Three Things That Mark A Successful Choir- The Musical
Featuring Vern Sanders Posted on April 2, 2010
I have purposefully left the musical consideration to last, in part because I make the assumption that in most choirs, the musical considerations come fi rst. It is hard to be a musical ensemble and not work on developing musical skill, although I suppose it is possible. Just as in the social and spiritual categories above, however, the choir in modern worship needs to reach out – to develop in new ways. Perhaps not surprisingly, those musical ways involve social and spiritual things as well.
I alluded to multiculturalism above. It is not new news that the world is getting smaller in this digital age. It is also a growing reality – a new “fact of life” – that as the world gets smaller, people know about, and relate to people and things that were unknown to them even weeks or daysbefore.
New denominational hymnals now routinely include Korean, African, South American, and other indigenous hymns. Multicultural anthems are a growing segment of music publishing. A choir that does not attempt to at least learn about this new “world music” is setting itselfoff , at some level, as snobbish. A familiar criticism is “why do we always sing music written by dead white guys?” As the population of our society and our churches becomes many hued, it becomes less defensible to provide a steady diet of just one musical style from the choir loft.
At the same time, worship developments over the past generation or so have placed much more spiritual emphasis upon the imminence of God than at any time in the past century. Often this has been at the expense of considering the spiritual transcendence of God, but imminence is, like it or not, a significant attribute of modern worship.
Choirs, historically, have provided evidence of God’s transcendence, generally expressed in the beauty of choral singing and the depth of textual substance. The choir in modern worship needs to at least
acknowledge that a large, vocally organized group of church people can sing about God’s imminence as well.
To be clear, I am not suggesting a change from one single source musical diet to another single source musical diet. A balanced musical diet includes some portions of imminence, and some servings of multicultural music, in addition to the standard helping of transcendence.
Transcendent beauty is not somethingthat only applies to music written before1750. The modern choir will seek out and serve high value examples of music produced within the past few years.
What does all this mean, for the musical technique of the modern choir?
Much more emphasis upon rhythmic
aspects of music. Syncopations, cross rhythms, and vocal percussion are just a few of the new techniques that the choir in modern worship must master.
Much more attention is needed to develop the delivery of the text so that it communicates the spiritual message, not just musical beauty.
A new tonal palette is now in play, and the choir in modern worship needs to know how to reproduce a “radio” sound, without the benefit of singing one person to a microphone.
Finally, the choir in modern worship needs to be comfortable with a whole new set of accompaniment timbres: indigenous and hand held percussion, rhythm sections, multiple keyboards, and even full orchestras have replaced the staples of piano and organ as accompanying instruments.
The choir is not dead to modern worship. On the contrary, an assembly of voices
singing God’s praises has never been more necessary. But the choir, if it doesn’t adapt to modern worship, will indeed die a slow, painful death. And then what will we do if and/or when God calls for a choir to bring down the proverbial walls of a new Jericho?
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