Sight Singing

O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Declare God’s glory among the nations, God’s marvelous works among all the peoples.” – Psalm 96:1, 3

A few weeks ago I chose an unfamiliar hymn to close worship. It turned out to be fairly impossible to sing. The congregation and I gave it our best shot, but the pianist, either by accident or in her mercy, stopped playing a verse early.

It’s painful singing a new song. Awkward. Embarrassing. A new song always goes up when we think it should go down, slows its pace just when we’re ready to get faster. It always contains a secret two-beat rest we fail to note at the outset, leaving us singing poorly and alone as everyone else listens in silence. A new song has none of the treasured lyrics or moving melodies that we love in our old songs.

Listen to any choir or congregation sight singing their way through new material, and you’ll wonder if the psalmist is a sadist to keep asking for new songs. You’ll be excused for wondering whether God might prefer a well-rehearsed old chestnut to all of our tuneless struggle.

But no, God desires a new song. Because the new song we’re attempting is a song of praise, a song of our God. And with every flubbed word and flat note we are not just learning another piece of music but being given another tiny piece of the mystery of God.

And that’s worth embarrassing ourselves for.


Open my lips, God, and my mouth will declare your praise. If it’s not pretty give me the discipline to practice and the boldness to make mistakes until those new words of praise become a well-beloved lyric.

dd-vinceamlin.jpgAbout the Author
Vince Amlin is Associate Minister at the United Church of Gainesville, Gainesville, Florida.