Week 85: "Can a solo include more than one musician?"

Question: "Our branch church is interested in having more than one musician during the solo in the Sunday church service. Some have suggested that this is not in line with the Manual. Has anyone done this?  Does Mrs. Eddy specify that a solo can only be one musician?"

Response 1: Mike Davis

Christian Science churches originally had choirs, but they were done away with in favor of a solo only. Here's a quote from an August 8, 1897 letter by Mary Baker Eddy: “A word to the wise is always sufficient. For several months past a Divine direction has to my sense been giving me to know that congregational singing is the best song service for the Church of Christ, Scientist. Why? Because this part as well as its others should [be] of the Spirit, not matter. Again, singing is, if harmony, an emotion more spiritual than material and must, to touch my heart, or ear, come from devout natures”  (L06622B, The Mary Baker Eddy Collection). It was the following year, in October 1898, that the choir at The Mother Church was abolished by vote of the Christian Science Board of Directors. Did a specific incident lead to this decision? The historical record does not tell us. We do know there is evidence from that period that suggests that choirs in some Christian Science churches were a source of discord among the members.

It seems clear that Eddy did not want Christian Science churches to have choirs, but what is actually meant by "solo" has in recent years come up from time to time for discussion. From what we can tell, in Eddy's time a solo singer would sing with instrumental accompaniment. Now people sometimes ask if the solo can have backup singers as part of the accompaniment, or if duets can be sung, etc. Unfortunately, the historical record does not provide us with anything to use to give definitive answers to these types of questions, and we have no statement from Eddy one way or another about them. She definitely wanted the Manual to be obeyed, but she was also flexible and practical in carrying out its provisions.

Response 2: Susan Booth Mack

One of the things that I appreciate most about Mary Baker Eddy is that she was not a literalist. She plunged beneath the surface of Biblical and societal rules to find the heart of obedience—the real and spiritual essence and motivation for obedience. Taking this into consideration with regard to Eddy's provision in the Manual for music in The Mother Church (see p. 61), I have prayed deeply about what she hoped music would, and would not be, in all Christian Science services. The conclusion that I have come to is that she did not want music to be a performance; she wanted it to be a prayer. She clearly knew the power of music could enable the congregation to feel the power and presence of God right there in their midst, to move the heart to a place of honest communion with Love itself. So perhaps, the single By-Law in the Manual of the Mother Church, which refers to music in the Mother Church, helps us to grasp the spirit of her intent that our music have a quality of simple prayerfulness about it.

Accordingly, as a musician and soloist in my branch church, I pray each week to select and arrange a solo that breathes the deep inspiration of the message of that week's Lesson, and touches the hearts of the congregation with the palpitating presence of the Christ as they listen. Sometimes a sweet, harmonizing voice lends untold tenderness to the sense of God and man in harmony. Sometimes an extra instrument adds just the right spirit of soaring above mortality or adds that drum-beat of persistence in the truth. After considerable prayer our Society has decided that for us this means striving to be more obedient to Mrs. Eddy's intent about music, and trusting that the healings which flow weekly from our prayer-filled solos are the proof that we are allowed to do this—we are always allowed to heal.

  1. We have been doing duets at the 1st Church of Christ, Scientist for some time, and it never occurred to me that this may be going against the Manual. We have a wonderful violist who accompanies the soloist, and sometimes does a solo of her own. It is always thought out prayerfully, and reflects the topic of the lesson sermon. The members of the congregation express much love and joy with this music.

  2. Thanks for these thoughtful responses! I've also appreciated the various times where The Mother Church has invited guest musicians to join the soloist for special occasions. So grateful that we're thinking outside the box when it comes to music!

  3. This reminds me of Mrs. Eddy's direction about the selection of Readers in our churches-- that they should be selected with attention to their morals (spirituality) as much as to their learning and correct reading. Prayerful, Christianly scientific presentation of a solo is number one on the priority list for the committee that selects a soloist, to me.

  4. I think the heart of the answer here is the remark earlier that the "solo" is not a performance. A single singer, at one with the message of the words, simplifies the music event as a part of the whole service, and not a special separate event. (No matter how special and worthy that event may be.) I will have to say, though, that recently, the soloist at my branch sang a medley of spirituals with such heartfelt attention to the sense of worship in the words, that the congregation was truly moved, and spontaneously, as she sat, a ripple of applause was heard. It seemed just right, and those who didn't find themselves applauding, were glad the others had. We all just had to say "thank you" in some way. Just an example of the fact that every situation is individual, and spirituality and honesty of motive will lead the way, even to unexpected but perfectly right occasional exceptions to "tradition."

  5. I too have prayed about this and so I decided to look up the words soloist and solo in the dictinary. Webster defines soloist as, "one who performs a solo. And Webster defines solo as, "alone; a whole piece played or sung by a single person; any performance in which the performer has no partner or associate."

    The solo, as Susan mentioned, was intended as a prayer and not as a performance. We should ask ourselves does having more than one person perform the solo message make that message or prayer any more meaningful than just having one person sing it? It is the spiritual message that counts not who or how many sing it. And although Mrs. Eddy was not a literalist, she prayed diligently about what words she should use to convey her intended meaning. Mary Baker Eddy chose her words very carefully. Her intent seems very clear.

  6. I love the idea of being guided in these types of branch church questions by what will heal: "we are always allowed to heal." That makes it so simple! Thank you, Susan.
    With much love,

  7. Having been a church pianist for so many years, I've prayed deeply about this issue. I could go on and on, but the clearest idea came when asking myself what prayer truly is. And, that would be praising God in the highest sense. The key question then came. 'How many qualities does God give us to praise Him with?' This would imply there are infinite ever-appearing creative ways to shine forth a healing message, and still be obedient to the Manual. Love all the new music I'm hearing these days. Love the great classics, too. Thanks so much to everyone!

  8. Music, as a mortal expression, can so badly represent human beings, it can be noisy, cacophonous,unclear,personal, over emotional and often un-musical. One man's view of a good song does not imply that everyone agree - so I like to think the solo is a few moments of peace, of music at its most spiritual, when the doors to the Lesson Sermon are being ushered open and the congregation invited to pause and reflect on the spiritual importance of the next stage in the service. The Psalmist speaks of musicians at the doors of the temple,at the gates. The solo stands as a doorkeeper, and so the singing needs to be simple, effective, undramatic and clear. It stands alone because then it is without 'agenda' . One voice also for me represents the individuality of the voice of God, as God is individual and so are we. Text and melody welcome the divine Pastor,the Lesson Sermon, and this metaphysical musical moment of this individual reflection opens the door for the Readers to settle their thoughts, a pause to allow the Pastor to enter and speak. If that sounds a bit metaphysical it is because I truly believe that the solo supports through song this divine and holy moment before the Lesson is read.

  9. After church is let out is the time for extra song and music. Other denominations can spend over two hours in church on Sunday, like Assembly of God and the Mormons. Let the church out, then allot extra time for songs of praise and worship, being sure to allow the community to participate in a choir, if that is desired. I have also been invited to the home of Christian Scientists having a Christmas party annually while they were still alive, and of course they took time out for group singing.

  10. I am in accord with the last comment. No.8 . I am most grateful for this CHURCH ALIVE, web site..

    I am a member of a Christian Science Church since 1938 and on the music committee for many, many years and have never felt the necessity to deviate, enhance or expand the music.........................

    Music prepares our receptivity for the spiritual import of the lesson, dignified and inspiring.

  11. When our church in Hudson, NY closed, our small group continued to hold services in our living -room, while we were still in Hudson. I became First Reader and became responsible for the solos. I used many of the recorded CD's or tapes from the Reading Room, or other appropriate ones for that week's lesson. I spent a good amount of time searching through the music to find just the right one to express the lesson's spiritual message. I believed it to be the thing that would bring the topic of the lesson "alive."

  12. I'm so grateful that our Leader has provided an Order of Service through her own experiences to save us the effort to create a healing service for the community. She provided a service that would project and protect the Sermon. The sunday service is all about the Sermon and all the other elements need to support that Sermon--not detract from it or delay it. And that includes greetings, preludes, postludes, notices, and the solo. I feel people, under the heading of branch church democracy, pulling at the solo to make the service more interesting, more inspiring, more relevant, more current--etc. The text of the solo needs to introduce the Pastor, set the mental environment, and then step back and yield to the Sermon. More individuals, however talented and creative, just distract from the message of the solo. A solo is a solo, one individual. We seem to be trying to redefine a solo into a duet, a trio, with backup singers, and a good drummer. We need to resist the temptation to tinker with form of the service and embrace the substance of the Sermon.

  13. Thanks to all for this discussion as our branch uses recorded music and I often find a lovely piece that has that hint of a second harmonizing voice. The thought has been this disqualified the piece as a solo. I have more reflection to do. Certainly the spiritual intent gives some scope to these decisions, as we meekly and gratefully desire to understand and be thoughtfully obedient to our Leader's direction.

  14. BRAVO!, "name" at number 8 comment. You have summed up the perfect answer. The solo is simply a prayer of welcoming to the lesson, free of all encumbrances and personal individuality. I greatly appreciate your comment - and that from a now retired soloist after 62 years on the platform.

  15. I so agree that the solo should be a prayer that inspires the congregation into the readings of the Bible Lesson and I have often advised our music committee to remember that Mrs. Eddy placed the solo just before those readings, except for the Thanksgiving service, where she placed it before the testimonies!
    Was she intending to inspire the givers of testimonies? Think about it.

  16. Thank you all for these ideas. I too have pondered why a solo, and feel it is intended to draw the thought of the congregation away from the notices just read, which are inevitably of a nature quite unlike the rest of a service, and into uplifted readiness for the message of the Lesson-Sermon. That's why it has the simplicity of a solo singer, and why, if the congregation applauds, it seems to me it may indicate that attention has been drawn to the singer's artistry and not been lifted to the Lesson to come.

  17. Number 8 says it all so perfectly! what Mrs Eddy put in the manual, all Christian Scientist's should honor and not try to change.

  18. Our branch church recently had two soloists during one service. One stood at one side of the church and the other at the other side, both facing the congregation. Each sang her part "solo," one following the other. Our attention was riveted during this delightful presentation from our musicians. Needless to say, no one fell asleep!

  19. The comment in response #1 regarding the "source of discord" seems quite accurate. I feel that Mrs.Eddy sensed inconsistency in the output of choral performances; their hearts were in it but the outcome was not always on target. And too, they were volunteers. Since the organist was a singular presence, presumably paid, then the efforts of one professionally paid singer would lead to quality and consistency. One well trained singer meant fewer personalities and distractions, and subject to annual appointing. I speak as as an organist of 50 years!

  20. What is "spiritual" and what is "peace"? A rapper expresses the spiritual qualities of rhythm, dynamics, order, life. A contemporary piece expresses originality, is thought-provoking and often startles us to think deeper. These are spiritual qualities. Vigor, vivacity, variety of tone and decibel level, surprise, newness of sound combination. These are all spiritual qualities part of thought. And "peace" is not a blank non-thinking state of being. Peace, yes, is a wonderful spiritually still state of thought that ushers in the Christ. Imperative. Yet, peace is also a very active and rousing quality, commanding all to be the currents of life-filling Christ. Peace is strong as well as calm, yet always moving and always relevant. I think we need to be careful that the sense of peace we want is not a nirvana state, or even old theological, perhaps even stemming from conservative Christianity which equates death with peace. I love to ponder "quality" and "individuality." These are magnified in man from the office of The Holy Ghost! I think we all have a ways to go in giving up the superstitions and limitations of the human mind and not being afraid or guilty to whole-heartedly express ALL of God's fabulous qualities.
    When we realize all good comes from God, humility makes us bow willingly before the Christ and promise to reflect and obey all good. We might have more coming to our churches, including more young adults, if we freely surged forward, loving new yet ever-present ideas. It's more of an attitude of thought needing contemplation, rather than if "solo" allows for only one musician. The term "soli" in a professional orchestra means the whole section plays the solo line at the same time. As far as I'm concerned, I wish the whole community were singing the solo with us! I love focusing on 'the fuller breath' and 'wide horizon's grander view,' a peace which is not "nothing" but brings brighter colors than we've ever seen before, supports a tremendous sense of individuality and community and their usefulness, and worships an ongoing Creator who never runs dry of fresh, healing startling ideas. I love Christian Science. What a mind-blowing Revelation!

  21. I have been soloing for almost 20 years. I have spent much time praying on this topic. I believe the solo should be a prayer and add to the message of the lesson. Our church musician and I am currently writing about one new piece a month as we seek to bring out the theme in each weekly bible lesson sermon. It is so much fun to share these sweet ideas of God to our congregation. Our most recent solos have focused on God as "Father-Mother" and Mrs. Eddy's words, "Divine Love Always Has Met and Always Will Meet Every Human Need"....These ideas, along with many Bible verses, have greatly inspired me and the rest of our community. If soloists are Christian Scientists, and not just hired professionals, they should spend a significant amount of time thinking about and praying about how to heal through the music they have the opportunity to present. It's never personal, its always our expression of God's harmony and beauty. It's always His message. On that note, some things we have done in our church to bring a freshness to the service have been things like, having a guitar be the accompaniment instead of the piano, or having the pianist harmonize while playing. We have also had the Sunday School kids join the soloist on Thanksgiving in singing Hymn 460 out of our new supplement! We have added maracas and tambourines to this hymn! This has inspired the children to connect with church and it make it their service as well! Keeping the music fresh, keeps people from entering stagnant services. These things have worked for us and yes, we do get occasional applause...but never expected. Never for our own glory...always for God's! I find Sometimes people like to show their gratitude of joy through applause, sometimes they like to quietly ponder over the more silent message. Each solo is different. Each lesson is different. I do love seeing where we can reach inspiration with Mrs. Eddy's ideas in the weekly lesson. Our church has grown over the years. We do see new visitors all the time. Our Sunday School is active. I guarantee it is not the music that is filling the seats, but rather the love and metaphysical work of each of its members. However, I do think the freshness of the music enhances the freshness of our prayers and lifts us all higher! Mrs. Eddy was clear for us to stay abreast of the times. What would she say about this topic today? I don't know, but I will continue to pray on this topic as you all are. I am grateful for anyone trying new things. If we don't try we will never know if it works. The most important work is our healing. That is the sole purpose of our church.

  22. After reading all of these comments, I appreciate Eddy's quotation on one of her first pages in her book, Science and Health, quoting Sheakspeare "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."

    CHURCH, MAY 26, 1895
    "So live, that your lives attest your sincerity and resound His praise."
    Music is the harmony of being; but the music of Soul affords the only strains that thrill the chords of feeling and awaken the heart's harpstrings. Moved by mind, your many-throated organ, in imitative tones of many instruments, praises Him; but even the sweetness and beauty in and of this temple that praise Him, are earth's accents, and must not be mistaken for the oracles of God.
    Art must not prevail over Science. Mis 106:26-107:4
    More love is the great need of mankind. A pure affection, concentric, forgetting self, forgiving wrongs and forestalling them, should swell the lyre of human love. Mis 107:11-13

  24. I have soloed in CS churches, and I agree wholeheartedly that the solo should have the prayerful quality of spiritual support for and prepare thought to receive the Bible Lesson. But I learned something interesting when I was on a brief concert tour with a large chorus. We were invited to be the guest choir at a large Protestant church in another city. Although most of the music we were singing, we knew very well, the amount of time we spent rehearsing for the service, dwarfed the time in the service itself. On that Sunday, I found that my thought was occupied not as much with the spiritual message, but rather with the logistics of moving from place to place within this large church -- processing, recessing, etc. We sang in three locations and while moving from place to place. The service itself was nice and the readings from the Bible were particularly inspiring to me. But I realized that so much of the time and effort spent was on the presentation and not the message. Of course, this could be true for a solo singer, although my experience soloing in CS churches has been rather the opposite. There is so much more involved in preparing a group to sing.

    This experience made me very grateful for the simplicity of CS services and Mrs. Eddy's provision for a solo, which let the message of the Comforter shine through. I also appreciate the harmony in congregational singing. In my branch church three or four parts are often sung, spontaneously, during the hymns. We truly sing our faith!

  25. Having previously been a member of a choir in a Congregational church, I have always been grateful for Mrs. Eddy's wisdom in selecting "solo" for Christian Science services. The adventure of the many voices of a choir, or even the addition of a second, often distracted from harmony, and sometimes caused outright contention, neither of which is useful or helpful is establishing a harmonious atmosphere and uplifted thought for the Lesson sermond to follow.

  26. Thank you, #8 for your comment, "...a pause to allow the Pastor to enter and speak..." and #23, for that reminder of Mrs. Eddy's "Art must not prevail over Science." Mis. 107:4. The temptation to think we're personal creators is a distraction and danger. Or that only by applauding can one show one's appreciation for the soloist. I choose not to applaud but thank the soloist personally after the service. I don't feel "boxed" in by The Manual but protected. One of the reasons I was attracted to CS Services, having come from a mainline protestant church, was the absence of creeds and the simple pure contemplative atmosphere that really allowed me to savor the Lord's Prayer, for example. My former church congregation zipped through that at rocket speeds, and many others still do, as when I visit my parents' church, this often catches me off guard. I've often wondered why...is there a latent fear that it hasn't been committed to memory, and we need a propulsion to get through it? Or has its recitation become creed-like? "The Christ operates at the velocity of light." Heard that recently. When I recall my childhood attending catechism classes and learning creeds and listening to complaints about the pastor's wife or the boring sermons, or listening to the endless personal accounts preached fromt the pulpit, I say a prayer of gratitude for CS and Mrs. Eddy's inspiration to set down the Present Order of Services in our Manual.

  27. Regarding applause during the service...I have been an organist for years, and there have been a few occasions when the congregation applauded after the solo. Sometimes "visitors" led the applause because that is what they were used to doing following a performance they appreciated. Also, there times when attendees were so moved by the music, they just had to respond in some way, and spontaneous applause was the response. I believe applause is a natural way to say "Thank you".

  28. I have been soloing in my church for 9 years now. I am a longtime professional violinist, who began studying voice 10 years ago. This has been "Love's divine adventure", to say the least. I occasionally do hire extra musicians, as I have a lot of colleagues in town who are fabulous professional players. Many times, composers write what are called "obbligatos"---extra accompaniment parts written for another instrument. They are meant to be played along with the keyboard part. I've used flute, violin, viola, guitar, and am planning to use harp and cello in the near future. I've also written several of these instrumental parts myself. A couple of times, I've hired one of our substitute soloists, and I played the violin part. I personally do not use other singers for duets or "back-up". My organist/pianist and I are a tight duo that functions like a well-oiled machine. That's hard to beat. After years of playing jobs in other denominations, I've seen a lot of problems working with choirs, large and small. It seems to be an issue of too many personalities---and logistical distractions, many times because of not being professional. Or things can literally become a show. In Mary Baker Eddy's early churches, the service was patterned after the Congregational, and that included choirs. Then it seems there was an abrupt shift to a solo, and it remained in place that way. Each church needs to decide what is right for them. With so much solo music out there now to taste, it is a challenge sometimes for me to settle on one thing. I think CS sometimes feel we are not enough like others and want to step out of a too familiar and restrictive mould. Church music sometimes has become couched in entertainment, and we have to be able to sort out what is a pure, impersonal message. Music in CS churches has "evolved" into many different styles, in content and language. We are a worldwide church. My own church has a fairly diverse demographic, so it is our job to feed the folks a diverse diet of music. Our repertoire goes from the Baroque era (sometimes with a wonderful harpsichord sound on the digital side of the pipe organ), all the way up through lots and lots of hot-off-the-presses new music. We have been told, "We never know what you're going to do", which keeps them awake. My fabulous organist/pianist and myself have a strong foundation of classical training, BUT---we both step way out into other genres, because of years of experience in other types of public performance. Versatility is key to being able to function in this profession now, and it is healthy for our congregations to grow this way, try different "flavors". Our church is a beautiful, elegant Old English design, an atmosphere made for a variety of things to be performed---large enough to do some amazing rafter-shakers, but small enough to be intimate. A smaller place might call for simplicity at all times, with piano and/or guitar, where larger works would not be appropriate. Wisdom is key, and awareness of your own congregation's needs. We try to really balance things out here. We just did a tender Mother's Day solo that left everyone in tears, we heard. The following week---a Black gospel solo, with a stomp'in piano part and improvisation from both of us. It brought down the house. I do think of TMC music By-law as a guide that is always in my thought. Branches can be more flexible, but wise. Applause? It happens when it happens. I would not care for it all the time. It can break the silence and destroy the moment if it is simply automatic. Most Sundays, there is applause after our postlude. Many stay to listen, as it is such a treat to hear this pipe organ, something we feel privileged to have, the final icing on the cake after a beautiful service.

  29. In agreement with #22, Paul writes, "Everything is pure to the pure in heart"!

    Mrs. Eddy says that the solo should be of an appropriate religious nature. She didn't say to recreate what was appropriate in 1880. If you listen to the music on the Christian radio stations you will know that what is of an appropriate religious nature in America today is very different than Europe or the high brow music of earlier centuries.

    The bible says to praise the LORD with all the instruments! And it lists them. Most modern churches do that.

    It's been a long time since Mrs. Eddy determined what worked best in our culture. And culture changes every 20 years, and we now have many sub-cultures in America. I guess we have to figure out what is the letter of the law and what is the spirit of the law.

    The Mother Church showed us Siyahamba a few years ago. It's an African tune to "We are walking in the light of God". You can see it on YouTube. It showed Christian Scientist all over the world swaying with this popular Christian song. Some were clapping their hands; some raising their arms to God. Thanks Mother Church!

    I have visited CS churches that do music like that, and they have a full church with newcomers joining.

    One of Mrs. Eddy's favorite hymns was "The clanging bells of time", which is about the happiest gospel tune in the hymnal. I expect she liked the joy of it's skippy beat! I think we need to get over the idea that being subdued is more spiritual, and being more joyfully expressive isn't spiritual.

  30. I'm honestly still unsettled on this topic, though I find Michael and Susan's comments (as well as those below) helpful.

    I'd like to simply add two anecdotes from my branch church, which occasionally has multiple singers in a "solo": on one occasion, a perfectly harmonious trio demonstrated the oneness of Mind so thoroughly that nobody could say it wasn't a solo. On another, I was healed on the spot during duet "solo".

  31. I I attempt to avoid being an "old codger", and I acknowledge that moving with the times can be important. However, applause in church - speaking frankly - disturbs me. It makes the music seem more like entertainment or a showy performance than a worshipful offering to God. I do appreciate something a bit "different" in church, such as hearing a well-played violin. I remember that we had a trumpeter one fine Easter Sunday, and he brought an added sense of joy to the service. However, "no applause" is my request. It's better to approach the musicians after the service and thank them sincerely, even enthusiastically. After all, we wouldn't applaud the readers for a particularly effective reading of the Lesson-Sermon---or I certainly hope we wouldn't! Hymns and solos are prayers in musical and poetic form. Appreciate them---cherish them! But please hold the applause. It's a worship service, not a show.

  32. I love No. 8 and No. 16 comments! As a soloist for 22 years, I look at the solos as you would a sunset. It is beautiful, peaceful, and there is a message that should be heard. When a sunset finally sets, do you applaud it? Most likely no. You take in the beauty you just witnessed, Truth, Love, Mind, Soul, Spirit,....God! I feel when there is applause, the point of the message of the solo is missed, and only the artistry is recognized. MANY times during, or after I've sung a solo, I hear a message myself I hadn't heard during the rehearsal, that "still small voice", and love to not only share with the congregation, but witness it as well. When there is applause, it distracts away from that message.