Janie B. Cheaney – Commanded to sing

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, May 27th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. WORLD commentator Janie B. Cheaney says even in these times, everybody sing!

JANIE B. CHEANEY, COMMENTATOR: Aside from the convenience of attending church in pajamas, I don’t know of anyone who enjoys online worship services. Excellent teaching can be heard all over the internet, but there’s no substitute for congregational singing.

Early in March, inspiring videos of quarantined Italians serenading each other from their balconies made the rounds. Viva Italia! How fitting for such a musical culture to respond in song!

But all cultures are musical by nature. Music is one of God’s gifts to man, and back when most of it was homemade, every nation had its songs and styles. Two hundred years ago, frontier congregations and community choirs learned a cappella sight-singing through shape notes. Work crews, plantation slaves, and street vendors sang. Everyone participated in music.

Then the phonograph and radio brought Carnegie Hall into every American home. At a twist of the dial, families could listen to the world’s best orchestras, composers, and singers. Over time, amateurs surrendered to the pros: with your favorite music available at Tower Records, why bother to make it yourself? And once iPods and phones delivered the whole spectrum right to our ears, every man became his own concert curator.

But a funny thing happened. The easy access to recorded music has made the general public less musically literate. Check out a YouTube video called “Why Is Modern Music So Awful?” It details how ubiquity bred mediocrity in the pop-music scene. And, some would say, in the church-music scene.

I grew up in a denomination that practiced a cappella singing. Not only did we hear each other’s voices; we heard four-part harmony. Just about everyone participated, even those voices that were mediocre at best, and in a large-enough congregation the effect could be inspiring. In memory I can still hear those basses punching out a counterpoint and altos embroidering the melody line.

The “I’m just not musical” excuse won’t wash. Everyone—except perhaps the tone-deaf few—is musical. You may never have played an instrument, but you possess one, created by God himself. The human voice travels easily and needs only routine maintenance. Which do you think God would rather hear: the worship band, or the voices he made? Could one song per worship service, for instance, be sung without instruments? And could one evening service per quarter be devoted, not just to singing, but learning to sing better? In harmony?

God himself sings, and the universe joins in. The reference in Job 38:7 about morning stars singing together for joy is not just a metaphor; musical frequencies occur in space. The “music of the spheres” accompanies our voices raised in praise. Rather than leaving it to the worship team or choir, every Christian is commanded to sing. Once we’re together again, couldn’t we become a bit more intentional about it?

I’m Janie B. Cheaney.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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One comment on “Janie B. Cheaney – Commanded to sing

  1. Bob Baker says:

    I typically enjoy your commentary, but was quite disappointed with this one. It sounded far too much like the previously laid-to-rest hymns vs. contemporary music. I enjoy hymns, I’m classically trained, a former worship pastor, and have sung with a professional opera company. But I find it theologically dangerous to suggest that one instrument or form of music is more God-favored than another. Yes, He created the human voice, but He also created other instruments through His children — children whom He gifted with creativity to use in worship and praise of Him. Which instrument do I think God would rather hear? I don’t believe He ever expresses that in Scripture. However, He does tell us (repeatedly) that it’s a matter of the heart. The tone-deaf rap of a Believer who is genuinely and authentically giving their all for Christ (accompanied by lo-fi beats created on a Mac) … now that’s music to God’s ears.

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