Music and the Revival

By: Robert J. Wells

Music should occupy a place of great importance in every revival. From the standpoint of the program it is, of course, second only to the evangelistic message in importance. If the musical program is to be truly effective, there are a number of very important matters which need to be kept in mind. I would like to consider these under four different heads.

1. The musicians.
2. The type of music to use.
3. The musical program.
4. The purpose of music in a revival.

I. The Musicians
The musical staff for a revival should consist of the song leader and soloist, one or two pianists, and whenever possible, a choir.

1. The Song Leader and Soloist
The song leader is to have complete direction of the entire musical program in the campaign, subject always to the evangelist. Since this has such an important relation to the message of the evangelist, it is important that the evangelist be given first consideration in the selection of the song leader. Usually the evangelist will have a song leader with whom he regularly works, and who will then, naturally, understand his methods and desires better than anyone else. In all such cases the evangelist should be
permitted to use the person with whom he has worked previously. Of course, when an evangelistic party is invited to conduct a meeting, that solves the problem of who should be the song leader immediately and automatically.

In every case the song leader should be a consecrated Christian, one who will have a spiritual approach to the problems with which he will have to do. He should be capable of leading a bright, happy, lively, song service, and of organizing the musical program in such a way as to properly prepare the congregation for the ministry of the evangelist. The ideal song leader, of course, is one who can capably direct a choir, and present acceptable vocal solos in addition to leading the congregational singing. It is not always essential that the song leader be a soloist, but it is essential that he be capable of assembling and satisfactorily directing a large chorus choir. When the song leader is selected, he should be given complete direction of the musical program without any possible interference, subject only to the direction of the evangelist.

2. The Pianist
I use the word, “pianist” rather than “organist” advisedly, because for all practical purposes the piano is a much more acceptable and adaptable instrument for evangelistic work than the organ. Whenever possible, the piano, or better, two pianos, should be used in preference to the organ. In my judgment if an organ is used along with the piano, the pianist should take the lead over the organist. Without going into the various pros and cons involved, I think that possibly every gospel musician would make the
same recommendation.

Because the pianist occupies a position of distinct leadership in the campaign, he or she should always be a consecrated Christian, and should always understand that he is under the direction not only of the song leaders but of the evangelist as well. Naturally, the pianist should be able to read music readily and accurately, and should whenever possible be experienced in the art of accompanying. Since the requirements for a pianist in an evangelistic campaign are different from those for almost any other kind of meeting, it would be well if the pianist had a definitely evangelistic style. Then of course, it would be most helpful if gospel choruses and hymns could be played readily and spontaneously without needing the assistance of a song book.

There should be an agreement made between the music committee and the pianist which will assure the song leader that the pianist will be on hand well in advance of every service, and it is always best to use the same pianist throughout the campaign. Whenever it is possible to avoid changing from one to the other, this avoidance will prove to be of great benefit to the musical program of the campaign.

3. The Choir
By all means, when it is humanly possible, there should be a choir in every revival campaign. From the standpoint of the musical program there can be no better possible contribution than the singing of a great chorus choir. Aside from its effectiveness in presenting special gospel numbers, it will lend a distinct lift to the congregational singing and add to the general spirit and enthusiasm of the meeting.

It is sometimes difficult to accommodate a choir on the platforms of some of the modern auditoriums. When this is a problem the committee will find that it is well worth whatever trouble and expense may be involved in providing a special arrangement for a platform of sufficient size to accommodate the choir.

So far as the size of the choir is concerned, it seems that the most satisfactory arrangement is to have one in the choir for every ten in the audience. This would mean that for an expected audience of five hundred, there should be fifty voices in the choir. For an audience of one thousand there should be a hundred voices in the choir. For an audience of two thousand there should be two hundred voices in the choir, etc. This ratio is suggested as a norm. Obviously, if you could have a larger choir than this ratio would suggest, it would be very acceptable indeed, but sometimes that large a choir could not be enlisted, or seating space might not be available.

Preparations for the development of the choir should be made well in advance of the revival meetings so as to assure a good sized, capable choir on the platform for the very first meeting of the campaign. To this end I would like to make three suggestions.

First, that the chairman of the music committee or some other delegated person make the rounds of the various choirs in the churches that are cooperating in the campaign at the time of their rehearsals for the purpose of presenting for not more than five minutes the campaign plans for a large chorus choir, and for the purpose of enlisting as many of these choir members as is possible. Before visiting the choir rehearsal, it would be well to secure a list of the choir members, and then to check the members who agree to sing in the large campaign chorus choir. If this work is well done, there will very likely be an adequate number of choir members signed up to fill the platform from the very first night on.

Secondly, I would suggest that following this work, a letter be drafted and mailed, first of all, to all who are on the list of the various choirs who have not pledged their cooperation. This letter should be for the purpose of inviting their cooperation which should be followed up by a telephone call for the purpose of getting the definite committal. In cases where there are no telephones, a self-addressed and stamped envelope or postcard should be enclosed, with the request that they check in a place properly designated their willingness or unwillingness to cooperate in singing in the great chorus choir.

After waiting a sufficient time for those who have received this letter to reply, then a second letter should be drafted and sent as a reminder to all those who have agreed to have a part in the campaign.

Thirdly, I would suggest that in the general announcement made in the various churches or at any pre-campaign rallies, a hearty invitation be extended to all who would like to sing in the campaign choir whether they are members of their regular church choirs or not. In addition, those who are members of church choirs should invite their friends, and it will generally be found that people who sing in churches that will not be cooperating in the campaign, will come and have a part simply for the privilege of singing in the great chorus choir.

If at all possible, it would be well to plan for one or two mass choir rehearsals prior to the opening of the campaign so that the choir members will get acquainted with each other and become accustomed to singing together. The best choir director available should be secured from the local community for this purpose. Naturally, immediately upon the arrival of the song leader, he will take over complete responsibility for the choir. He will need the assistance of a choir secretary who should be selected by the music committee for the purpose of taking the roll at each service and distributing and collecting any special choir music.

Most song leaders like to have a special choir rehearsal at the close of each evening service that will last twenty to thirty minutes. At this rehearsal preparations are generally made for the special number or numbers which will be sung on the following evening.

I. The Type of Music to Use
I think, first of all, it should be emphasized that the music used in an evangelistic campaign should be always and only evangelistic. The formal old hymns of the church are usually quite definitely out of place in an evangelistic campaign. In their place there should be bright, lively gospel songs, with greater emphasis on the old favorites than the new ones, because frequently sinners are attracted by the strains or the words of an old gospel song they used to sing in Sunday School or hear their mothers sing back home.

Perhaps it would be well to say here that choir music should be the kind especially calculated to produce results in a revival campaign. Obviously, anthems and classical numbers are entirely out of place. The choir should sing gospel songs or special gospel song arrangements, always keeping in mind the importance of singing a song with a message.

In the smaller campaigns conducted in local churches it may be possible to use the regular church hymnal providing such hymnal contains a goodly number of popular gospel songs. But for larger campaigns, it is advisable to secure special evangelistic songbooks. If possible, they should be
provided on the basis of one for every two or three in attendance, and they are comparatively inexpensive when purchased in lots of one hundred or more. Great care should be taken in the selection of such a songbook.

II. The Musical Program
In a few brief moments let us give attention to the average musical program from the beginning of the meeting to the conclusion so that we may consider some matters of vital importance in connection with each part of the program. The musical program should begin with the piano prelude and this prelude should begin not less than five minutes before the time for the service to begin. Sometimes there will be an orchestra or band or some other musical group which could be used as a special feature in place of the piano prelude. This will have the effect of calling people to their seats and quieting the congregation, thus preparing them for the service which is to follow. Here again, classical and secular numbers are utterly out of the question. Nothing can be more appropriate than good gospel songs.

Appropriate variations may be played, but the more familiar the song, the more effective the prelude.

Secondly, there is the congregational singing. This should be lively and bright, but never light. The congregational song service is not a time for levity and foolishness, but it is a time which should be used to the utmost for the purpose of creating the proper spiritual atmosphere for the rest of the program. A high level of dignity should be maintained by the song leader without distracting from the freedom and enthusiasm which should naturally characterize this period of the service.

Thirdly, the choir number should consist of a gospel song, not an anthem, something lively, and always with a message calculated to bring blessing and help to those in the congregation.

Fourthly, a word is in order here about special musical numbers. To begin with, the song leader should have complete and final say concerning whether or not he wishes to use special musical talent on the program, although his arrangements in such matters will naturally be in keeping with the standards and plan of the evangelist, who is held responsible under God for the leadership of the whole campaign. It is never advisable to press the song leader in this matter, but he should be given complete liberty to use
or not to use special musical talent, regardless of how acceptable that talent might be. No talent should be used simply for the purpose of providing entertainment.

Fifthly, there will usually be the offertory played by the pianist or the pianists. This again, should be a gospel song arrangement, with or without variations. This should never be a classical or secular piece. Since the time when the offertory is played is very close to the time when the evangelist arises to speak, the offertory should have a very definite part in preparing the atmosphere for the evangelist’s message.

Sixthly, just before the evangelist speaks, and perhaps also earlier in the program, there will be gospel solos. If the song leader is a soloist, he should sing these solos. They should be purposeful songs in keeping with the message of the evangelist. As much as possible, they should contain a real appeal to the lost, or to Christians, if the message is to be directed to them. Songs of testimony and praise will fail to assist the evangelist here, and for the most part are not conducive to effective results in the evangelistic type of program.

Following the message there will be the invitation. The song selected will naturally depend upon the message and the invitation of the evangelist. It should always be sung brightly and should never drag. Sometimes an invitation song sounds more like a funeral dirge, and consequently is of little or no benefit in inviting people to come to the Lord Jesus Christ.

III. The Purpose of Music in a Revival
The primary purpose of music in a revival is not to attract, or entertain, although of course good music will do both of these things. The essential purpose is to prepare the way for the message of the evangelist. Every phase of the musical program should be carefully planned with this in mind.
Beginning with the prelude, continuing through the congregational singing, choir numbers, the special music, and the solo, every song and special number should be offered as a part of a well-organized program calculated to develop the proper atmosphere for the message and appeal of the evangelist which will follow. If this is kept in mind at all times, the musical program will be profoundly influential in producing the spirit of revival and will make a tremendous contribution toward bringing the lost to the Saviour.

(The above material was published by How to Have a Revival, Sword of the Lord Publishers, 1946.)

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