John Wesley Has Some Strong Opinions About Singing–Namely, You’re Doing It Wrong

The other hymnal hasn’t come yet, unless it’s trapped out in the mailbox where it will remain until the driveway is passable by foot.  But this hymnal is the one I remember from my childhood. The Methodists have had the “new” one now for ages and it does fix a lot of the problems with this one, but I still love this one a lot.

When I was little, during the summers, the first hymn would be by request. You’d just shout out the hymn number and the first one the minister heard, that’s what you sang.

“Old 92” was invariably a congregation favorite. “Amazing Grace” is in the new hymnal, too, of course, but it’s not “Old 92” any more. Though, it would be fun to go into a church and shout “92” and see who started singing.

I didn’t remember that 93 was “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” but it tickles me that it is. That is still one of my favorite hymns

I remember at one church, a guy loved 88. For some reason I had it in my head that 88 was “The Old Rugged Cross” which was, hands down, my favorite hymn as a small child.  Ha. If you wonder how I became the gal I am today, consider me at five years old loving “The Old Rugged Cross.” I would cry about it, I loved it so much.

But, no, 88 is “Tell Me the Stories of Jesus.” I’ll have to ask my dad, but I feel like I remember that we kids used to march in waving our palms to this song on Palm Sunday.

But the best part is that, at the front of the hymnal, are John Wesley’s Directions for Singing. They’re all good, but let me draw your attention to directions four and five, which are the best, for reasons which will be obvious in a second.

IV. Sing lustily and with a good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of it being heard, than when you sung the songs of Satan.

V. Sing modestly. Do not bawl, so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony; but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound.

Yes, sing both lustily and modestly. But is there a better sentence than “Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of it being heard, than when you sung the songs of Satan”? I almost want to make that the epigraph to my book.

8 thoughts on “John Wesley Has Some Strong Opinions About Singing–Namely, You’re Doing It Wrong

  1. I like the part of his instructions where he says to sing ALL verses. I enjoy pointing that out to choir directors who tend to like to pick and choose the verses. I wonder if JW ever heard “Just As I Am”, with its umpteen verses. He might have had a different command. :)

  2. Oh, the drama of a new hymnal!

    I’m Lutheran, and our new one came out a couple of years ago. It was years in the making, and partway through, the Missouri Synod dropped out.

    Good luck!

  3. The epigraph…so, who exactly would Satan be in your new formulation? I mean, if the voice is yours, wouldn’t Satan have to be the christian god?

  4. See?! This is exactly what I really love about it. It’s hard for me to explain why it’s perfect for the book, but it just feels right.

    On the other hand, I don’t want publishers to look at the book and think “Oh, this is for good Christian readers,” though it would be funny.

  5. I like knowing that other denominations had favorite songs-by-number too. Ask anyone who was raised in a C of C and chances are really good they’ll know what 728B* means.

    And yet I think I ever sang 728A one time. If I’d written that hymn, it would kinda piss me off.

    * This refers to older hymnals; I think they changed up all the numbers in the new one in the early 90s.

  6. Wait! But you have to tell us what 728B is! And, yeah, I was flipping through the hymnal thinking about how many songs I knew by heart and how many I had no idea about.

    Sucks to be the shitty hymn writers, that’s for sure.

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