A few weeks ago, I was asked to lead music for the dedication of our new Stake Center. As usual, I was asked to select only “familiar” hymns for the congregational singing. As usual, I selected two hymns from among the ten or so that never get rejected or changed by the Stake Presidency at the last minute. It made me sad. Sad because we have so many beautiful hymns that are becoming lost to us, sad because we are too afraid to sing joyfully together even if we make mistakes, sad because I am convinced that God knows more than 10 hymns and would like us to learn to sing with him.
There are good logistical reasons for picking hymns everyone can easily sing in Stake meetings, and I’m not questioning my Stake Presidency’s judgment in this matter (so please don’t feel compelled to defend them in the comments or call me to repentance–at least not about this one thing!). But I think there are simple things we can do to learn more hymns together. I suppose this post is a plea to choristers and Ward Music Chairs everywhere to consciously teach the “unfamiliar” hymns in their wards. This is how I do it when I get to be in charge in my ward:
Choose 4-5 hymns to learn during the year. Create a schedule so that each “new” hymn appears in the rotation 4-5 times. (If your ward doesn’t have a solid core of confident singers, it makes sense to do 3 hymns 5 or 6 times). Introduce each hymn about two months before you intend to have the congregation sing it. It should be in the organ prelude several times during those 2 months. Then feature it as a special musical number (or instrumental prelude, if that’s enough to get your ward to listen), preferably an instrumental one so that it’s just the tune people are concentrating on. Then have the ward choir or a soloist sing it 5 or 6 weeks later. (Don’t worry–only two people will notice that they’ve heard it recently). Then have the congregation sing it 4-6 weeks after that. And then again 8-10 weeks after that. People may notice that it’s coming up often, but it’s not often enough for them to get irritated. Then review it once more during the year, a few months after it was on the intensive learning schedule.
I’ve done this for years, and I believe it can be done with inspiration and sensitivity so that it is spiritually as well as intellectually and musically uplifting to a congregation. I think (although I have no experience with this) that a deliberate program of doing hymns this way could also be helpful in congregations where there are lots of new members, to help build a common musical vocabulary.