Given the never-ending stream of details in our lives, it is often easy to miss the bigger picture. When we can’t see the forest for the trees we need to be reminded that there are important, larger concepts that help us make sense of the details. In the church music program, there are a few central organizing ideas that are important to remember.
The music is a component of the service. This idea seems self-evident, but musicians often need to be reminded of this. It is clearly outrageous to think of scheduling a ragtime piece by Scott Joplin for a funeral or to think of scheduling a funeral march for the Sunday morning service; however, musicians often wrongly are focused on ideas like, “What song do I feel like playing right now?” instead of thinking, “What song would work best in this service?”
Musicians also need to be reminded that both the words and the music convey something. In some cases, musicians will look for words that match a certain theme without remembering that the musical style must also be appropriate. If the pastor hopes for a service to begin with a bright opener, what could be brighter than the opening words of “Sun of My Soul”? However, the overall impact of this song is more sober than bright.
The music program is a component of church involvement. Every music director worth his salt wants the music to sound good, and it is easy to rely over and over again on the same people when we have found something that works. But part of the purpose of the music program is to create opportunities for involvement.
There are many obvious aspects in a music program: choirs, large ensembles, small ensembles, vocal soloists, instrumentalists; but we must also remember that the music program sometimes needs people to order music, people to stuff the choir folders, people to store the music in an orderly fashion, and people to provide food for the annual choir fellowship.
It’s important that our minds don’t get into a rut. It’s dangerous for us to think, “This person is not a soloist; thus, I have no place for him.” Instead we might think, “this person might work well in our large choir” or “this person is extremely faithful and detail oriented so he might be a great person to keep the music library organized.” Since the music department contains both behind-the-scenes roles and highly platformed roles, it is possible to use people at different levels of spiritual growth.
The music program is a component of the church’s educational program. There is no noise quite like the sound of a screaming baby. Young children, too, are expert at creating vocal chaos. But the screaming children of today are the church singers of tomorrow. Music directors need to constantly encourage children to become involved in music, and it’s a good idea to encourage adults to do so too! It’s great to say things to parents like, “Have you thought about piano lessons for your child? I think it would be great!” Even though not all of them will stick with it, the ones that do will be the better for it.
If members of the adult choir took only ten piano lessons, they would still gain valuable music reading skills. If members of the adult choir took only ten voice lessons, they would probably know how to produce a better, bigger sound. If the members of the adult choir simply read a short booklet about being a church choir member, they would likely be more conscious of important details.
Yes, pianists need to still practice for the offertory, choir directors still need to meet with the choir for practice, and ensembles need to hold to their regular rehearsal schedules. But in the midst of the neverending activity that is associated with the music department, we must remember to keep important basic organizing principles in mind. We should not lose sight of how music fits into the church program. We must involve everyone we can, and we must do our best to keep growing the musical skills of our church members.