More Musician Talk

I am admittedly still basking in the experiences of the concert by the Tennessee Mens Chorale at First Baptist Church Livingston last Friday night.  I started just to send a specific word of thanks to TMC singers and let it be a personal word of gratitude and thanksgiving for shared ministry.  I am still planning to do that, but the more I have prayed and reflected regarding the experience and particularly the connection of music and spiritual expression, the more I have sensed a need to share words with my enewsletter and blog lists about that application of the other night’s worship time.  If you are not a chorale singer, please read on anyway as I believe there is application for all church musicians, and church music leaders in particular.

I am writing this to call music leaders to recognize some similar elements in your own church setting as I experience in leading the chorale.  Your choir members and other musicians may not drive from across the state, but they do come to rehearsal from busy lives of jobs, family, and community participation.  You bring your best preparation to rehearsals and make many decisions during the actual rehearsal time you have working with your ensembles and choirs.  Some things that you would like to address in rehearsal you will leave alone, believing the singers and musicians will correct them on their own when they sing in worship or presentation.  You trust that because you know them, and have history of experience together.  Some things you will need to attack in rehearsal, knowing the musicians can apply your correction to other places in the music.  I hope you get to the point of analyzing text, phrasing, and bringing musical interpretation to bear on lyrical expression of faith and worship.  I fear the musical technician and/or performer in us may leave those portions of musical preparation to last, not believing we have sufficient time to deal with those things, opting to hammer pitches and rhythms.  A long time ago I adopted a philosophy that capturing the mood and meaning of the lyric will shape the musical expression and itself correct some woes that are otherwise overlooked simply because singers have not connected to the heart of the message they are singing.  Thus in a musical expression from Russian Orthodox Liturgy like Tchesnokov’s “Salvation Is Created” we can call upon singers to consider the miracle and mystery that the very notion of salvation was born in the heart of God.  The depth of such mystery combined with images of a Russian cathedral’s spacious setting that seeks to spatially and acoustically convey the same awe, seems to help singers heighten vowel sounds and sing a richer “Alleluia!”  Granted, simply saying, “sing taller vowels” may accomplish similar results, but I think it risks belittling the singer to just sing technically efficient, rather than appealing to the soul and spirit of the artist in them.  At some points it takes both, but drawing attention to deep truth gives opportunity for spiritual connection almost too deep for words.

Can lay persons respond to such ethereal reflection?  I absolutely believe so, and have experienced the results of the same through most of my ministry and conducting career.  So much of music making and instruction is imagery.  Instead of just trying to get singers to “Smile!”  Why not connect their musical thinking to Gospel?  “Victory in Jesus” connotes a particular brightness because such a truth is in fact sunshine to life!  Beethoven’s “Hallelujah!” elicits percussive punch from true believers who desire as humans to “proclaim His grace and glory.”  Can you really sing Chris Tomlin’s “How Great Is Our God” and not crescendo through the word, “great?”  Using that one word to give singers pause to consider their participation in calling attention to God’s greatness through a simple crescendo as if pointing toward God Himself can allow a repeated phrase to find new life every time it is sung in a repeated chorus!  I have experienced numerous occasions where non-musicians got in touch with their musical selves through such experiences to find spiritual expression through the art of song.  Isn’t that part of what we are about as Ministers through Music?  Lest you think this is just thoughts for conductors, consider the support of accompanists who interpret along with conductor, and connect to lyric in such a way as to underscore the phrasing, give crescendos and decrescendos the nudge they need to happen in a more timely manner.  I am ever grateful for the accompanists God has allowed me the privilege to serve alongside!  Some of you are thinking, “Yeah, not all of us have a Mary McDonald and Vicki Wright,” to which I respond, “very true that there is only one of each of them,” and I am deeply humbled to serve with them and to be so richly  blessed in every situation where we are privileged to share ministry.  Likewise, there is only one of your accompanists as well, and God has given them to serve with you, so serve together to bring the best.  That subject deserves its own article, but for now please consider as I often do the miracle that is making music together sensing nuance and emphasis together as one, whether in rehearsal or presentation.  It is part of the miracle of connecting spiritual expression with the art of music.


Explore posts in the same categories: Choir Ministry, Church keyboard players, Singing Worship, Worship Reminders, Worship thoughts

3 Comments on “More Musician Talk”

  1. Cody Goss Says:


    Thank you for your article this week. I hope that many will take the time to read it. I have discovered that this way of thinking and preparing changes everything. John Ratledge, my choral director at UA always said, “The absence of thought is the absence of color in the voice.” I heard him say that a hundred times before I understood what he was saying. When I worked on my Master’s Degree, all of the focus was on the technical. Over the past few years, the focus has been more on communicating the music from the depths of the heart and soul. Obviously the technical is not to be sacrificed, but as you say, even that aspect is more natural when we connect to the text with our intellect and our soul.

    I now strive to reject the status quo even in our rehearsal time. If we can not connect with the text and with the music through the message, then why are we really there? Indeed, rehearsals can become a worship experience if only we keep our focus on Christ while communicating the message of the text.

    Bravo for sharing. It is a life-changing practice.

    In Christ,

    Cody Goss

  2. Paula Doll Says:

    Thanks so much for your article this week. It has certainly given me some things to think about as I prepare for next year with my Young Musicians. Thank you for taking the time to provide your insight and words on your heart. You continue to be such a blessing to me and others. Paula Doll

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