Bonhoeffer on Singing in Unison and Harmony

The psalmist encourages us to "worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs." But what kind of singing is best for praising God? Do we prefer unison singing with instrumental accompaniment? unaccompanied four-part harmony? or a free-form "anything goes" approach to offering our songs of praise? The history of the church offers a wide variety of strong opinions about the "forms" of our worship in song. Today's Worship Quote is from Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

There are some destroyers of unison singing in the fellowship that must be rigorously eliminated. There is no place in the service of worship where vanity and bad taste can so intrude as in the singing. There is, first, the improvised second part which one hears almost everywhere. It attempts to give the necessary background, the missing fullness to the soaring unison tone, and thus kills both the words and the tone. There is the bass or the alto who must call everybody's attention to his astonishing range and therefore sings every hymn an octave lower. There is the solo voice that goes swaggering, swelling, blaring, and tremulant from a full chest and drowns out everything else to the glory of its own fine organ. There are the less dangerous foes of congregational singing, the "unmusical," who cannot sing, of whom there are far fewer than we are led to believe, and finally, there are often those also who because of some mood will not join in the singing and thus disturb the fellowship.

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, trans., John Doberstein, (New York City: Harper and Row, 1954), 60.


Unison or harmony? What do you think? Is it a spiritual question or simply a matter of personal preference. Even among those who favor the exclusive use of traditional hymnody in worship, some practice unison singing with one special verse in parts, and some favor singing in four-part harmony with one special verse in unison. How does a strong personal opinion factor in when it comes to matters of corporate worship? Tough questions! Keep singing!

Have a great week!

To learn more about Chip Stam and his Worship Quote of the Week, click below.