Music Matters

January 2012


Keep Up the Good Work! Leading Congregational Singing that Maintains the Tempo...

Have you ever attended a church service where it seemed there was a musical battleground at work?  Possibly there is a critical mass of stronger-voiced congregation members either deprived of adequate sleep or caffeine, and determined to sing more slowly than the accompanist.  Sometimes, the congregation “wins” and the tempo slows with each successive verse. Similarly, you may have been in a service with a gifted keyboardist who is determined to test the congregation’s enunciation skills with a peppy, perky, potentially problematic pace.

Of course, I’m kidding about the speaker shortening the sermon (we know that speakers can only ADD to their remarks, never shorten, right?)  A lethargic tempo DOES create a dilemma for the speaker to try and wake up a group if their participation in singing hasn’t enlivened them.  And if the congregation feels the tempo has left them behind, they may be entering into worship angry and isolated.  Tempo matters!

There are two facets to maintaining a positive hymn tempo that invites the congregation to sing with inspiration that matches the character of the text. 

Picking the right tempo:

This topic is easy – because it is already covered in a great article archived in Music Matters for March 2007.  If I may add one thought, it would be for the accompanist to personally sing each hymn as part of practice and preparation for a service.  Two things should happen when doing this:

Providing authoritative leadership:

Armed with the assurance that YOU have the right tempo in mind, what can you do to keep people up to speed?  Here are a few ideas to try:

Are you looking for a New Year’s Resolution to challenge you musically in 2012?  Consider the goal of building skills by selecting tempos (plus registration, volume, character, etc.) that match the message and music of congregational hymns.  And then add some of these techniques to your practice repertoire.  Our music will be better and the congregation will be more open to the ministry of the spirit, thanks to YOUR leadership! 

--Blake West, EdD

If you have suggestions or ideas for future columns, please contact:

Jan Kraybill
Principal Organist
Community of Christ Headquarters
Independence, MO, USA


Pam Robison
Worship and Music Support Specialist
Community of Christ Headquarters
Independence, MO, USA