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Clap along … please

I grew up attending a very musical corps. We had a large band and songsters as well as junior musical sections, and we were also blessed with many very capable vocal soloists. Add in three or four keyboard players, and we had plenty of options for making a joyful noise unto the Lord.


The easiest musical instruments we had and which we learnt to use from a very young age were our hands. We would clap and clap and clap along to songs and choruses and sometimes even just to accompany a bright band piece.


As children, we would try to clap louder or faster than anyone; as teens, we would try to come up with different clapping rhythms or intricate clapping patterns. Yes, young folk, it was the days before computers and times were simpler back then. You found fun where you could.


My greatest joy came when I was sitting with close mates, and, as teenage troublemakers, we would attempt to clap to a song in the wrong time. It’s hard to sing a 4/4 song while clapping in 3/4 time. If you don’t believe me, just try stamping your foot four times while simultaneously clapping your hands three times in the same amount of time.


We don’t seem to clap as much these days as we used to. I think the worship wars and the Hillsong influence of the 1990s changed us to more of a hands-in-the-air worship style rather than a clap-your-hands-loudly sort of church.


I think this has also dented our confidence when it comes to clapping in worship. Often, we’ll start clapping (largely because the worship leader implores us to do so!), but some will stop shortly after, leading others to stop. So, by the time you get to the second chorus, only three people are still clapping, and they feel awkward.


Psalm 47:1 says, “Clap your hands, all you people, and shout to God with loud songs of joy.” But then it gets a bit confusing when in Isaiah 55:12 it says, “… all the trees of the field shall clap their hands”, and in Psalm 98:8 it says, “Let the rivers clap their hands.” Trees and rivers clapping, um, hands?


In Job 38:7, God refers to how the “morning stars sang together”, and Jesus said the rocks could potentially cry out in praise of him, so I guess even the trees and rivers could clap along if God wants them to.


I recall one tricky bit was when a song changed tempo. One popular song (847 in the current Salvation Army Songbook) begins with the chorus, “He lives, he lives, Christ Jesus lives today’. During the second last line of the chorus, the tempo would suddenly drop (‘You ask me how I know he lives?’), and tradition said you raised a hand on the last line (‘He lives within my heart’).


It was tricky to know exactly when to slow your clapping tempo and when to stop clapping totally. As a teen, I had immense fun trying to clap all the way through the chorus, slowing down like a train pulling into the station towards that last … lonely … desperate … clap.


Like I said, you had to make your own fun back then. Maybe we need to revive the lost art of skilful, rhythmic clapping in the Salvos. We could have happy clappers at every corps who champion the art and run weekly training sessions for young people called ‘Just Clap’. Or maybe not. That might not look good on the church noticeboard.


– Major Mal Davies and his wife Major Tracey are the Corps Officers at Adelaide City Salvos


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