The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Moved to sing

The greater delight is in pleasing God through our unity of voice

In 1900 most American households had at least one musical instrument. Sales of recorded music were negligible, even though the invention of the phonograph was already 20 years old. People bought sheet music. Families gathered around the piano at night.

One of the storied photos of my childhood has my family gathered around the upright piano in the living room. Dad is at the keyboard; we kids are the songsters. That mid-1960s photo was taken at the tail end of an era when households regularly engaged in the practice of making music. By the late 1950s, professional musicians were generating most of the nation's music.

The emergence of technological devices that play back recorded music did more to shrink peoples' confidence in singing than almost anything else. In many churches, singing has become something hired or gifted professionals do. Others consider singing the work of "performing" choirs. These shifts help make singing seem like an external option for our lives rather than an internal component of being human. Shrinking numbers of Christians view singing as an intrinsic part of a breathing faith — that expression of human emotion for which spoken words never seem to be enough. Singing is now "an extra."

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