Is Church Music Dying?

This is a difficult post to write, as it hits very close to home, but it is something that needs to be said.  I’m about to turn the oft debated topic of “Is SG dying?” into a larger argument.  What is going on with church music programs as a whole?  I’ve heard rumblings of problems with church music, especially choral music programs for a while, but it seems the problem is getting worse and at a more rapid pace.  We’re currently knee-deep in Christmas cantata practice, yet we have 10-15 people at rehearsals.  We have one tenor.  Me.  Five to seven years ago, we were putting over 40 people in the choir loft for cantatas.  I have been averaging less than 10 kids in my Children’s choir rehearsals, and we’re well into our Christmas cantata practices as well.

We also in that same time period of 5-7 years have gone from a pretty full praise band (piano, keys, guitars, banjo, bass, drums, and even a mandolin) to now typically piano, keys, and guitar.  If my dad is out of town, we typically have either piano and guitar, or most of the time just piano.  We used to have a bunch of youth in our church choir that sang in their school choirs.  Now we have one.

Music has an undeniably important part in the corporate worship ceremony.  Not only does it involve active participation from the congregation, but it also is an outlet for those who have been gifted with musical talent to use those talents to glorify God.  A well selected hymn or chorus can accentuate a sermon and serve as a conduit for the Spirit to move.  For example, Sunday morning our pastor’s sermon dealt with the difference in simply calling yourself a Christian vs. living your life as a true disciple of Christ (see Colossians 3).  I’d already picked out “Living For Jesus” as an invitation hymn earlier in the week.  The song and sermon dovetailed wonderfully, and drew multiple people to the prayer rails.  It never ceases to amaze me how God can work those types of things out, as it has happened on numerous occasions and always leads to a powerful service.

So why does the music program seem to suffer?  Is this a problem in more areas of the country than just mine?  Is it simply a lack of emphasis or a lack of importance placed on music, or is the music program suffering a symptom of a larger problem of people wanting to be passive instead of active participants in churches?

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About Wes Burke
I'm a .NET developer and Southern Gospel music fan. Married with a wonderful family.

29 Responses to Is Church Music Dying?

  1. LeviSJ says:

    I’m part of a young singing school that takes place for a week in July. They want to be able to go to other parts of the state or to other churches to do weekend schools or even an additional week in another area to teach basic music theory, convention-style music, and even instrument lessons. I tried to get someone interested at my church, but apart from the few in the choir willing to learn more about music, I couldn’t get enough people to justify bringing in the school.

    Not a single young person was interested. I think some of the problem is that all the children in our church are separated in Sunday School, Sunday morning worship, and Wednesday evening into their own classes, with their own music. So far as I’ve seen, once they are too old for the young classes, they either take an uninvolved role in the regular services (some mainly due to the fact that they don’t like traditional gospel music having only heard contemporary and kids’ songs in their other classes) or they disappear.

    I guess I don’t have an answer, but I do have the frustration. We have one piano player, who oftentimes cannot make it on Wednesdays (when I lead the music) due to her kids being in sports (requiring acappella). We occasionally have a bass player and sometimes a guitar.

    I only half know what I’m doing as a music leader-in-training, and to have very little response from what we do, it makes it difficult to persevere (for me).

  2. Melissa says:

    I can’t speak for folks who are active in the larger churches, of course, but as for me, I just flat got tired of cantatas, especially the Christmas ones. There are only so many traditional carols that can be incorporated into a cantata, but the ones who are listening feel cheated if they’re forced to hear nothing but original music, even when it comes from the pens of the likes of Russell Mauldin or Mosie Lister. Plus, after I’ve sung the same Christmas songs for three months, by the time the event actually rolls around, I’ve had about as much Christmas music as I can stand for one holiday season, which takes away from the joy of the season, for me anyway. And around here in central Mississippi, we have so many small and medium-sized churches performing cantatas during the same three-week period that we’re competing for the same audience, and since people can only be in so many places at one time, we all end up losing. Also, in the smaller churches, the same people who are singing in the choir are also the ones who work with the youth, and in our church, our youth programs have ended up suffering because of the emphasis placed on The Cantata, when once the children’s Christmas program was the highlight of the year. I can remember back to a time where several churches would get together to do a community cantata or a singing Christmas tree, but those days are long past, as it seems that these days, it’s every church for itself in the battle for survival in an increasingly secular world. A sad commentary indeed on the state of the church in the 21st century.

    As for the praise bands, I’ve always attended churches where just a pianist (usually me) and/or an organist was utilized. I do know that a lot of older church-goes aren’t as comfortable singing with a praise band as they are with the traditional instruments. What does bother me is that the tendency now to go with words printed on a screen rather than using a hymnal seems to be having an adverse effect on the use of harmony singing in the congregation — but that is definitely a whole ‘nother discussion!

    • Wes Burke says:

      I’m with you on the same people wearing multiple hats thing. My church is midsized to smaller, we have 200 or so on Sunday mornings. As the Associate Minister of Music, I’m also the children’s choir director, and it isn’t just Christmas time that we are struggling. We’ve been dwindling in our numbers for a while, and it was very difficult finding a kids’ program to do this year. I had to find one that was very short, with as few speaking parts as possible, due to the small number of kids I have coming. I’m also younger child heavy…most are 2nd grade and under, so that hurts too in terms of dialogue, solos, etc.

  3. I’m at a smaller church than you, with a 130 or so average in Sunday School attendance.

    My children’s choir program is at an all time high in terms of attendance. I’ve had choirs with as few as 8-9 in years past. This year, I have 18.

    I attribute this partly to the fact that we launched an Awana program at the beginning of the year, and have an ongoing Upward Sports program.

    Something else I changed in January was the procedure for rehearsal. I used to try to involve them by using a CD track. This past year, I started using DVDs with the words on the screen. They’re more expensive than the CDs, but the trade-off is you don’t need to buy as many books.

    Wes, for your adult choir, I’d strongly suggest moving to CD accompaniment. If a church has capable musicians, then by all means, they should use them, but you won’t find many choir members who will keep coming to rehearsals when there are inconsistencies like a musician routinely not showing up or a leader getting frustrated with the lack of participation.

    • Wes Burke says:

      Actually, we use CD accompaniment for choir specials almost exclusively. The praise band is used for congregational singing.

      It’s interesting that you’re seeing such good numbers in your kids choir. We just started using TeamKid instead of GA/RA on Wednesday nights, and they’ve had a bunch of kids the past few Wednesdays. We will have 20 kids or more on Sunday mornings, but then this past Sunday night, we had 6 in kids choir, and 2 of those are my own.

      I was hoping you’d find this and comment. The DVD thing is interesting….we may have to look into that.

      • Another advantage to using the DVD in Children’s Choir is that it helps with discipline issues.

        I was in front of them before when I used the CD, but I had to turn my back when I paused the music. Now I’m behind them encouraging them to sing as they watch the visuals and see the words on the screen. I can still pause it to do a teaching point, or whatever, but they’re always in front of me.

        I use a projector to make it as big as possible. This past spring, I used a TV, but with the projector, I turn off half of the lights. This helps to discourage some of the “showing off” that some kids like to do to disrupt class. Of course, some kid always has to kick or push against the projector cart with their foot, but there are always trade-offs.

  4. Norm Buchanan says:

    Our culture has come to expect to be entertained, not participate. To ask people to invest time and effort without being paid seems to be totally out of fashion. Sadly I believe this is now reflected in the Church……….

    • Wes Burke says:

      I absolutely agree Norm, it’s sad and pathetic in my opinion.

      • We can empathize, and that’s fine for what it’s worth, but the greater question is “What do we do about it?”

        The answer is to offer variety.

        Surprise the congregation by doing a “sing-along” one Sunday and see how that goes. LifewayWorship.com offers recordings of every song in the Baptist Hymnal and more. Sometimes, I’ll download a song “demo” and actually play that demo with the voices included. It gives the congregational singing a big sound. People are less shy about singing out when they hear other voices. Try that for a week or two, and then try it without the voices to see if they’re singing louder without the prompts.

        You may not be able to force participation, but you can definitely force involvement. I remembered something my choir director used to do when I was a teenager, and so I started doing the same thing a few months ago. One Sunday night per month, I ask for everyone with a birthday in that month to choose their favorite song, and we sing one verse of it. I made it a monthly feature rather than weekly, because doing it every week would be too predictable. I do it on Sunday nights, because the crowd is a manageable size, and it’s not likely we’ll have to do 20 requests in one stand. In a smaller church, though, I might do it in a morning service.

        Praise teams are great, but they look a lot like a group performing. The natural response is to sit back and watch the show even if they’re encouraging people to stand and sing.

        Another issue is range and rhythm. The “Hallelujah Chorus” is a classic, but no music director in his right mind would ask a congregation to sing music that complex. Why then, do so many church praise teams try to encourage amateur singers to sing complicated rhythms pitched in the tenor range?

  5. Gerald Wolfe says:

    Psalm 137
    “1 By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.2 We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.3 For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”

    I think this sums up how many of us who have been involved in Church music all our lives feel. It’s very noticeable to me that “the people” aren’t singing anymore…It’s pretty much “the team” on the platform. This may be seen as a radical statement…maybe even conspiratorial… but here goes; I do feel like the Church has been “carried away captive”, and we’re being “required” to sing a song in a “land” that feels “strange” to us. The question, then, is…”How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” It does make me want to cry…literally… when I look around at the blank, often confused, looks on the faces of the people that don’t know the songs they’re being asked to participate in. It’s uncomfortable and even embarrassing, to not be able to participate. To be honest, it “grates” on my spirit.

    There was a time, when you could walk into almost any Church, anywhere in the country, and feel almost “at home”, when the singing started. It really didn’t matter much, whether you walked into a Baptist Church, Methodist Church, Church of God, or other Evangelical Church…given a few minutes, you could find your way through the Hymnal, and sing along. With Churches now feeling compelled to add new songs into their worship on a weekly basis, it’s actually impossible to keep up. Where’s the melody line? Where’s the harmony? Every week is a whole new ballgame. So, I sit down… I have actually “wept” when I remember how it used to be. I feel like a stranger in a strange land.

    Side note: This past weekend, we did our first-ever concert in Sharon, Massachusetts. On the second half of the program, Rodney asked me to take requests from the audience and put together a piano medley, using the requests. (We’ve done that several times) After taking a request from each section of the auditorium, I put the five or six songs together and started to play the quickly-arranged medley. After the first line of the first song “Because He Lives”, the audience spontaneously began to sing. It started out softly, but by the time I got to the first chorus, the entire audience was singing to the tops of their voices! I modulated into the new key for “Trust And Obey”, and they kept singing! They sang every song I played..it was almost overwhelming. When the medley was over, it seemed like the applause lasted for at least two full minutes, and they wanted to sing more! It was CORPORATE WORSHIP! Everybody was on the same page, they were in “one accord”. It was Church…at a ticketed event, in an auditorium, in a city we had never been in, with people from Churches from as far as 200 miles away! Oh, for the day when the robotics of Church turn into genuine worship, that you can feel! The kind of services you leave saying…”we were in the presence of the Lord!”

    • Wes Burke says:

      Thanks for your insight Gerald. You have a unique opportunity to see and get a feel for the state of the Church that most of us don’t. I have the feeling that there are a myriad factors at play, but the overriding concern is that people these days want to fulfill their obligation by sitting in church on Sunday morning and that’s it.

      People don’t want to commit to anything or even participate in anything outside of the one hour in the pew on Sunday morning. That’s why nominating committees pull their hair out trying to fill positions every year and why volunteers to help in the nursery are requested from the pulpit on Sunday mornings.

      I fear for the state of the church when my children are my age.

      • Kyle Boreing says:

        “people these days want to fulfill their obligation by sitting in church on Sunday morning and that’s it.”

        I couldn’t have said it better myself. I am the leader of a contemporary worship service on Saturday evenings, and I once asked members of the congregation why they did or did not attend the Saturday service. The overwhelming answer I got was, “Well, I go on Sunday, so why should I go on Saturday, too?”

        My response is, “Why shouldn’t we want to go EVERY day??”

        Gerald, I do agree that familiarity is key to congregational worship. There are times where I feel like the praise band that I am leading is seen as nothing more than a mini concert, with a sermon in the middle. That drives me nuts. Even when we break out some hymns (or even just songs that everyone knows), and I tell everyone to sing along, the response is often a few people mouthing words for a couple lines, then just watching. Half of them don’t even want to stand up anymore.

        I gotta wonder, why do people even go to church if they have no desire to participate? I grew up in a tiny Church of God, and even though the typical attendance was around 50, we could blast that little two-car-garage-turned-sactuary till the walls nearly fell.

        Perhaps the inclusion of the video screens, multimedia, and progressive look/feel have turned a church service into a concert. “Ooh, that band is really good, I just wanna listen….”

    • Brian says:

      Amen, Gerald! You nailed it! And what a great application of those verses in the psalm.

      At our church, every service opens with the choir, which is open for any and all, no matter their singing ability. Every once in a while we will have a choir practice, but only if we are going to sing a song that may be unfamiliar. (For example, we had to practice “He Will Pilot Me” so the altos could get used to singing their lead in the chorus.) But most are old favorites: Feelin’ Fine, Til the Storm Passes By, Until Then, Canaanland Is Just in Sight.

      After the choir, the congregation sings one or two, always out of a hymnbook. Victory in Jesus, He Keeps Me Singing, I Am Resolved, Glory to His Name…songs like that. These are songs almost everyone knows.

      Then there is one special song scheduled that a soloist or group sings. These are typically southern gospel numbers, old and sometimes new. God on the Mountain, Just One More Soul, On the Jericho Road, Did I Mention…these are just some of the songs folks have sung in recent days. We have some that sing in beautiful four-part harmony. We have some that are good shower-singers. But they sing to the glory of God, and that’s the only requirement we have.

      We have no tracks. We have a piano, organ, bass, and a guitar. If you want to sing something, our musicians will learn it, no problem. Just come to church a few minutes early to run through it.

      My point is that all of the above are designed to make people want to participate in the worship. There are no tryouts, no complex arrangements, no new-fangled praise songs people have never heard. When we make “worship” more like a spectator event or concert, and not about coming together to praise God, the results are just what are stated in this post.

  6. Gerald Wolfe says:

    Correction: Actually, the concert I was referring to was in Fairfield, Maine. Sorry for my error.

  7. The tools (video screens, instruments, etc.) aren’t the problem so much as how they’re used. A media production guy needs to have some taste about what is conducive to worship. I’ve seen some show the lyrics with a busy distracting background, or some cheesy effects, or no rhyme or reason to the way the words are arranged on the screen, or worst of all, half the words spelled incorrectly. These are all distractions.

    Regarding instruments, I have a style of playing piano when I’m accompanying congregational singing, another style for playing for a quartet that also uses tracks, another way when accompanying the quartet without tracks, and several others when I’m playing piano solos. The key for any musician is to find that accompaniment style that leads the congregation to sing.

    When a singer decorates the melody, that’s fine for a performance, but it doesn’t encourage a congregation to participate. The moment the melody goes away, people start watching rather than singing.

    The fundamental issue, though, is that the songs many churches are being asked to sing simply aren’t very singable.

  8. Pingback: Is Church Music Dying? » MusicScribe

  9. quartet-man says:

    Wow, so much to say here I am not sure I will cover it all. One problem not only with music and other programs in the church (in fact church itself) is there are so many activities for people anymore that people have a lot more choices than they did. Used to church besides being about worship, was a time of fellowship, meeting, event etc. Now there are many other things people can do with their their time. Used to schools and other places had respect enough to not schedule on Sunday. Now you have sporting events and so forth during church time or out of town on Sunday. People are far more over-committed than they once were. Unfortunately, people also put entertainment and fun over church at times. We have several who consistently camp, visit relatives out of town etc. Some we might see half of the time if we lucky and others we hardly see at all (at least not in certain seasons or times). Now, I am sure some might visit a church where they are (which at least is something) but I don’t know that those camping do.

    Yes, we also have problems with a small amount of people doing a lot of the work. Some who have done so for years are simply burnt out. People want these things to happen or be done, but they don’t wan to be the ones to do them. Then back to the problem above, there are those you simply can’t depend on being there. I am on the nominations committee at church (as an act of service, not part of my music director job) and we do have problems filling positions. We have over 200 members (we have lost nearly 100 to death in the past 8 years or so) and although we have gotten some new, we haven’t kept up.

    The thing about unfamiliar songs and corporate worship is dead on and a problem, I have pointed out for years. So many think that the new praise choruses are the answer and there is some validity to that position. However, so many are practically unsingable. They have boring medleys, complex rhythms for some choir members let alone congregations, do not lend themselves to harmonies, and often boring, repetitive words. Now there are some great ones and I have utilized some of those. I visit other churches when I take vacation so as not to watch people do my job when I am gone. It also gives me a chance to visit friends and to check out how other churches do things. I went to one church with choruses and I never knew a single one. Without the music to read I had no clue. However, it was worse. Most (if not all) of the congregation seemed as lost as I was. It seemed more a performance from the praise team. Now, no one came out of the womb singing “Victory In Jesus” (a favorite of mine), but at least that (after people initially learned it) was that as new people came they had others to teach. Besides, it is easier to sing than many choruses. Many of the newer ones aren’t as singer-friendly. To me corporate worship is just supposed to be that, others singing too. Now, I have more to say about the choir end, but I need to get ready and go to church, I will try to do it on lunch or later tonight,

  10. j-mo says:

    Has anyone else noticed a theme here? Wes has gone from 40 to 10 in his traditional cantata. A commenter can’t find anyone interested in learning convention style music. A church is down 100 members because people are dying and no one new is replacing them. Sorry to be harsh, but maybe the people aren’t the problem. If I opened a store selling mountain climbing gear in the middle of the Great Plains, who would be to blame when no one was interested in buying my stuff?

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to bash any particular style of music and I’m certainly not suggesting we throw out the bible and pander to sin. What I am saying is that, whether you are doing a traditional robed choir, a country/gospel hootenanny, 80’s praise choruses, or cutting edge worship music with a full band…if it is not successfully accomplishing what you want for your church then maybe you should stop focusing on how to force people to like it and start focusing on what could work better for your congregation/community.

    I have been to churches all over the country that are trying to force-feed their congregation a particular type of music and they are all treading water at best. By the same token, I’ve been to lots of churches that are growing, getting plenty of participation, and have volunteers rotating in and out of every position. The one common thing I have seen in those flourishing churches is not the style of music they are doing (they vary widely), it’s that they are doing something quality that connects with the people they’re trying to reach.

    As far as this “why are we doing songs people don’t know” and “if we let this type of music die no one will sing harmony”…I understand the motivation in that line of thinking, but those are pretty silly points if you really give it thought. Maybe the circles most of us are familiar with (the types that show up to a Greater Vision concert) are most familiar with old hymns. That doesn’t mean an even bigger chunk of people aren’t more familiar and more eager to sing along with Shout To The Lord, the latest from Chris Tomlin, or whatever is currently getting a lot of play on their favorite Christian radio station. And, regardless of what people are familiar with, I can guarantee you they weren’t familiar with it the first time they heard it. I agree that the majority of worship music done in a church should be familiar to most of the congregation, but the congregation had to get familiar with it at some point. To rule out introducing new music is ridiculous and counter-productive. As far as the “nobody will sing harmony” thing goes, I love nothing more than good harmony too, but aren’t we being a little narrow in thinking vocal harmony must continue to be the main piece of musicality passed on to kids? If a generation of people ends up with great rhythm but can’t sing harmony, would the church collapse? If the same percentage of people that used to learn a vocal part now picked up a guitar or learned to play drums would the world stop turning? Would the good news stop being spread? I personally don’t find that the youth of most churches are musically ignorant; there is just a generational shift in the most prevalent style of music they’re educated about.

    Let’s just focus on doing what works and draws people to Christ and stop selfishly lamenting when it sometimes is not what we like best.

    • Wes Burke says:

      j-mo, I will respond somewhat with this. I never really said what style of music my church predominantly uses. We have been for several years incorporating both praise choruses and traditional hymns in our service. You can hear “Come, Now Is The Time To Worship”, “Jesus Messiah”, “Near The Cross”, and “When We All Get To Heaven” all in the same service.

      That may be about to change. With only a piano, keyboard, and acoustic guitar, it’s hard to continue doing the more contemporary songs. Losing our drummer to college with no one stepping up to replace him is pretty much the final straw. It’s hard for a pianist to drive the rhythm on “Open The Eyes Of My Heart.” We are looking at going back to a more traditional service, mainly out of necessity. I’ll admit I am more of a traditional hymn kind of guy (and I’m 34 years old). I don’t mind the newer songs we’ve brought in, even if it isn’t particularly my cup of tea. It’s not that the leadership is resistant to new styles, style isn’t seeming to matter at all.

      I personally find it to be more of a symptom of a commitment problem by the church as a whole. Our overall attendance numbers aren’t dwindling, we have new members joining the church fairly regularly, but the problem is we don’t have a lot of active participation from among the membership in anything, not just music, outside of attendance on Sunday morning.

    • “What I am saying is that, whether you are doing a traditional robed choir, a country/gospel hootenanny, 80’s praise choruses, or cutting edge worship music with a full band…if it is not successfully accomplishing what you want for your church then maybe you should stop focusing on how to force people to like it and start focusing on what could work better for your congregation/community.”

      EXCELLENT point. Brian’s church’s worship works for Brian’s church and it sounds awesome. However, that wouldn’t work in my church. We run between 150-175 and our people enjoy a blended style of worship. Most of the music we do is original, written by our worship leader and youth pastor (and occasional tunes by our bevy of songwriters, including myself) but also do a lot of older songs from the 70s and 80s and a substantial amount of hymns.

      We have a choir that is audition only and we sing twice a month. The parts are taught rote by myself. No music. We do a myriad of styles – black Gospel, Southern Gospel, worship, traditional choral arrangements, etc. We also do everything live – full band including a keyboard, drummer, percussionist, two electric guitars, acoustic guitar, and bass.

      My point is – it works for us. Brian’s church’s way of doing worship wouldn’t work for us. At all. Our church loves relevant Southern Gospel music. I sang “Took It All Away” (by CrossWay) once and the people loved it. A lady just did The Martins’ “The Promise” and people were weeping. However, there have been older tunes that have been sung that don’t utilize relevant language, and they fell flat. Our worship leader is in tune to what our church wants and what works for us.

      What we do at our church wouldn’t work in Brian’s church. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

      A lot of the issues I see in churches today is that it just feels like the worship leaders and music directors don’t keep a finger on the pulse on what works for their body. Keep it relevant for YOUR church. Don’t worry about keeping up with the Jones’ if your congregation doesn’t have a desire to do so as well.

      • I completely agree. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The problem is that churches are losing all sense of self-identity by trying to “be” something—“Uh-oh, we gotta have this, we gotta do that, we gotta keep up with the other thing.” Don’t chase after will o’ the wisps. Pick SOMETHING and STICK with it, and make it you.

      • To clarify, I was a little vague there. I actually think churches should try to “be something.” What I meant is they shouldn’t be constantly shifting and morphing according to everyone else’s standards.

    • Wes Burke says:

      Also, the 10 in my choir is the average number attending rehearsals. The number in the choir on Sunday mornings is typically significantly larger. We have a problem of people showing up to sing who don’t come to practice. The last week or so before the cantata, we will likely have 25+ at practice. The problem is they aren’t showing up at the rehearsals now. They will basically just show up the night of and expect to sing.

    • quartet-man says:

      First of all, we have had SOME new people, just not as much as those who are passing away. Most of the people here like the music we do as a church and choir. The point is, people are so sure that contemporary music is the answer, but there are church’s on every corner that do that already. I think we need to be what we are and there have to be others out there who have essentially been forced out of churches by getting rid of that music. The deal is, we made a decision to not try to get people from other churches as we don’t feel it is right to steal people from other churches. Now, I personally think if they are unhappy and looking all bets are off.

      We do do blended worship. Admittedly, I could stand to add some more new choruses, but we do mix it up. I think songs like “Here I Am To Worship”, “The Potter’s Hand” etc. stand up or eclipse hymns (depending on the hymns), but for those there are several more that are bland. We don’t have other instruments but me on keys, so that is an issue as well. Well, I do add a guitarist occasionally and would more if I could (they can’t commit), but some songs aren’t guitar friendly either. Some songs I add don’t have harmonies, and some unison songs are fine. I wouldn’t want to do all unison or use a screen for all songs though, nor would some of the choir members either (at the very least).

      I do use choral tracks or at times record my own accompaniment, Occasionally I will get the pastor’s wife to play for us as I conduct.

      I added more Southern Gospel than my predecessor, but we had problems with getting new members back then too. The biggest issue is getting them through the door anyhow. Now, we won’t be a church for everyone as musical preferences and preferences as far as style of preaching, what types of programs are available vary.

      As far as cantatas, I have made my own a lot as it was hard to find ones that fit what I needed and wanted. There were a few favorites from the many in the past we have done (before me) that I have used: Christmas: “Gloria” from Lilennas (I think), “A Song For Christmas” was decent, but I haven’t used much from it since I have taken the job, but it is a possibility. David turned me on to “The Love of God At Christmas” which although there were issues that made it not perfect for us, had a good selection of songs. One I found for this year is one I reviewed on Musicscribe, “Majesty of Heaven”, On the Easter side, there are “His Last Days” (long out of print) and “The Day He Wore My Crown” (purple cover).

      As far as the kids, we have trouble even getting parents to committing to getting the kids here and in making both morning services if they are to sing. They pretty much won’t come to both. Part of the issue is in not telling the kids they ARE going to be there, and part is the parents not wanting to make the effort. Last year we did “Aaron, the Allergic Shepherd” and this year it is “The Case of the Reluctant Innkeeper”. Both will work I think with 8 kids or even less maybe. I reviewed the latter on Musicscribe as well. Someone else heads that up though.

      This year too, I am trying to have less special rehearsals for the adult choir, but instead utilize rehearsal CDs and practice a little during normal time, but even that is challenging. People have so many other things they are doing and some are less committed than others. It is a battle and yet if I were to say we aren’t doing one this year, there would be many unhappy choir members including some of the worst offenders.

      It is easy to blame this or that, but if you are doing it, or are in a position to observe those who are doing it, you will see there are challenges in people being committed to it and being over-committed elsewhere. You will see a lot of challenges that weren’t there in the past. I have to wonder if part is what the Bible says about people falling away and loving pleasure more than God. Now, I am not saying those who let other things interfere with rehearsal or occasional attendance don’t love God, but sometimes it seems even those who do have priorities that seem askew.

      As far as other churches growing, I think some of that are fads and people not wanting to be challenged, wanting a lite sermon, no offering taken, no expectations given etc. Some of those that did that have lost members since and these people go on to the next new thing (for a while).

      There may be a part three later. :)

  11. mary says:

    I think you all sound like you are on board with the problem: pick sing-able songs.

  12. Lead Singer says:

    During the days I grew up there were old-fashioned Do-Re-Mi singing schools, not for one week, but three and four weeks. The emphasis was placed on teaching the kids how to read and write the music, not just perform. The object was to send them back to their home churches with tools to use in directing, singing, or playing the piano. The tools were honed on Sunday afternoons at “singings” were everyone gathered regardless of demonination and sang new songs out of the Stamps, Vaughn, Hartford and Stamps-Baxter books. New ones were published every six months.

    I belong to a church with a vibrant music program that is based on that same principle. The director teaches sight reading and gives a vocal class every week and if you want to be in the choir you have to be able to read parts and pass audition. It is a balanced choir. The baritones may not have the lowest voices, but they can sing the bass part (a la Gerald Wolfe). He challenged them and they came. We have a waiting list for spots in the music program. The youth can’t wait to earn a spot in the “big choir.” Those more advanced are encouraged to mentor junior members.

    Music education will build a good choir and orchestra. Learning music by rote is time consumning, tiring, boring and not very fruitful. Basic education is the key to building a joyful music experience for everyone, young and old alike.

  13. John Crenshaw says:

    I must say that I am very lucky to be singing in a choir that loves the music and is appreciated by our congregation for what we do. Our music selection is generally in the classical vein (Handel, Hayden), hymn settings (Sunday we’ll sing an arrangement of “Oh Worship the King”), and music by newer composers such as Robert Hobby and Kenny Potter.

    Our accompaniment is generally a pipe organ or piano sometimes supplimented with a violin, flute, oboe, or trumpet.

    We have 27 singers on roll, and on any typical Wednesday night, we’ll have 25 people at rehearsal. None of us (with the exception of the director and organist) are paid to be there. Our music is challenging and if you don’t rehearse, you don’t sing. The singers feel a responsibility to attend rehearsal both for the good of the choir and for their own musical growth.

    Rehearsals are fun, and no time is wasted. We don’t argue over the music. We sing what the director chooses. We generally rehearse for about an hour and that time is spent singing and learning. On any given night, we will rehearse four or five anthems. After rehearsal, you’ll find most of us eating dinner together at a local restaurant.

    Another thing that makes our choir a bit different is our annual retreat. We take a weekend, go to a remote camp in the mountains, and spend the weekend getting to know each other and getting to know our music. It’s a great team-building experience and NOBODY wants to miss retreat.

    I’m sure this situation isn’t for everybody, but I am blessed to be a part of it. My wife, my son, and my daughter in law are all members of this choir and it’s been a true blessing in our lives.

    I realize this situation is the exception rather than the norm, but I am blessed to be a part of it.

  14. quartet-man says:

    I have a core group of people that are pretty committed and a few who need committed. ;) Seriously, the first part is true. However, more and more things like work, life, kid’s activities, other choices etc. affect several. As far as people singing who weren’t at practice, that is a pet peeve of mine that at least hasn’t been as big as issue as some. However, there are a couple of times that got to me.

    First the choir spent weeks on a challenging version of “I’ll Fly Away” a member who perhaps had the strongest voice in his section came in the Sunday morning we were doing it and said “I don’t know it, but I’m going to sing it”. To make matters worse, I don’t think he even got there in time to go through it in warm up, so he was going to sing it “cold” and is not a reader. My two readers in that section (who are the two strongest in choir) would have been hard pressed to sing it the first time. I was pretty peeved, but tried not to show it. Fortunately, he held back a little while singing it, and I heard nothing offhand where he stuck out, but still. He also is bad about not watching and cutting off when he should and lags on keeping up with us at times when he comes in without rehearsing (which has happened some due to his work schedule). This can be a problem even on songs we have done before. However, he is better when there are songs he doesn’t know as well about asking if I want him to sing, but of course that is hard to say no to without causing a stink and his wife is in the choir too. What I have told him was sing softer and listen to the readers.

    Recently another singer in the same section (whose mother is in the choir and who has not come for months) came up to sing without possibly having seen the piece or warming up. I can’t recall, but he might have seen it the other time we did it or it might have been totally new to him. I wasn’t too happy about that one either. However, I did appreciate when he recently came up to sing when the entire section was wiped out due to absences and I had to quickly teach a guy from the other section with a good range the part as best I could in the quick time to help cover. Between that and then the second service the one who came down not being there, but the guy I previously mentioned above being there, we got by, I could have sung the part and conducted, but I am real close to the mics and have to really back it off to attempt to blend and even then I can’t hear how successful I am being in the mix.

    To some degree the people know I am a stickler and how seriously I take things, so there are less issues with these things than some probably have, but you can see above there are still some and I have to bite my tongue to keep the peace (especially in situations where a spouse or parent sing and also I can’t imagine the pastor being happy with me if I cause a stink or more to the point a stink is caused by my reaction to their own actions.)

    • John Crenshaw says:

      Q-man, all I can say is this: Would you be a better choir with him or without him? There are times we have what I call “addition by subtraction”. I realize that you first must lay a groundwork for this and you must also have the pastor on your side in case there is any fallout.

      As I said, I know our choir is the exception rather than the rule, but I’ve heard our director say privately to one of our best singers, “I realize you have had to miss several rehearsals during the Easter season because of your job. Why don’t you just sit in the congregation with your family and enjoy worship this morning and we’ll see you back when your schedule allows it.”

      I’ve also heard our director say this during a practice: “Pat, I know you’ve been sick and I know it’s caused you to miss rehearsals. I understand that. However, let me say this lovingly to you. It still doesn’t give you permission to talk through our rehearsals and ignore my direction.”

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