Wednesday, December 7, 2011
SINGING TO ASSIST
For about a year now, the church where I attend has had a steady and active choir again. Our directors put a great deal of time into selecting the pieces we will sing and in considering how we will sing them. They also encourage our singing individual solos, duettes, and the like. What is the purpose of a church coir? First and foremost, its singing assists congregational worship. If the pastor wishes to introduce a new hymn, he may call upon the choir to sing a verse or two so that everyone gets used to the new tune or words. Many choirs lead the chanting of the introit (entrance Psalm selection) or may sing the gradual between the readings of Holy Scripture. At Holy Cross in Kansas City, we sing many selections from the hymnal along with a few arrangements our directors find and hand out to us. An arrangement may emphasize some phrase or theme the hymn wishes to drive home to us which ordinary singing may not always catch. AS we sung “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” on Sunday morning, we raised our voices to a louder volume on the chorus because the hymn bids us to rejoice that Emmanuel, God with us shall come as He promises. We sing in celebration of His first coming and anticipate His impending return. When a choir sings, it does so with discretion. It is not performing in worship as in a consert or added bit of Sunday morning entertainment. That is why churches have traditionally used choir lofts. The congregation needs to hear the Law and Gospel rightly divided and sung with as little distraction by the choral appearance. I understand that not all churches have choir lofts. This is sometimes due to their size or because of the architectural style. Nevertheless, the choir is not on stage, per se, when assisting the congregation in worship. It is appropriate in churches for the choir to sit and sing in the back. After all, its members face forward with the rest of the congregation toward the chancel with its altar, cross, lectern, pulpit, and baptismal font. Divine worship is when heaven comes to us in the Word and Sacraments. (AC VII, see also Ex. 19, 1 Kings 8, Is. 6, 1 Cor. 11:23-25, and Rev. 7) To worship, our Lord draws us, His people. The choir members participate in the presence of God with everyone else there gathered. (corum Deo) Now, permit me to tread on thin ice. For as a congregation worships, so its choir members take liberty when conducting themselves. I have already mentioned that the choir assists the congregation and should not draw attention to itself. I do well to follow this advice myself as I am quite expressive when I sing and admit I may at times fall short of this expectation. Solos have become popular in many types of services. The pace changes a bit when one person sings as opposed to a choir or a whole congregation. We are drawn to a person whom God has gifted with the talent of singing well. Even so, that man or woman does not become a star-studded icon when lifting his or her voice in praise. He or she still assists the whole congregation by enunciating certain themes or phrases that fit with the weekly readings and sermon for the day. With all that said, how should choirs prepare for assisting congregational participation in worship? I admit I enjoy the fun and laughter of practices. WE make oopses and mistakes as we acquaint ourselves to a new hymn or choral anthem. We do well, however, to remember our Lord is using our voices to sing His praise and to help our friends and neighbor to do the same. One professor of mine at the seminary suggested that choirs prepare for six weeks to sing a given hymn or arrangement. After all, we do have busy lives, so meeting more than once a week to practice may prove to be a challenge. Six weeks is an ideal but not always practical solution. Even so, we do well not to fall into a rush-rush haste into the last minute. Our manner of practice will, no doubt, affect the reverence with which we sing in church. Some of my favorite minutes of the week are those leading up to worship as the organist plays a prelude. Whether I am singing in choir or sitting with the congregation as a whole, I take this time to look over the hymns. Often, the prelude is an arrangement of something we will sing, so it provides an extra help when preparing to worship in the Name of our Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Our choir often sings at the beginning of the service—as a call to worship. Our director often reminds us to wait about three seconds after singing the final note to put away our music. While people are not usually looking at us, they can hear if a dozen or more members ruffle a page or cclose a binder afterward. Again, we do well to have discretion when assisting the congregation in worship. We do not proclaim ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as His servants. (2 Cor. 4:4-5) Our words, our singing, our music is not about us. It proclaims Jesus Christ who opens up our lips to sing His praise with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. In closing, I emphasize again this post considers choral participation in worship. Our Lord does use choirs in public conserts and soloists for entertainment in other settings. He gifts musicians of all kinds to go into the public square and reach today’s youth and adults in many ways. I pray that our Lord wil use such evangelism to reach the unbeliever and to encourage fellow Christians. He works through music as a means of drawing people to His house of worship for the forgiveness of our sins. Many of us will attend both midweek and Sunday services at this time of the year. Our Lord promises that His Word will dwell richly among us—in our songs, hymns, and spiritual songs. (Col. 3:16) Rejoice! God is with us always in His Word and Sacraments, in worship and devotion, till He comes again.