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.