“Each church should find their own way in worship expressions. It is vital, however, to be intentional in our teaching of worship. I would encourage ALL pastors to teach and model biblical foundations of worship.” Dr. Jon Duncan, Specialist in Worship and Music Ministries, Georgia Baptist Mission Board
Somtimes I will read an article and think, “that’s spot on!” Well, this article does just that. Many times church leaders are pulled to emulate the world when really we should continue to study the biblical foundations of worship and let them be our guide. While I do not personally subscribe to a regulative view of worship practices, I do find it necessary to look to examine the “heart” of the biblical principles that drive how I plan and lead worship for my local church. Because, as Dr. Duncan mentions, the goal of worship is spiritual formation. How can we do that if we are not biblically faithful?
I appreciate Dr. Duncan’s comments about change and how the biblical themes, such as “redemption,” should never change. The word change is often considered a “swear” word in church world. People just get antsy when the word is even mentioned. Some ask why change something that’s “working?” Others strive for change to keep things fresh and “exciting.” I echo his comments that the theme of redemption in worship (in music and preaching) through biblically faithful lyrics, biblically-strong sermons, and the like are what build spiritual formation. Then, as we grow as disciples, becoming more sanctified, we will naturally engage our neighbors with the gospel truth and others will come to know the redemption themselves. Soli Deo Gloria!
Assumptions are often not all they appear to be. It seemed logical to me that if I had lots of music readers, I would be able to conquer more new music than the church down the street that learns everything by rote. However, that’s not entirely the case. Here is some interesting related data I collected on choirs that I think are interesting:
Number of music readers does not affect number of new anthems learned in a year.
The largest choirs in my study learned the most anthems; the smallest learned the fewest. While one could assume this was due to the music readers more commonly found in larger choirs, I think this data is more likely a financial decision. Larger choirs more often have more money to spend on new anthems and smaller choirs in smaller churches.
Choirs that used printed scores only learned far fewer new anthems than those who just use projected media in worship services. This seems almost hard to believe since it seems that having the printed score means the song could be learned quickly. However, these churches using printed scores only in worship are usually smaller—thus, the financial piece in number 3.
There is no correlation between age of leader or dominant generational cohort that affects the number of anthems learned in a year. So the reasoning is not philosophical, but pragmatic.
With this information in mind, here are some other factors that can influence the number learned:
The church has a limited music budget. This factor overwhelmingly drives how much music in learned in a year. Unfortunately, the reality is many churches are limited on budgets and new music is reserved for Easter or Christmas, with maybe a new collection here and there.
Rehearsal time. A 1.5-2 hour rehearsal definitely gives any choir more opportunities to learn music over an hour rehearsal.
Fail to have music readers in every vocal section. There are plenty of choirs who have one (or two) sections that cause the rehearsal to lag because so much time is devoted to bringing a non-reading section along.
Leader does not desire to learn lots of music. I’ve spoken with several colleagues that are against picking up a song in a week or so of rehearsal and then singing it. They believe that much time is needed for the choir to internalize the text and the artistry of the song.
The choir uses full orchestra and one part (choir or orchestra) may have a much harder part than the other. I’ve personally had this issue. Some songs are very difficult for either the choir or the orchestra and so more time is required for one or the other parts.
The choir takes breaks in the year. While most choirs take some time off in the summer or after Christmas, there are some choirs that only sing 2-3 times a month, thus limiting how many new songs may be learned in a year.
I’m sure the list could go on and on. My best guess is the financial piece and the rehearsal time drives most of the decisions on how many anthems are learned in a year. What else would you add to this list?
Psalm 150(ESV) Let Everything Praise the Lord Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary;praise him in his mighty heavens! 2 Praise him for his mighty deeds;praise him according to his excellent greatness! 3 Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp !4 Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! 5 Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals! 6 Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!
It’s probably no surprise to you that churches use a variety of accompaniments when singing choral music. I remember, in the not too distant past, when most churches either used tracks or piano and/or organ every Sunday to accompany the choir. Yes, there were always the large churches in metropolitan areas that used orchestras every week due to their proximity of available and capable players, but certainly not common. Other churches of some size and proximity to metro areas would often hire orchestras for their seasonal works. The variety has continued, and even expanded, according to a recent data I collected from full-time ministers of music in Georgia. Here’s are the reported methods of accompaniment used on CHORAL pieces for every Sunday use:
You’ll notice that over 60 percent of those I interviewed used some form of combination each week (note that the numbers and percentages don’t necessarily match because some leaders could fit into more than one of the sub-categories). I broke down further underneath that heading those combinations using an accompaniment choice at or more than 50 percent of the time. Moving down the chart, you’ll see that less than 20 percent use orchestra every week. Less than 10 percent use some sort of “keyboard only” scenario, band, or tracks only. It is truly a cornucopia of possibilities and I didn’t even include any combinations that might have included less than 50 percent. The list is LONG!
What I discovered in this process through data comparison with church size was that the size of the church (and choir) directly related to the accompaniments used. Surprised? I wasn’t. Here are some interesting facts:
Half of the largest church choirs (average attendance of 76+ each week) use orchestra at least 80 percent of the Sundays.
None of the choirs with 25 or fewer in average attendance used orchestra at all.
53 percent of the church choirs with 25 or fewer used accompaniment tracks at least 50 percent of the time
40 percent of choirs averaging 26-50 in attendance used tracks.
11.3 percent of choirs averaging 76+ in average attendance used tracks
Overall combinations for varying instruments/tracks were more likely in smaller church choirs
This data supports the idea that more “live” accompaniments were found as the church body was larger (with its greater possibilities of having resources and talent to play). Conversely, more pre-recorded music and combinations of accompaniments were found in smaller churches (choirs averaging fewer than 50). No significant data supported the idea that education of the leader, age of leader or choir members, or even music sung (literature or type) had any bearing on what types of accompaniment were used. Basically, those who CAN play live, do. Those who CAN’T every week (for a myriad of reasons), don’t. I doubt there are many music ministers who wouldn’t want a full orchestra every week if they could!
If your goal is, like mine, to utilize as many people that have talents and calling of the Lord in worship and music ministry, then hopefully you will consider doing all you can to find ways to use live music for choir literature no matter the size of your church or choir. Even if it’s in a combination with another accompaniment type, having the freedom and flexibility to do things live makes a huge difference. There is something odd to me about having band driven congregational song and then blasting a pre-recorded choir track that screams artificial to me, but a LARGE number of churches do just that. Please hear me, I’m NOT condemning or shaming those you who use tracks…I certainly have had to over the course of my ministry, but I always felt the goal was to push towards more live accompaniments for the choir songs just as I was using a band/instruments for congregational singing.
So, if you’ve got a rhythm section that can handle congregational song, then use them for the choir anthem whenever possible. If you have some horn players, add them to that mix. Yes, it means more rehearsal time, but I think it will strengthen the overall impact of the choir ministry in the life of the church.