Church Choirs Shouldn’t be Declining Because of Lack of Interest

Chorus America, a nationally-known advocacy, research, and leadership development organization that supports the choral art, has written much on the the benefits of singing. Most recently, an article came out in June (Chorus America Article ) that lauds the benefits of singing for a lifetime. Here is a link to the findings of that study. After reading this article and the major findings of the story, I was very encouraged by the increase in choral participation in America.

What I didn’t understand was about the same time I was reading this article, I was hearing from friends across the nation and reading other articles about the continued decline of choirs in churches. I don’t want to list the myriad of reasons why choirs are declining in our churches, that’s for another post. However, if the current Chorus America research that suggests that choral singing in America is NOT declining, maybe our churches shouldn’t assume that no one wants/enjoys singing. Further, with many singers actively singing in a choir, our churches shouldn’t assume that no one wants to listen to a choir either. What I found interesting, was the authors indicated that in the last ten years worship attendance has declined as well as social clubs, while choral participation has done just the opposite.

While the article mentions the benefits of singing to increased quality of life, physical health, greater activity in their churches and community, and stronger relationships, I want to focus on a few items that I think stick out to me as it pertains to why church choirs should be an integral part of any church:

  1. 43 million American adults and 11 million children are singing in choirs today. 54 million Americans. Please remind me—anyone why naysayers say no one without white hair wants to hear or participate in a choir? In fact this research suggests that having choirs will INCREASE participation in any organization (community, school, or church). These numbers are UP to 17% from 14% since 2008. 
  2. The key to lifelong singing is starting when children are young. The findings, either school or faith communities that have graded choir programs, see the greatest number of students who will become lifelong singers. I’m convinced that churches that cease to invest in student choirs (elementary and youth) will never have a strong adult program.
  3. Having a choir might actually increase your attendance in your faith community. Choir members tend to be more faithful and more committed to being in worship when they have a reason to serve.

Personally, when I think of the role being in a choral group has given me, I think back to less about the musical experience itself, although I’ve had some incredible times musically, but to what being a part of a choral group taught me. Being in a choir has taught me how to yield my personal preferences for the good of the whole. I’ve learned how to be a leader by helping my fellow singers by pulling my weight (being in tune, singing correct intervals and rhythms, etc) and how to get along with others. Choir (or any musical group, really) is about mutual submission, conflict resolution, helping others when they need it, and demonstrating leadership. Yes, many of these things are important in non-choir church musical groups, but because choirs are generally larger than a 5-6 piece band, the opportunity for many (of various musical abilities) to serve and use their talents increases.

 

 

 

Let’s Just Call it What it is…

To divide congregations into groups, style groups, and preference groups is to be semi- or even pseudocorporate. The body of Christ is as chronologically and stylistically whole as it is spiritually whole Harold Best in Unceasing Worship (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003).

If music were to be eliminated from so called “traditional” or “contemporary” services, would there need to be different types of services? That’s right, very little. Let’s call it what it is—preference of music is the driving factor for having separate types of musical types at one church. And because music seems to be the driving factor in these decisions, worship becomes less about the preaching of the Word and the proclamation of the gospel and more about preferences of music, which are at best subjective. Hear me, I’m FOR all kinds of music…especially music that fits the cultural context of the church and demographic of your area. Be authentic, but be unified. It’ll take everyone being mutually submissive.

We’ve missed the point of, and driving force of worship, which is the centrality of the Word of God infused in every aspect of our corporate worship. Our churches should crave the spiritual food through the exposition of the Word week in and week out. I don’t want to hear platitudes on how to live my best life, I’d rather hear what the Word of God preached through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit has to say about how I need to be daily humbling myself, taking up my cross, and following Him by  loving my neighbor as myself.

Choosing Choir Literature Based on the Size of the Choir

Based on my research, no more than 25 percent of church choirs in America have more than fifty participants. Even the major evangelical publishers are attuned to this fact because many offer choral music options for the smaller choir. I don’t see this trend in school choral groups, however, but the disconnect between school choral programs and church choral programs is REAL. I’ll write more on how we can bridge these relations soon.

Regardless of the size of the choir, there are non-negotiable traits of good, healthy singing. Tone, intonation, pitch, rhythm, tempo, articulation, expression, interpretation, etc. are some of the hallmarks of any good choral group. Having worked with both large and small choirs, I have noticed there are definitely some distinctions worth noting between the two sizes. Taking into account these difference can help the leader choose more appropriate literature for the size choir he or she leads. Here’s a selected list of some observations based on my own experiences:

Large Choir
1. Able to produce a large sound-especially if singing with orchestra
2. Less confident singers can find confidence in stronger singers/readers
3. Larger possible pool of soloists
4. Able to sing most songs with lots of divisi
5. Sing songs with more extreme ranges
6. Able to sing longer phrases (stagger-breathing becomes easier)
7. Easier to blend parts because no one has to “carry the section”
8. More difficult to sing especially rhythmic (syncopated) tunes (can be more difficult to get the train moving fast- so to speak)
9. Can have more strong sightreaders, which expedites learning

Small(er) Choir
1. Most have to pull their own weight, confident or not. (My first choir had excellent singer/sightreaders because the fewer singers had to step up and be confident)
2. Members feel more obligated to attend due to numbers–Greater chance of huge holes in sound if certain ones aren’t there
3. Can be more difficult to blend
4. Can be easier to sing more rhythmic tunes due to the weight of the larger number of singers
5. Literature choices can be limited by range, phrasing, etc.
6. Often part singing is limited based on availability. (We see this in the ever-present doubling of soprano and bass lines of popular church choral music geared for smaller choirs)

This is definitely just a start. What would you add to these lists? If 75 percent of evangelical churches with choirs have fewer than fifty participants, then how do we overcome obstacles the smaller choir has?  Let me hear from you.