To this point, we’ve considered the potential problems created by always singing every verse of hymns and by omitting verses arbitrarily. In this third installment, I want to consider some things for song/worship leaders to consider in effective verse selection. As I think I’ve mentioned, my default is to sing every verse of a song, with the chorus following the verses, but here are some reasons why I do occasionally omit the chorus, lead the chorus only at the end, or lead only certain verses. Some of these may have been touched on already, some may not have.
Postpone the Chorus for Narrative Flow
I always lead “Low in the Grave He Lay” (“Christ Arose”) with the three verses and then the chorus. The simple reason is that all of the activity in the verse concerns what happened while Jesus was in the grave, but the chorus is obviously about the resurrection. If lead verse-chorus, we lyrically put Jesus in the ground three times in the verse, then raise Him up three times in the chorus. Now, I can see leading it verse-chorus, since each verse focuses on a different aspect of His burial, but I’m not sure how well those nuances come across unless a leader makes an explicit point about them.
Similarly, I have been known to leave the chorus to the end when I want to maintain a progression of thought. Frequently, a chorus is a filler line, and inserting it in between verses breaks the chain of thought. This is the rationale for doing this with songs like “It Is Well with My Soul” and “Ten Thousand Angels.”
Postpone the Chorus for Catharsis Control
Catharsis is the release of emotion. There are songs where a reason for a response is given in the verse, then the response is made in the chorus, whether it be an emotional response or an active response. For instance, in the song, “I Stand Amazed,” the verses consider the things that Jesus endured for us on the cross. The purpose of the chorus is to allow the expression of our thankfulness and amazement. Stifling that expression by leaving the chorus for the end (whether or not the final verse, “When with the ransomed in glory…,” is sung) allows the need for that expression to build up (shades of Jeremiah 20.9) and be expressed in one ultimate statement of the wonderful love of our Savior for us.
Remove Extraneous Verses to Intensify
Not all verses are created equal, and just as singing a chorus over and over again can dilute the intensity of the intended message, so can a verse that either doesn’t say something or doesn’t exactly fall in line with the specific messaging being sought. The latter case is not necessarily a case of poor quality, but it can reduce the impact of the other verses. Just as a reduction in cooking removes extra water to intensify flavor, removing extraneous verses intensifies the thought of the hymn.
Reduce and Merge for a Full Picture
While there are some hymn tunes that are adaptable to multiple moods with variation in tempo and dynamics, many are limited to one particular tone (see Matt Bassford’s blog post on “Exalted” for more about this). At least with our usual take on the mood of crucifixion hymns, many crucifixion tunes don’t work that well as resurrection hymns, even though many hymns will cover both ends of that sequence of events. The answer? Pick a crucifixion hymn and resurrection hymn that complement each other, pick out the specific verses needed from each and sing them back to back.
Those who lead God’s people in their musical worship to Him have an important responsibility: to facilitate that worship and to make it as effective as possible in accomplishing its purposes (Col 3.16). We often talk about this with regard to general approaches to leading and with song selection, but even something as fine-grained as which verses we lead of a particular song can make just that little bit of difference at times that helps someone draw closer to God in their singing.