Sufjan quotes John Wesley on Singing

sufjan_stevens_2012_credit-denny_renshaw-e1349795903311A few weeks back my wife and I caught the Sufjan Xmas show extravaganza or as Sufjan dubbed it “The Sirfjam Stephanapolous Christmas Sing-A-Long Seasonal Affective Disorder Spectacular Music Pageant Variety Show Disaster” at the Haw River Ballroom in NC.

When we arrived the greeters handed us a little songbook for the evening and included on the front was a great quote from John Wesley (founder of Methodism and brother to the famous hymnodist Charles Wesley).

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Sing lustily and with 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 its being heard, then when you sung the songs of Satan.”

Since I’ve been seeing people quote this on the twittersphere I thought I would include some links to exploring John’s thoughts on singing more fully.  The note above is actually #4 of a list of 7 suggestions from John Wesley for Directions for Singing in Worship’ published in his “Select Hymns, 1761″…and often reprinted in methodist hymnals today.  While the 1761 collection is not included, this website at Duke is a fabulous resources for exploring the curation work of John and the hymn writing of Charles.

From John Wesley’s Select Hymns, 1761

I. Learn these tunes before you learn any others; afterwards learn as many as you please.

2. Sing them exactly as they are printed here, without altering or mending them at all; and if you have learned to sing them otherwise, unlearn it as soon as you can.

3. Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a single degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up, and you will find it a blessing.

4. Sing lustily and with 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 its being heard, then when you sung the songs of Satan.

5. 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.

6. Sing in time. Whatever time is sung be sure to keep with it. Do not run before nor stay behind it; but attend close to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can; and take care not to sing too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from us, and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.

7. Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve here, and reward you when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.

If you want to geek out here is a longer paper exploring this list in Methodist history and practice of congregational singing. – PDF

John Wesley’s, “Directions for Singing”: Methodist Hymnody as an expression of Methodist Beliefs in Thought and Practice. by Martin V. Clarke

One thought on “Sufjan quotes John Wesley on Singing

  1. Great reminder! I’ve used Wesley’s rules for singing when coaching choirs, but they were meant for and are still needed for the congregation. Needed badly! Thanks!

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