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The Top 10 Reasons for Performing a Cantata/Musical

Jun 19, 2024

By Mark Cabaniss

Celebrate Life!…Joy Comes in the Morning…Friends…It’s Cool in the Furnace… and the list could go on. Hopefully, you’re acquainted with or have experienced first-hand some or all of these now-classic musicals written by giants of church music. In my personal experience, the musical, or cantata, played a major role in my development as a church musician, writer, and then publisher.

In the modern church music world, I define a musical as a work that incorporates drama or dramatic/character narrative and a cantata as a work that simply has narration to tie the songs together (not a classic Bach cantata or oratorio). But unlike the Broadway musical where each song should develop the characters and/or advance the plot, I don’t think church musical songs necessarily need to adhere strictly to that form. For the purposes of this post, I call both musicals and cantatas “musicals.”

Like many, I have either performed in or conducted countless church musicals through the years, with those experiences being among my most enjoyable and rewarding music worship ones. But in the last decade, there’s no question the church musical genre has somewhat waned for a number of reasons: changing worship styles and fewer choirs, shrinking budgets, busier schedules, and I think a cultural shift of wanting more for less (less rehearsal and less hassle, that is). In my opinion, that’s a real shame given the tremendous benefits presenting a musical offers.

Before you stop reading because you think I’m only writing about the hour-long, fully staged dramatic musical, stay with me! This post concerns any sort of musical or cantata performed in the church, from 12 minutes to 60 minutes in length, whether using fully costumed characters, people in t-shirts and jeans, or no individual characters at all.

Using music with drama and/or narration to depict religious subjects reaches back to ancient Biblical times. The modern-day church musical has its roots in the 1950s with John W. Peterson’s works, such as Night of Miracles (1958). Peterson was the first to bring a contemporary, almost Broadway sound and sensibility to the pulpit, and the public loved it (while some at first thought it heresy...just as those who initially felt likewise a few centuries earlier regarding Isaac Watts's "Hymns of Human Composure"). I had the honor and privilege of working with Mr. Peterson on his final musical, and when I asked, he told me his early musicals sold in the hundreds of thousands of copies in their first few months of release – unheard of by today’s standards but clear evidence that Peterson tapped into a real thirst for musicals within the context of worship.

Good News (1968) by Bob Oldenburg, was another early musical milestone, along with the aforementioned watershed Celebrate Life!A Pulpit Musical Drama (1972) by Ragan Courtney and Buryl Red. These writers were the pioneers who dared to blaze new trails, not only bringing more contemporary sounds into the sanctuary of their day, but also the musical drama connected with it. All we church musical writers of today stand on their shoulders and owe a great debt of gratitude to these visionaries.

I remember a few years ago having a conversation with a minister of music who said he doesn’t do musicals with his choir anymore. “Too much work,” he said. I was stunned (and think I heard the sound of the late, great Buryl Red spinning in his grave). If difficulty was a deciding factor in our artistic endeavors, I’m afraid our world would be bereft of artistic achievement. Besides, musicals really aren’t that hard to prepare and present if chosen carefully for your choir.

But as I say, like it or not, our world has changed in this area. So are preparing musicals still worth it in our age of the Internet, social media, reality television, and other modern pursuits that can steal away our rehearsal time? Of course, my answer is a resounding YES!

Here are my top ten reasons for doing a musical once, twice, or even three times in your church this year and in years to come. They’re based not only on my personal experience through the years, but on what I’ve heard from countless directors and choir members over the last three decades:

  • The event factor. Since musicals aren’t performed on a regular basis, whenever they are performed, they’re an event. And events, if they’re promoted correctly, generally bring out more people to see them than a regular worship service. They can build excitement and a real positive buzz in a church and community.
  • Dramatic impact. There’s no question we live now more than ever in a fast-paced, visual world. Drama – especially when connected with music – offers a way to tell a story that can leave an indelible impact on its listeners. The gospel story is dramatic in and of itself and offers unlimited possibilities to be told in dramatic ways.
  • Greater depth. A musical offers a longer time for the choir to present a message in the context of a worship service, therefore offering more time to plumb the depths of any given subject musically and dramatically than a weekly three-minute anthem affords. Not that the weekly anthem isn’t potentially deeply impactful. Of course it can be. But a musical is, in essence, eight to ten anthems organically woven with drama and narrative, so the potential impact is exponentially increased.
  • Growth. Musicals offer the opportunity for choirs (and individuals) to grow in a number of ways: musically, numerically, and spiritually. Musicals tend to offer healthy musical challenges the choir might not experience otherwise. They occasionally attract non-choir members who want to try out the choir on a short-term basis, and sometimes these people become regular choir members. And since musicals can offer a greater depth of exploration of a subject, they provide deeper spiritual understanding of the subject in question, which can engender additional personal and corporate devotional time inside and outside regular rehearsal time.
  • Outreach. The unchurched – seekers who don’t attend your church or any other – often attend a musical. These folks are sometimes attracted to a musical simply because they want to see their friend who sells insurance play the part of John the Baptist (akin to one of the main draws of community theatre). Or maybe they come simply because they’re invited. But a one-time special-event musical is a great excuse to invite those friends and family members who don’t attend church regularly. Even those who are regular churchgoers but not members of your church often attend, and that’s great, too, of course.
  • Bonding. An event tends to rally a choir and focus its rehearsals for the period leading up to the presentation. If there are a few extra rehearsals to pull the musical together, these offer an opportunity for greater bonding between director and choir and among choir members. If there’s a church-wide fellowship event or reception following the presentation, these events can promote even more bonding and unity among the choir and entire church.
  • Wider involvement. A musical offers areas for people not usually associated with a church’s music program to use their gifts at least short-term with the choir: designing, building, and painting sets; lighting and audio/visual enhancements; costumes; and more.
  • Attracting more men and younger members. There’s no question that many choirs today are lacking in men and younger members. Musicals often require men to participate in speaking roles such as Jesus and the disciples, and with a little creative and gentle arm-twisting, the resourceful director can use a musical to recruit new men to the choir. The dramatic medium often appeals to the twenty- and thirty-something crowd – teenagers, too, for that matter… to say nothing of children’s musicals laying the foundation for a lifetime of choral singing.
  • Dinner or dessert theatre. A whole article could be written on this form of church musical presentation, but here I’ll say I’ve done several dinner theatres at churches over the years, and every one of them was a big success – because people love the mixture of food and musicals, especially at Christmas. And they definitely bring in non-church people in addition to regular church members while offering all the above-mentioned benefits.
  • Memories. Ask any church or choir member what anthem they sang on a particular Sunday a year ago and they’re likely to scratch their head and draw a blank. But ask them what musical they did when they were in high school, college, or last year in the adult choir and they’ll rattle off the title immediately. Again, I’m not saying the weekly anthem isn’t the choir’s bread and butter, but this is further evidence musicals are worth it.

Bottom line: musicals – when carefully chosen, prepared, and performed – can create a lasting and sometimes life-changing impact on those who experience them. All the hard work and prep time are worth it when you and your choir members experience “the smell of the greasepaint and the roar of the crowd”!


Click HERE to preview our entire collection of cantatas and musicals.

Keys to the Kingdom: A Tribute to Sharron Lyon

Oct 03, 2023
By Mark Cabaniss

Sharron Lyon quietly and peacefully passed away this past Friday evening.  To many, she will always be remembered as an organist.  And rightfully so.  She spent 40 faithful years on the bench at Nashville First Baptist Church.  But to me and many others in our industry, she will also be remembered as a producer and an editor.  And one of the finest in our business.  And even if countless church musicians around the world didn’t necessarily know her name (while most did, I’m sure), most of them were touched by her work whether they realized it or not.

I was a 17-year-old high school student when I first saw the name Sharron Lyon on the back of a record listed as the producer.  It was a Broadman Press recording of the cantata our youth choir was doing that year.  I was interested in the music business even in those days, and fascinated with recording credits and trying to understand from afar how those recordings were made.  The first thing I noticed was that Sharron’s first name had a double “r” in it instead of a single “r” the name usually carried.  After getting to know Sharron personally many years later, I decided the unique spelling of her first name was entirely appropriate because of the true uniqueness of the person behind it.

After noticing Sharron’s name on those first recording credits, as I dug into reading more recording credits, I found that her name was everywhere on ones from the past and present (and in the years to come).  And also on publications she edited.  She was one busy lady!  The name “Sharron Lyon” quickly became synonymous  with “quality” in my mind.  Whatever she produced and/or edited, I knew it would be done with the greatest of professionalism, care, and musicianship.

While in graduate school at the University of Tennessee, as my interest in the music business continued to grow and I decided to write my master’s thesis on music publishing, I sought to observe my first professional recording session.  Accordingly, I reached out to my favorite Broadman stars.  When I was able to gain access to Mark Blankenship and explain my mission, he invited me to sit in on a session which was produced by none other than Sharron Lyon.  For two days inside a Nashville recording studio, I soaked in her mastery of the process.  She often credited the legendary Buryl Red for taking her under his seasoned producer’s wing early in her career, and it showed.

And speaking of Buryl Red, when he and Ragan Courtney recorded their watershed musical Celebrate Life! (first released in 1972), it was Sharron Lyon they chose to record its organ-only prelude and postlude. And when the musical’s publisher re-recorded and re-released the work almost 20 years after its original release, they found no reason to re-record only two cuts:  the prelude and postlude.  They simply re-used Sharron’s original recording of each.  A tribute to her timeless musicianship that simply couldn’t be duplicated for that classic.

When I officially entered the music business with my first job in 1989 at Brentwood Music, I soon sought out Sharron for lunches and time to pick her brain a bit.  She graciously agreed having remembered that once upon a time recording session I sat in on.  Upon her eventual retirement years later, she agreed to assist me as a part-time editor/proofer of the many publications I was publishing (and also train some brand-new editors I had hired).  What a dream come true to work with and get to know even better the inimitable Sharron Lyon.  We swapped bushels of emails and texts through those wonderful years, had numerous phone calls and lunches (The Puffy Muffin and Cheesecake Factory were two of her favorites), and shared endless laughs.  And she never missed an opportunity to encourage me.  I also tried to absorb her tremendous wisdom.  Her genuine faith was never worn on her sleeve, but always present, beautiful, and a source of inspiration.

Sharron was truly a “publisher’s publisher.”  She got it all at a deep level, from song conception and production to sales and marketing.  Even in her later years, when we would have lunch or a phone call, she was brimming with great ideas and encouragement.  And she never decried how the contemporary worship movement impacted traditional worship (including her beloved instrument of the organ), but championed only the highest quality church music regardless of style, believing “the cream always rises to the top.”

Sharron launched the careers of numerous (now very well known) composers, arrangers, and singers…much too many to enumerate here.  She knew how to spot true talent and nurture it to its highest and best, while happily and humbly remaining behind the scenes. 

To be with Sharron at lunch or a meeting was consistently a treat.  She was always impeccably dressed, yet very approachable, completely down to earth, and ever warm and wonderful.  She spoke with the accent of a true Steel Magnolia and was consistently up to date on all things relevant.  She had a quiet and calming Southern elegance about her that invariably made you feel as if you were enjoying a cool glass of lemonade on the front porch of your favorite friend on a peaceful summer Sunday afternoon.  And all the while being fully engaged sharing exciting ideas, goals, and dreams.

Sometimes before a lunch with her, I would grab from my personal collection one of those records or choral books she produced back in the day and then “unveil” it at lunch.  She would smile, laugh, and humbly not take any credit for its success and quality.  But she satisfied my interest by telling me a few great back stories about its production.  Precious memories. My last visit with her at the beautiful senior living community in Brentwood where she had moved was fun and unforgettable.  She was as encouraging and delightful as ever, still brimming with ideas and enthusiasm.

Thank you, Sharron.  We love you and will always miss you (but look forward to a Heavenly reunion).  And now that your earthly labors are completed and you are at rest, the keys you played for decades are at rest, too.  But may those of us whose earthly journeys aren’t quite completed yet not let you down.  May we continue to be inspired and act accordingly because of your influence and shining life example.  The keys, music, and countless lives you touched will resonate forever.  

A Chat with Lloyd Larson

Aug 31, 2023

Editor’s Note:  Lloyd Larson has become one of most published and performed church music writers of today.  A frequently called-upon clinic and conference resource person, Lloyd has been a singer, keyboard player and arranger.

Having earned his B.A. from Anderson University, Anderson, IN, Lloyd next completed his M.C.M. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), Louisville, KY, and completed additional graduate work at SBTS and Ohio State University.

His extensive background in arranging and composing includes arranging music for an internationally broadcast radio program. Also, in 1989, he completed an editorial assignment for a new hymnal, titled Worship the Lord, for the Church of God. Lloyd also co-edited the Hymnal Companion for that hymnal. In addition, he contributed to The Complete Library of Christian Worship, edited by Dr. Robert Webber.  He has served as a church music director for decades (a role he continues to this day), which has inevitably informed his artful and well-crafted, yet practical original compositions and arrangements.  Lloyd sat down with Jubilate Music Group to discuss his writing, career, and more.

JMG:  What and when was your first published piece of music?  How did it feel to see your music and name in print for the first time?

LL:  My very first publication was a 2-part Advent anthem titled Love Will Be Born. It was published by Beckenhorst Press in 1982 and was a collaborative project with lyricist Mary Kay Beall. Mary Kay and her husband, composer John Carter, lived in Columbus, Ohio where I was living and serving on a church staff at that time. I had the opportunity to meet John and Mary Kay and study with John for a few years. At the time, John was doing adjunct editorial work for Beckenhorst. He introduced me to the legendary composer John Ness Beck, one of the co-founders and President of Beckenhorst. It was an amazing experience for me to see that first piece come into print! Though I had been involved with choirs using published music from my teen years, I had little knowledge of the sequence of steps involved from "idea to publication." I'm forever indebted to John and Mary Kay for their influence as they guided me through the process and introduced me to numerous people who have been instrumental in encouraging me on my journey as a composer.

JMG:  What do you enjoy most about the compositional process? 

LL:  For me each piece involves its own unique journey. I try to avoid thinking "I want this piece to sound like....." That's especially true with sacred choral anthems. Though I'm a composer and love to find a melody, harmonic structure, and rhythmic framework that work, the reason we sing in the context of worship is because of the lyric. As a result, it is essential when I sit down to create music to go with a text that I build a distinctive vehicle (music) that will underscore and create a path by which that lyric is heard in fresh and meaningful ways. I love discovering new ways to express the profound truths of our faith. I love unearthing new treatments to familiar hymn melodies. I love finding a distinctive marriage between a familiar hymn text with a new or different hymn tune than what is typically associated with it. When these moments happen for me in my studio and they impact me in a new way, I've come to believe they will have a similar impact on others as well.

JMG:  Who have been the most influential people in your writing career?

LL:  I've already mentioned the impact that composer John Carter and his wife, lyricist Mary Kay Beall, had on my early writing career. But there have been many others along the way. I would call them the "giants along my path." The late John Ness Beck and Fred Bock were also strong encouragers in the early years of my career. George and Bill Shorney, Lew Kirby, Jack Schrader, Larry Pugh, Gilbert Martin, and Jean Anne Shafferman along with numerous others have been profound influences in my writing with their input and encouragement. They have seen potential in my work and often pushed me outside of my own comfort zones to try some things I would never have considered. But I would be remiss if I didn't go back and recall the early influence of my mother (my first piano teacher) and my high school and college teachers who encouraged me to explore my interests in writing, even providing me platforms to try out some of my earliest writing endeavors. Writing for "real live singers and instrumentalists" in college and church settings helped me to discover quickly what worked and what didn't work. I've continued to be involved in church work over the years (now 40+ years) which has been essential in shaping my approach as a composer of church music.

JMG:  With the changing tides of church music styles over the last few decades, what encouragement can you give to choir directors of today’s church?

LL:  I will always be an advocate for church choirs. I strongly believe in them! (And it is not just because I depend on them for my livelihood.) They provide such a unique opportunity for ministry in the local church. The church choir I've directed for the last 25 years is a very tight community. The pastoral staff in our church calls the choir our "largest small group." And I think they're right. We are a community for 40+ people who typically gather a couple of times a week to rehearse and sing in worship. In the process of working on music together, we develop our musicianship while at the same time studying together the truths of our faith through the words that we sing. We are a multi-generation ensemble ranging in age from teens to my eldest bass who is 93 (and the most faithful member I have in the choir!). We regularly pray, cry, and laugh together. We celebrate life achievements and we mourn losses together. We sing every style of music imaginable from the classics to beloved gospel songs with harmonica. (Yes, I have an outstanding harmonica player in my why not?!?!?) There are few, if any, settings in the life of the church where you can live life and faith in such a community. When the day comes that I'm no longer writing choral music or directing choirs, I anticipate singing in a choir. That's how much I believe in them!

JMG:  You have several bestselling cantatas in the JMG catalog, including
“Seekers of the Light” (with Mark Hayes).  What is the thrust of this work?

 LL:  "Light" is a metaphor for goodness and God's presence throughout scripture. As people of faith, we are always on this journey to experience more of the "light of Christ" as we seek out His will and presence in our daily living. And this was true for the earliest followers of Christ, even those who first saw and recognized Him as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. They were guided by light (bright angelic hosts and celestial stars) to the Promised Child. We are all seekers of light when it comes to understanding our faith or life in general. And it is an on-going journey. We will never "arrive" until we reach our final destination, our heavenly home. As a result, Seekers of the Light is an appropriate title and thrust, it seems to me, for recalling the pilgrimages of the earliest worshipers of Christ while at the same time uniting us with those worshipers in our own journeys as we seek to understand and know this One who called Himself the "light of the world." (John 8:12) It was a pleasure to collaborate with my long-time friend and colleague, Mark Hayes, on this project. I've been a fan of Mark's music over the years, having used a ton of his music in my own ministry. So to partner with him on a project like this is a special treat for me. It is certainly my prayer that this cantata will continue to impact and encourage directors, choirs, and congregations as they prepare and present it!

JMG:  Is there a writing project you have yet to tackle or hope to accomplish?

LL:  I always have an on-going list of projects which I hope to tackle at some point down the road. The list is longer than I'll ever get done in this life-time (kind of like my "to do" list of home projects that I'm wanting to tackle!). It is a grass-catcher list of ideas that has been spawned by a line in a sermon, or a passage of scripture, or a brief idea that has surfaced from a hymn text. I probably won't divulge too much of that here. (I mean I don't want Joe Martin, Mark Hayes, or Mary McDonald stealing my ideas!! Ha!) One of the areas I'd love to pursue a bit more is to occasionally do a musical project outside of Christmas or Easter themes. As much as I love doing extended works on those themes, it is nice to have the opportunity to develop an extended work in other thematic directions. The reality, though, is that we who are church composers don't get that opportunity too often simply because of the nature of our core market. I did recently have an opportunity to do a large commission project based on a group of Psalms which was truly a challenging and gratifying experience. 

JMG:  Do you have a story of something you’ve written?

LL:  On December 14, 2012, I happened to be working on a lyric by Susan Boersma. Susan is a fabulous lyricist and had created a lyric based on Revelation 22:5 that I had asked her to consider. That particular day - a Friday - was the day a lone gunman burst into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut and senselessly took the lives of twenty young children and six adult staff members in a matter of minutes. On that day, the words I was setting became deeply personal and hopeful in what was a very dark moment for many in that community and beyond: Into the valley of shadows, under the veil of gray, God calls the good and faithful, then guides us on the way. Through the valley of shadows, lost in the dark of night, our God goes before us to lead us to the light. There will be no more night! No need for lamp or ray of sun, the Lamb will be the light. There will be no more night! No need to fast, to watch, to weep around the throne so bright. That anthem, Dwell in the Light Forevermore, holds a special place in my heart because of the circumstances which surrounded its creation.

JMG:  “Getting to Know….Lloyd Larson” -  Our “Lightning Round” of quick questions and answers:

  1. What is on your summer reading list?


  • The Next Person You Meet in Heaven (Mitch Albom)
  • Unshakable Hope (Max Lucado)
  • The Reckoning (John Grisham)
  • Vanishing Grace (Philip Yancey)
  1. What types of music do you listen to most?

LLI try to listen to a little bit of everything, from the classics to outstanding (and current) choral writers. I love jazz and big band sounds. My wife and I just this week went to an outdoor Drum and Bugle competition (DCI) in a nearby community, something we enjoy doing when the opportunity affords itself. I'm a big John Williams fan with some of his classic movie themes. As a teenager, I was a big "Chicago" fan, and many of those melodies are rooted deep in my memory. I'm not sure I have a favorite genre per se. I'm pretty eclectic in my tastes.

  1. What is your favorite vacation spot?

LL:  As a kid growing up in central Illinois, my family often vacationed on a lake in northern Wisconsin. I fell in love with the northwoods in those years. And I still love them! Most summers will find my wife, Marci, and I carving out a few days between summer travel commitments to spend some time on a northern Minnesota lake somewhere enjoying some quiet time. That's on our schedule for later this summer. It is often a small "mom & pop" resort or modest cabin somewhere where the biggest agenda of the day may be "Should we grill out or drive into town and find a restaurant for dinner this evening?" We enjoy the quiet beautiful scenery, some fishing, reading, and a lot of down-time. It is wonderful way to recharge!  

  1. What is your favorite summertime frozen treat?

LLOne of my biggest disappointments in recent years is that it appears that every DQ in the upper midwest has discontinued the Snickers Blizzard. This was my favorite for years! But I must have been in the minority. So I've been exploring other chocolate-influenced Blizzard options. I haven't landed on a new favorite as of yet. But I'm working on it. Stay tuned!

JMG:  Thank you, Lloyd, for spending some time with us so our readers can get to know you a bit better.  Your contributions to church music are immeasurable, and your music not only enriches lives but most importantly, is building God’s Kingdom.  Blessings to you in the years ahead, and we look forward to more exciting music creations from you!


Browse Lloyd Larson's publications here.

A Chat with Mark Hayes

Aug 01, 2023


Recently, Mark Cabaniss of Jubilate Music Group sat down to speak with the always creative Mark Hayes about his writing and other topics of interest. 

MC:  It’s an honor to sit with you today and discuss your career and a few other things, Mark.  What prompted me to do this interview is when I ran across a musical of yours recently in my personal choral library published in 1985 that seemed as fresh as ever…as if it could have been released in 2023.  That’s one of the many hallmarks of your writing through the years, and that’s its timelessness.  Your work never sounds dated, even though you have pieces reaching back to the early 1980s.  To what do you attribute that?  What’s your secret?

MH:  2023 marks 43 years of writing music as a full-time, self-employed composer and arranger. My…I never thought I’d still be doing this after all these years. I believe what keeps me going is my desire to find something new to write or a new way of telling a musical story, whether that’s sacred or secular. I continue to be mindful of my “brand” and make sure there is something uniquely “Mark Hayes” in each piece I write. I have been learning to say no to projects that no longer interest me. If I’ve “done that before” and I have no passion for it, even though a publisher on client might pitch it to me, then I say no so that I create space for something more interesting that will reveal itself to me. I’m also aware that I’m more spiritually evolved and see and experience God differently than I did 50 years ago. Consequently, my language for God and all things spiritual have changed. I endeavor to be authentic in creating music that reflects my spiritual journey and hopefully resonates with other believers on their path.

MC:  What was the first piece of music you had published, and what year was it published?

MH:  My first published piece was actually an entire choral collection called “Spirit of Love”, published in 1976. I was a relatively new graduate of Baylor University and still living in Waco, TX. I played the piano for and arranged music for a gospel ensemble called “Spirit of Love”, made up of seven of my Baylor friends, one of whom is Robert Sterling, a very successful composer and arranger. Spirit of Love was offered a recording contract and I had the privilege and challenge of arranging and orchestrating the entire 10 song album. By the time I finished orchestrating 10 songs, I was ready to start over because I learned so much in the 6–7-month process. My producer, Charlie Brown (Charles F. Brown), said no to that. We recorded my first attempts.

MC:  There are so many classics you’ve created through the years for choral literature.  I know it’s unfair to ask if you have a favorite…or two…but here goes…do you have a favorite?

MH: It certainly is hard to choose, but one of my all-time favorites is “Rejoice and Sing Out His Praises” published in 1985. It was commissioned by a local high school in Shawnee Mission, KS. It’s based on Psalm texts and has an innovative and toccata-like piano accompaniment. There are several a cappella sections, some of which are polyphonic and highly syncopated, and some of which are homophonic and lyrical. I’m also very proud of my first major classical work for chorus and orchestra, “Te Deum.”  Another favorite is my “Requiem”, published in 2013.

MC:  In addition to your composing, arranging, and orchestrating, you also perform regularly all over the world as a clinician, conductor, and pianist.  What’s one of the funniest or oddest things that happened to you (thus far) in your travels?

MH:  One summer at a reading session event, I shared the stage with Joe Martin and Ken Medema. Joe had this hair-brained idea to do a dueling piano skit where he would play a song in a certain distinguishable style and then I would bump him off the bench and play my version of that same song. I don’t remember the song we played, but we worked our way through several styles such as gospel, jazz, classical, show tunes and inspirational. We each played 8-16 measures of the tune and then immediately gave up the bench for the next version, so it was fast paced and hilarious. Later that night Ken Medema showed us what real improvisation was as he made up original songs on the spot after being given a few notes and ideas from audience members. What a master he is and what clowns Joe and I were.

MC:  While choral music remains strong nationally, church music has certainly changed over the past 20 years, with the choir unfortunately being eliminated in some churches.  If you could say something to a music director who is considering eliminating (or has eliminated) their choir, what would that be?

MH:  Since the pandemic has abated, choirs are testing the waters and coming back to lead congregations in worship. I’ve had a chance return to travel the country and direct several church choirs again. Most have bounced back with great energy and others are still struggling. Choirs are still such an important part of the church. They provide community. They contribute a unique and important worship voice that praise and worship teams simply can’t offer. They are visual reminders to the congregation that you don’t have to be a soloist or a music major to contribute something to congregational worship. Choirs offer such a variety of styles and types of music compared to P&W teams. We need everything from masterworks to southern gospel in our churches. I encourage directors not to throw in the towel. Give choir members good music to sing, energetic and compassionate leadership and they will exceed your expectations!

MC:  Wow…that is one of the most succinct and powerful “case for the choir” statements I’ve heard.  On another note, in 2022 you completed a new piano book for Jubilate, “10 Christmas Songs For Solo Piano.”  Please tell us about that and any other exciting projects coming up.

One of my favorite creative ventures has been the Mark Hayes Vocal Solo Collection. I was pleased when you suggested I might create a piano solo collection based on my vocal arrangements, Mark. Thanks for that great idea! I chose 10 songs from the two Christmas vocal solo collections and transformed the piano accompaniment and vocal line into a creative piano solo. This project went so well that I recorded it. The CD as well as the book are available from Jubilate Music Group. These arrangements are brand new, unlike any other Christmas piano solos I’ve written.   

As for future projects, I’ve been asked to conduct at Carnegie Hall Memorial Day Weekend of 2024. My intention is to write a new work for chorus and orchestra and conduct the world premiere that night. I’m still formulating ideas about what that will be, but I’m contemplating writing a chorale and fugue in the Baroque tradition.

MC:  That sounds exciting.  We look forward to that and your next musical offerings!  Thank you for your time, Mark.  As it says on your website (, your mission is to create “beautiful music for the world” and you have done – and continue to do – just that.  You are bringing light, life, and hope to countless lives…through the transforming power of God’s gift of music. 


A Chat with Tom Fettke

Mar 23, 2023

Tom Fettke has been offering his creative compositional/arranging and producing gifts to church musicians for over five decades.  Many of his songs are staples in church choirs’ repertoires, having impacted millions of people literally around the world.  And yet, this veteran is never one to rest on his substantial laurels, continuing his work as a composer/arranger with new offerings regularly.  Tom took time out of his busy schedule recently to discuss his remarkable and celebrated career, reflect a bit on church music today, and even share with us a few of his favorite things.

JMG:  Tom, you are regarded as a living legend in the world of choral music by a vast number of leaders and participants. When did your journey as a composer and arranger of musical works begin?

TF: Music has dominated my life since I was five years old. My mom and dad sacrificed mightily to provide me with training in the arts which included voice and piano lessons, drama lessons and even ballet lessons (which didn’t last very long!). My interest in the arts did not waver as I continued to mature. An interest in choral music came early in my development. I began attending a small church as a result of the missionary outreach of our next-door neighbor. Because the church consisted of a small number of followers I was privileged to participate in church musical activities at a much earlier age then is probably normal. The Youth for Christ movement -- most noted for their Saturday Night Youth Rallies -- was the most influential experience of my young life. These rallies were loaded with musical opportunities and were  catalyst for putting my music performing as well as writing gifts to work. My facility grew as I continued to write for YFC and church choirs (I began church choir directing when I was 19). A lot of stuff was written before I began to think that maybe my creative efforts were publishable! It wasn’t until 1972 at 31 years of age that I had the opportunity and the guts to show my compositions to a publisher. To my surprise and delight all three of the ones I submitted were accepted. During the 17 years that led up to that moment I had experimented with “real choirs” and through positive and negative experiences I had discovered what works with church choirs and which compositional devices were most effective. More importantly, I perfected the art of voice leading which rendered my writing quite accessible; I wrote choral music that the church volunteer singer could sing effectively.

JMG:  What was the name of your first published anthem and your first published cantata or musical?

TF: My first published anthem: “My God How Wonderful Thou Art” (1972). My first published Christmas cantata: “Love, Joy, Peace“ (1973).

JMG:  Your best known anthem, with well over 1 million copies in print, is “The Majesty and Glory of Your Name”. When you completed the anthem and laid your writing instrument down did you have any idea that it would become standard repertoire for thousands of choirs in almost every denomination?

TF: There is a lengthy story behind the creation of “The Majesty and Glory of Your Name”, which is printed in some of the editions of the anthem. For this interview, let me recount the end of the story: Late one night in a music store, where I was working at the time, I was seated at a 9 foot Baldwin grand piano (1978); I played through and sang the completed anthem… It was an incredibly moving experience for me and I knew at that time, that God had chosen to touch this musical and textual creation. God wrote it! I knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that I was only a tool in the hands of God to display His handiwork.

JMG:  What are a few of the most enjoyable and fulfilling experiences as a composer/arranger/clinician through the years?


  • To give birth to musical works in the recording studio.
  • To search for and discover new lyrics and musical devices.
  • To see and hear 600 high school age young people touched and impacted by performing “The Majesty and Glory of Your Name”.
  • To see lives changed and enriched through the ministry of choral music.
  • To help and tutor “people with the gift“ achieve and succeed.
  • To share my music experiences with my spouse.
  • To bring glory to my God. Soli Deo Gloria!
  • To find the lost chords!

JMG:  What is one of your favorite or funniest memories from your experiences “on the road” as a clinician?

TF: A shredded wardrobe! I had a number of conferences in the South and Southeast packed in a four-week period of time. My wife Jan and I decided to drive and make a scenic tour of it. After four or five conferences and 2 1/2 weeks on the road we arrived in Spartanburg South Carolina late one evening and ascertained we only had one change of clothing left. So, we sorted and placed the things needing cleaning in the plastic bags provided… Trousers, dresses, sport coat, dress shirts, etc. I took the two bags chock full of stuff to the front desk requesting next day service. The next day we arrived back at the hotel about 6:00 PM expecting the laundry to be in our room but alas, it was not. I called the front desk. They had no idea where it was and said that the cleaners was closed for the night and they would run it down first thing in the morning. Luckily my reading session was in the afternoon the next day. The front desk called at about noon and said they were in possession of our cleaning, and they would have it delivered to our room. Sigh of relief! Upon arrival, we removed the plastic and paper wrap things to find all our clothing… every last item shredded into long strips of fabric. Apparently, an employee of the hotel thought our laundry bags were trash bags-- they ran them through the hotel compactor/shredder! When they discovered their error, they placed the clothing in two more bags and sent them off to the laundry???!!! We will never know why they did that. A trip to a Spartanburg department store got us through the rest of the trip. After haggling with the hotel chain for a few months we were finally reimbursed for our losses.

JMG:  What words of encouragement can you give to church choir directors in an age where church choirs aren’t as plentiful as they once were?

TF: Hang in there:

  • Your choir can and will have an impact upon the spiritual well-being of the congregation. Prepare your choristers well (like a pastor prepares for the delivery of an inspiring sermon). Remember: God is excellent, and He commands us to be like Him.
  • Your choir can and will minister to the diverse body of believers sitting in the pew. Achieve this through a diverse repertoire. Each person responds to different kinds of stimuli. It behooves us to present a balanced and blended choice of anthems, hymns, and contemporary songs.
  • Remember and take pride in the fact that choir participation offers the opportunity for musically gifted people to use their talents to glorify a living God. Discontinuing choirs and orchestras in favor of selective ensembles is a travesty.
  • Your choir is a community of friends and believers. They minister to each other. They share the joys and heartaches of the Christian journey. They work as one to achieve a greater purpose -- that’s what makes it unique in the body of Christ.

JMG:  Here’s our “lightning round” of quick questions:

-What is your favorite hymn?

TF: “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”

-What is your favorite vacation spot?

TF: Hawaii – the big island if it survives!

-What is your favorite summertime frozen treat?

TF: A Toasted Almond Chocolate Milkshake!

JMG:  Thank you, Tom!  We are honored to have you in our family of authors at Jubilate Music Group.

Click here to read more about Tom and browse his publications.



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