation in congregational singing is not found by turning a knob. Maybe it looks more like people shouting songs of victory to the one who has defeated sin and death.
Adam Holland is Teaching Pastor at Hope Church of Knoxville, TN. He has written two book Friendship Established and Frienship Redeemed. Adam is also the host of the podcast The Daily Brew.