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Column: Whatever happened to singing from hymnals?
Harris Blackwood
Harris Blackwood

I don’t know if God watches the 11 p.m. news, but if he does, I suspect he is disappointed in the behavior of some of his children.

Sadly, they are killing one another, robbing and stealing and causing physical harm to others.

Those of us on the sidelines have an insatiable appetite for stories that fit in the old adage, “If it bleeds, it leads.”

I took a little sabbatical from all of the murder and mayhem the other night when I attended a concert by the Young Singers of Northeast Georgia. This is a group of home-schooled students who got together three years ago. Since that time, the group has more than doubled in size.

They were fresh faced, nicely dressed and enthusiastic as they sang a program of both religious and secular songs. It made me smile, and I feel like God did, too.

A nice woman named Mary McMichael brought these young people together. They come to weekly rehearsals from as far north as Alto and as far south as Lawrenceville. In full disclosure, I need to tell you that Mary’s husband, Lee, has been a friend of mine for more than 40 years. That was how I snagged an invitation.

The group opened their program with a sparkling rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” What followed was an assortment of music styles, ranging from spirituals to an anthem called, “Why We Sing.” These young people sing to offer praise to God.

There were some fun selections of some toe-tapping tunes, like Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing).”

A group of boys sang Paul McCartney’s “When I’m Sixty-Four.” An assemblage of girls sang “The Swing,” which is based on a poem of the same name by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Lucas Black and Kimberly Bateman did a four-hand duet arrangement of Rachmaninoff’s “Italian Polka.” I thanked Lucas’ mother for fostering his love for piano. She said she occasionally has to pull him away from it.

Choral music is hurting a bit right now. Some churches have done away with what we used to call graded choirs or choirs at all. They have been replaced by “praise teams,” an adult ensemble that sings up-tempo arrangements of songs.

The downside of all that is a lot of people don’t know the songs or hymns anymore. We have all but eliminated the church music degree and replaced it with something called worship leadership. Whatever you call it, we now have churches with a lot of people in the congregation who don’t sing a word during the service. We have packed away the church hymnal. You remember the hymnal — it’s the one you always confused with the pew Bible, if you still have one of those. But again, who needs a Bible when you flash the words on a screen.

Church music has become a mixture of singing about Jesus and singing along with Mitch Miller and the gang. Mitch, for you young whippersnappers, had a bouncing ball on the TV screen to help the viewer sing along. The songs were standard fare from the Great American Songbook, such as Joe Young, Ray Henderson and Sam M. Lewis’ number, “Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue.”

“But could she love, could she woo?

Could she, could she, could she coo?

Has anybody seen my girl?”

Some of the songs by the young singers of Northeast Georgia were from the Mitch Miller era. They still sounded great and the young singers dusted them off and made them shine.

If you have a young student who might be a good fit for the group, auditions are now open for the next season. Contact marymcmichael.music@gmail.com. 

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns publish weekly.