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Book review: Singing and Making Music by Paul Jones

August 23, 2007

What is one more book on music and the church? The area is admittedly becoming a kind of “burned over district” of the contemporary American church, and if this were a popularity contest, the conservatives are surely losing. For those whose sensibilities are still somewhat entrenched in tradition, Paul Jones’ 2006 title Singing and Making Music: Issues in Church Music Today (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2006) (Buy: Westminster|Amazon) will be a welcome volume containing not only an apologetic for conservative music but also a practical guide for how both large and small churches can get there.

Singing is written from the perspective of a conservative evangelical. Paul Jones is the organist and music director at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. His conservative approach to church music gives him cause enough to criticize contemporary trends, but still pause at providing strict rules of “who’s good and who’s bad.” He is confessional and Reformed, and insists that both testaments of the Bible as the best guide for the church’s music. Jones’ traditional perspective does not stunt his interest in the more recent quality compositions that flourish from the Christian tradition of sacred music. He divides the monograph into four larger sections, each with several individual chapters of their own: corporate worship, hymnody and psalmody, issues, composers and compositions. The book contains several examples from Hymns for a Modern Reformation, and includes in an appendix the Music Philosophy for Tenth Presbyterian Church.

The book is practical. Paul Jones constantly turns his suggestions for quality church music toward even the small congregation and suggests ways they can accomplish the high standards for which he has called. When employing music in worship, the church should have God as the sole object of its worship singularly in view, and therefore its music must be the highest possible quality. Yet he points the way toward obtaining this goal. For example, in his chapter “Hymns in Your Church,” Jones does not simply demand that churches become better acquainted with the great traditional church hymns, but adds suggestions for how they can introduce them. He devotes an entire chapter for guiding a church in upgrading their organ. His chapter on accompanying was worth reading, and he provides a helpful discussion of church service music. Other chapters are given to writing hymns and teaching music to children. After listing the high qualities of a music minister (musician, theologian-pastor, administrator, and teacher), he gives some suggestions for the seminaries and bible colleges for forming such candidates. Sometimes these suggestions still come across as rather ideal, but Jones should be applauded for not merely sniping away; he provides good constructive criticism.

In the book, Paul Jones also shows his understanding of music in the church to be biblical. This is not a book of technical exegesis or complex theology, but in many instances the case for a particular practice is grounded on principles taken from Scripture. The first two of his four main sections are the most biblical. From the Bible he argues for the use instruments in worship, the use of psalms, and why every Christian should sing, among others. His chapter on the “biblical hymns of James Montgomery Boice” is an explanation of how this late pastor of his patterned his poetry after the Holy Writ.

Jones shows in this book that he is also very traditional. He offers chapters against clapping and criticizes contemporary trends in worship at many points. The author expresses displeasure at many subjective arguments for traditional worship, and believes that church music should be judged good or bad by those who understand great music. An entire section of several chapters is devoted to expositing (in generally non-technical language) great composers of Christian sacred music, and to explaining what makes their works great. Jones in many chapters emphasizes the use of hymns in corporate worship, while passing some judgment on contemporary trends like altering tunes and texts (194-95). At the same time, his traditional viewpoint is informed; he notes the deficiencies in gospel hymns and other popular “hymns.” He quips, “Inclusion in a hymnal does not make a piece a hymn, nor does it make it worthy of use.” (279) His chapter “Luther and the Bar Song: The Truth, Please!” was informative and pleasurable reading (171-78). The first appendix, “Thoughts About Music,” is a “must read”; do not skip it simply because it is an appendix. It is the most important part of the book, and this reader wishes he could have several more chapters expounding on its subject matter.

One of the problems with writing a practical book for a broad audience covering a wide range of topics is that the problems and controversies cannot be dealt with in depth, and this is true of Singing and Making Music. The chapters are short and summarize the issues. One does not get the sense that the issues are being dealt with as thoroughly as they need to be. Conservatives will find much in this book with which they agree, but this is far from the funeral dirge for contemporary music. The book is intended to be broad, and so bows to the necessary limitations demanded by such a purpose.

While Jones ends up very traditional, one wonders how important these issues really are to him. He extols hymns and traditional music, and addresses the problems with contemporary worship, but the implications of his views could receive more attention. Perhaps the nature of the “metaphysics of music” could be more deeply probed and delineated. I would have liked to have seen him interact with the important writings on culture and Christianity’s relationship to it. The style of his writing also leaves a little to be desired.

Still, this book should be read by pastors and church musicians alike. Singing and Making Music provides a helpful resource and introduction to issues in church music from a traditional perspective. Jones’ love for hymns and traditional high church music comes shining through. In some respects, he is one of the clearest evangelical (including fundamentalist) voices addressing the subject, and the church is better off with his contribution. He enjoys reminding the reader that before judgments can be made about music (what you “like” is not adequate), one must be informed about the art. Paul Jones clearly meets this qualification, and his public ministry at Tenth Presbyterian Church demonstrates that he practices what he preaches.

Pastors, even those with little or no background in music, will appreciate this book because it several addresses issues and does so practically. Even if the book was not read in its entirety, many of the chapters are topically isolated from the rest of the material and could be used as a kind of church music reference. Church musicians will appreciate its ability to handle issues in the field of music with competence. Laymen whose sensibilities still lie with traditional worship will also appreciate this book’s discussion of great Christian composers and the arguments in favor of preserving traditional music in the church. I highly recommend it. (Westminster|Amazon)

6 Comments leave one →
  1. August 23, 2007 1:14 pm

    “Conservatives will not find much in this book with which they agree”

    Hi Ryan

    A typo??

    Seems so from the rest of the review, but the sentence as it stands isn’t clear to me.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  2. August 23, 2007 1:20 pm

    Yes, a typo, and thank you for finding it. It is now corrected.

  3. Lyn Marshall permalink
    August 23, 2007 8:58 pm

    This looks helpful, and I’ll definitely add it to my list of books to get next. Thanks for the review and recommendation.

  4. August 24, 2007 10:54 am

    I had everyone involved in music ministry in our church read this over the summer. It was quite beneficial. One of its strengths is it’s readability. Short chapters and accessible writing style.

  5. lilrabbi permalink
    August 24, 2007 1:15 pm

    Jones is going to be speaking three different times and performing once (if I read the calendar correctly) at Faith here in Ankeny, October 18-20.

  6. lilrabbi permalink
    October 19, 2007 9:51 pm

    There were horns, a choir, soloists, and a congregation all led in worship by the man at the organ. This was quite possibly the best thing I’ve been apart of. “Partakers of the divine nature” indeed! And Jones seems like a really good guy who knows his stuff. He didn’t talk much tonight. I’m looking forward to his lecture and Q&A tomorrow morning.

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