The Choir as Community
By Patti Drennan
Musical groups are like sports teams; they endeavor to achieve a common goal and work closely together. They become an extension of each other’s families and can bond together not only in worship, but in times of celebration and grief. One idea that is beneficial in keeping connected with each other is to have a list of emails, cell numbers and birthdays gathered for each member. This list can be compiled from an enrollment card each person fills out when joining the choir. Also recorded could be the person’s interest in singing a solo or in an ensemble. When celebrations or concerns arise, it is important to acknowledge them with a phone call or card. This thoughtfulness will long be remembered. Identify the singers having a birthday at a monthly birthday party at the end of rehearsal. What a perfect way to fellowship with a sweet treat.
Our weekly choir handout, “Grace Notes”, includes information about our upcoming anthems and dates, monthly birthdays, prayer requests, a music joke and other pertinent facts. Attendance is taken by section leaders on rehearsal night and Sunday mornings. Near the exit is a sign-out sheet for singers to sign when they know they will be absent. (One Wednesday evening we sounded GLORIOUS as we prepared for an a cappella anthem for the following Sunday. Then Sunday came… but no tenors did, nor had they signed out. Fortunately, I asked my bass who is a band director to sightread the tenor part twenty minutes before we processed into the sanctuary. (Argh.) As a former high school choral director, I would have penalized a student’s grade for missing a performance. However, we are at a disadvantage since there is no such thing as after-church detention. Our city is in a university town and believe it or not, we must be aware of late-night or Bedlam ballgames that actually take precedence over church attendance. I have had to quickly alter an anthem when this happens.
While there are probably numerous anthems a director would like to program, the choir’s size may make it not possible for a number of reasons. One idea might be to establish a relationship with another church choir in town in order to work together, whether to perform a major work, to present an Independence Day celebration honoring the military, or even to bring a composer to present his or her music to the combined choirs. The choirs could split the costs that might otherwise not be financially feasible. These invitations might be done denominationally or even better, why not reach out to other choirs and allow everyone to learn from each other. In the case of my own choir, some opportunities have included participating in a “Festival of Spirituals”, presenting a combined “A Salute to the Vietnam Veterans” in our city park, joining for a choir performance with our neighboring church featuring composer and colleague Joseph Martin, and of course, presenting our celebrated “Patriotic Celebration” that has become a beloved event. In addition, many of our choir members signed up to sing in a Mass Choir on the beaches of Normandy and Lucerne Cemetery one year on July 4th. Nothing is more humbling and powerful than singing to a sea of white crosses and knowing even without hearing applause, we have had an opportunity to say “Thank You for Your Service.” More and more opportunities to join together and make music are available and can become memorable events.
Community takes on another role for the director as we work to be caretakers not only of the music in worship, but also, the way our music moves and affects the soul. God intends wholeness for all He created, and our faithfulness in embodying wholeness in every aspect of our life is important not only in our music, but in our worship. Our planning for worship, our teaching and rehearsals, and even the way we manage difficult situations has the opportunity to enhance, or to discourage worship and spiritual growth. The best instances of musical and liturgical moments are when they fuse together. and we experience the expanse of God’s creation and how we are simply but a small element. We feel moved and closer to worship because we have encountered something short of a mountaintop experience. For musicians, we have abilities to blend the aesthetics of music with the spiritual, creating a sense of awe. Part of the director’s assignment is to engage not only the unsaved, but also those with strong Christian values in order to help provide affirmation and renewal of their faith. Choosing quality literature from the classics all the way to well-written contemporary music can reach both the churched and unchurched soul. Don’t be afraid to study scores and allow versatility in your choir’s repertoire.
“The human voice is the oldest musical instrument and through the ages it remains what it was, unchanged; the most primitive and the same time the most modern, because it is the most intimate form of human expressions.” ~ Ralph Vaughan Williams