Baptists, Music, and World War II

By Reynolds, William J. | Baptist History and Heritage, Summer-Fall 2001 | Go to article overview

Baptists, Music, and World War II


Reynolds, William J., Baptist History and Heritage


Southern Baptists have always been a singing people with great diversity in our music.

The types of music used in our churches has varied largely according to their location and tradition--urban or open country, in Texas and Oklahoma, the Carolinas and Virginia, or the border states of Missouri and Kansas. We used and loved the metrical psalms and hymns of Isaac Watts, the evangelical hymns of the Wesleys, the English translations of Latin and German hymns, but we were equally blessed by Fanny Crosby and Ira Sankey. As we moved through the decades leading into the war years, what were we singing?

We were singing "Jesus is all the world to me," "I stand amazed in the presence," "God will take care of you," and other songs from the first decade of the twentieth century. We were singing "In the Garden," "The Old Rugged Cross," and other songs written during the second decade of the twentieth century. We were singing "Great is thy faithfulness," "The Nail-Scarred Hand," "Speak to my heart," and others written during the 1920s. We were singing "Why do I sing about Jesus," "He lives," "Have faith in God," "God of Grace and God of glory," and other songs that appeared during the thirties, the years of the Depression.

Before we take a close look at the music situation in our churches during the war years, let me relate a personal experience. When the first peacetime draft was established, September 14, 1940, I was a junior in college. I registered for the draft indicating that I was a college student and a part-time music and education director for a local church. To my surprise, I was classified as 4-D, a classification reserved for ordained ministers. After my graduation in July 1942, I enrolled in the School of Church Music, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and notified my Missouri draft board of my move. I remained at Southwestern through three semesters and two summer sessions.

In December 1943, I enlisted in the United States Maritime Service and was shipped to the Maritime Base in St. Petersburg, Florida. After basic training, I was made a section leader in the Training Department with Chief Petty Officer Clark Bouwman as my supervisor. When Bouwman learned of my music interests, he mentioned that he was singing in the choir at First Methodist Church. Earl Evans, the minister of music, was a graduate of the Westminster Choir School and, Bouwman assured me, would give me free voice lessons for singing in the choir.

The first Sunday I was in this church, I saw a multiple-choir program in action. The balcony in the sanctuary was shaped like a horseshoe and extended on both sides to the choir loft at the front. With this configuration, Earl Evans Could direct three choirs--children, youth, and adult. Each choir, robed and in place, sang individually in every Sunday morning service. That was my first experience in a multiple-choir program, and I was quite intrigued. I continued singing in the choir and studying voice with Earl Evans for several months.

In the summer, I left the Maritime Base and shipped out on a tanker in the Atlantic, taking aviation gasoline to the Air Force in England. I was in the first convoy to ship into the English Channel after the American troops landed on Normandy Beach, June 6, 1944. In January 1945, I was back in Fort Worth and enrolled for the spring semester to finish my seminary degree. I shared with faculty and students my music experiences at the First Methodist Church, St. Petersburg.

Prior to the war years, a number of ideas were planted that became significant factors in the years to come and influenced the musical activities in our churches in the decades that followed. Without attempting to identify all of these, there are some that we cannot overlook as contributing to what we later saw.

Music education in the United States began in the public schools of Boston in 1838 because of the influence of Lowell Mason, music educator and composer. …

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