Music experts say we don’t need more “manly songs,” but we do need to help lower voices find their place
The 1910 edition of the YMCA songbook, Manly Songs for Christian Men, has no foreword or introduction, just a brief explanation on the title page: “A collection of Sacred Songs adapted to the needs of Male Singers. For use in Adult Bible Classes, Y.M.C.A. Meetings and all gatherings of men for religious work and worship.”
The first song is “For the Man of Galilee,” which opens with these lines:
Shout aloud the stirring summons
O’er the land from sea to sea
Men are wanted, men of courage,
For the Man of Galilee.
The song alternates between accented, march-like sections in unison and four-part harmonies. The music gives tenors the chance to project at the top of their range, and the basses get to land on a resonant low A-flat at the end of each verse. It’s a rousing march in the tradition of 19th-century men’s choirs, once fixtures of many European and American communities.
But today, if you ask leaders and pastors about the status of congregational singing in their churches, most will confirm that many men just don’t participate. Some blame musical style, some blame lyrical content, and others blame generalized “feminization” of the American church.
Recent interest in the state of masculinity, explored in a raft of op-eds, books, and podcasts, has reinvigorated a perennial discussion about why so many men don’t sing in church. While there has been plenty of speculation about the “effeminacy” of contemporary worship music and its effects on men in churches, most men’s reasons for singing are not so ideological.
The lower rate of musical participation among men likely has little to do with a dearth of manly marches in today’s churches. …