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1761 : JOHN WESLEY’S ‘DIRECTIONS FOR SINGING’

John Wesley (1703-1791) included his ‘Directions for Singing’ in the publication Select Hymns which appeared in 1761. They were intended to guide the singing of congregations to render correctly hymns in services. Wesley’s directions are an indication of how important hymn singing was to the early Methodist church. But they also show that as hymn singing was a relatively new form of religious expression: congregations needed guidance on how to render them effectively and most importantly to keep together. Here are some of Wesley’s points:

1. Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up, and you will it a blessing.
2. 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 ashamed of its being heard, than when you sung the songs of Satan.
3. 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.
4. Sing in time. Whatever time is sung, be sure to keep with it. Do not run before, nor stay behind it; but attend closely to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can: And take care you sing not too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from among us, and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.
5. 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 you heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually: So shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve of here, and reward when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.

The featured picture is of the John Wesley statue at the New Room, Bristol.

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