Why Sing in Worship? A Reflection from Nigeria

Photo by Carol Smith
Directing the women’s choir at the 2012 Majalisa or annual meeting of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN-the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria). The women’s choir is accompanied by rhthym instruments like drums and gourds as well as instruments that use the reverberate sounds that can be made with clay pots.

In the midst of violence and distress in his nation, Zakariya Musa found time to write this reflection on the meaning of singing in church, and how music and praise bring hope. Musa works in communications for Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria) and is pursuing a degree in communications at the University of Maiduguri:

“Let them praise his name in the dance: let them sing praises unto him with the timbrel and harp” (Psalm 149:3, KJV).

Music is one of the things we admit in life on casual or serious occasions of human endeavor. Music, according to Webster’s University Dictionary, is “the art of arranging tones in an orderly sequence so as to produce a unified and continuous composition.” Researchers say music does not have any one concrete meaning, that it has different meanings for different people. For others, music is a hobby, a pastime.

The casual fan may learn about music, how to read music, how to sing, or how to play a musical instrument, but they do not have the all-encompassing passion a musician possesses. Music is a means of relaxation for some, while others simply enjoy listening to the sounds, melodies, and rhythms that music brings to their ears, minds, and hearts.

Singing is an accepted art form that is taught in most public and private schools. It can be a fun activity and a casual entertainment. To get engaged in music and singing requires fantastic coordination of fingers, hands, arms, lips, cheek, and facial muscles, in addition to control of the diaphragm, back, stomach, and chest muscles, which respond instantly to the sound the ear hears and the mind interprets.

The physical act of singing occurs as air passes through the larynx, throat, and mouth, and it’s interesting to note that vocal resonance in singing involves seven areas of the human body: chest, tracheal tree, larynx, pharynx, oral cavity, nasal cavity, and sinus.

Music is history. Music usually reflects the environment and times of its creation, often even the country of its origin. Music is physical education, especially among youth who would take it as fun.

Most of all music is art. It allows a human being to take all these dry, technically boring (but difficult) techniques, and use them to create emotion.

The history of singing goes back to the earliest recordings of mankind (as early as 800 B.C.) and songs are believed to have been used even before the development of modern languages. In Western culture, singers were often restricted to only singing in churches until the 14th century. But it has been in practice long time ago in Africa, even before the introduction of Christianity and Islam.

In Nigeria, for example, singing took the stage during festivals, weddings, group farming, while grinding, at burials, and other occasions.

What does singing mean to church?

I have developed an interest in knowing what singing means to churches, and what people say about music, since it dominates most of the times during church services where all worshipers are participating. Church groups such as choirs, the women’s fellowship, gospel teams, youth bands, and other groups present songs at church services. Could this be to arouse interest and pleasure?

Photo by Carol Smith
EYN women’s choir singing at 2012 Majalisa. The women’s choir of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria, is a striking and lively presence in worship services.

One pastor gave his testimony that he was convinced by the women’s fellowship singers on a good Sunday when the group sang in Hausa, “Bin Yesu Da Dadi” meaning “following Christ is nice,” backed by a traditional music instrument.

Many pastors, evangelists, deacons, and even church elders have passed through singing groups. Many have become preachers, church planters, and evangelists as a result of music or singing.

Some people see singing as part of church service. Song composers and instructors see it as an appropriate form or medium of worshiping and praising God, and as a medium of preaching the gospel. It removes boredom and makes the church service lively.

Youths see music and singing as a ministration, just as any other part of worship. It moves people, it connects them with God, and it brings liberty in worship. It prepares one’s heart to meet the Creator during the worship.

Today, youth sees churches that lack musical instruments as weak churches. This feeling has created conflict between youth and the elders in the church, to the extent of losing many youth from the so called weaker congregations to the congregations assumed to be stronger or more modern.

The power of singing in church cannot be overemphasized, because it means people are growing in the spiritual realm, feeling refreshed and liberated while singing. In many ways people tend to forget their sorrows. In Nigeria for instance, with the violence, killings, destructions, and threats, people open up joyfully together under the roof in worship when they sing.

We need to see music as part of worship and ministry. Appreciate and enhance music. Develop positive feelings about music and encourage those who are into it. Elders who see music as a modern thing need to accept the power of praise. The church should also be reminded not to forget their native songs and to emphasize their use to praise God, organize workshops for choristers and teach on the efficacy of singing praises to God, and encourage the youth by providing musical instrument for the church worship services.

— Zakariya Musa serves in communications for Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria).

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