Are Solo-Driven Choir Songs Anti-Intergenerational?

Have you thought about how many songs your choir sings that feature a solo that “drives” the song you are singing? I don’t mean a simple verse solo or a small section in the song, but a full-song solo where the choir essentially takes a “back-up” choir role. If you are in my choir, you’ll sing plenty of these types of tunes. There are a few reasons this is the case in my choir and possibly yours as well:

  1. Some of the most popular songs for choirs today have solos that drive the song. I’m not in a popularity contest, but there are some great church choral songs (new and not so new) that have solos in them. I want my choir to learn lots of great things that have great texts and are solid musically.
  2. I can because I have lots of soloists. Having lots of great soloists makes it easy to present these types of songs, especially when you have some that really communicate the message in a special way…like Spencer in the feature photo here.
  3. Sometimes they are easier or faster to learn because the soloist has the bulk of the song. Sometimes the hardest part of learning a choral song are verses because of the variances of texts and rhythmic structures that can be tricky. If the choir is learning choruses only, which often repeat, the process of learning the song is expedited.

While we enjoy the flexibility to do lots of solo-driven choral literature, I am often conflicted about over-using these types of songs because of my commitment to value the contributions of all the singers in my choir. It’s a constant battle; one I’ve been contending with for years. When I researched intergenerational choirs in Georgia in 2014, I asked the leaders of those choirs how much of their own choral literature was solo driven.  Here are some results:

  1. Over half of them indicated that they only used solo-driven choral literature in about 20 percent of their anthems.
  2. About another 25 percent of those interviewed said they used solo-driven literature up to 40 percent of the time. 
  3. Smaller church choirs sang fewer solo-driven anthems than the largest church choirs.

A couple of observations from this data…

  1. Solo-driven literature does not “generally” dominate the choral offerings of churches that are intergenerational.
  2. Small church choirs probably have fewer soloists than the largest church choirs. Therefore, it’s plausible that more soloists could possibly equated with more opportunities to sing solo-driven literature. 
  3. There were no indications that age of leader or choir members had any bearing on the percentage of solo-driven anthems used.

One area that seemed to have a bearing on how much solo-driven choral literature was sung was the publishers frequently used. Those leaders who frequently purchased from more traditional publishers rarely used solo-driven anthems. Conversely, those who used only one or two publishers from the evangelical side reported much higher use of solo-driven anthems.  My personal observations (a quick count at any current choral pack from any publisher will reveal) Prism, Word, and Brentwood-Benson publish more solo-driven literature than other evangelical publishers (Lifeway, Lillenas, Praisegathering). I love, and use music from, each of these publishers, so do not think I am speaking negatively about any one publisher. I am simply commenting on what I see when I open their choral club packets/boxes.

The long and short of it? Broaden the number of publishers you listen to as you search for choral music for your church choir so you may find all types of songs—especially if you find yourself leaning towards solo-driven literature all the time.  This it is often hard to achieve, but necessary for balance if your goal is to create an atmosphere where all members of the choir feel valued and important.

Personally, I am guilty of relying on solo-driven literature at least 40 percent of the time, sometimes more. We sing tunes from every one of the above publishers and I love the variety of music types that can be found, but often I find some of the best tunes I can find (in my opinion) are solo-driven. But, since I firmly believe that valuing all in my music ministry is important, I know I must be careful to look for balance, which includes purposely looking for choir only literature that fits our context.

As a side note: thankfully, some solo-driven songs can be adapted to include more of the choir. For instance, verses that a solo would normally sing could be sung by the women or the men. I’ve done that on several songs and it has worked very well.

Birthdays and Mother’s Days

Today would’ve been my mother’s 69th birthday. It’s been just over 5 years since she passed away from a heart attack among some of her closest friends at a local restaurant in my hometown.  Not a day goes by that I don’t miss her. Special days, like today, are even tougher. My mom’s birthday is very close to Mother’s Day. A double whammy! My birthday is tomorrow, the day after my mom’s birthday. A triple whammy! I miss celebrating our birthday’s together.

In full disclosure, I’ll admit that I was not always glad our birthdays were a day apart. What child doesn’t get excited about his birthday days before the actual day? Add a cool birthday party in there, and the celebration can go on for weeks! BUT, I was reminded (often) that my mom’s birthday was first and I needed to remember to celebrate her birthday without constantly talking about MY birthday. Point taken, but as a child it was hard nonetheless. My mom always made my birthday special, often using her own birthday preparing for my birthday. So today, I will not forget celebrate her birthday even though she is worshiping at the feet of Jesus today. Happy birthday, mama!mama

To celebrate her today, I wanted to write a post about my journey these last few years.  As I thought about it, I remembered that three years ago I wrote a “note” about Mother’s Day and the sadness I felt the first few years without my mom to “celebrate.” The Lord spoke to me clearly that He has provided surrogate mothers to fill the void in my life. I knew I needed to share this note again because there are many of us without earthly mothers that have special mother-figures God has used to encourage and love. I truly believe in each generation pouring wisdom and influence into another—a symbiotic relationship, if you will. These women have certainly encouraged and invested in me and I hope I have done likewise.

Here’s the note from May 2015:

I’ve been thinking a lot about Mother’s Day coming up next weekend. Many of you know I lost my Mom tragically two years ago. The anniversary of her death was just a few weeks ago and it was hard; it always is. While next weekend we will celebrate Mother’s Day, it also would have been her birthday next Saturday. To say I miss her is just inadequate.

You know, she was probably the biggest influence on my decision to enter vocational ministry. She would faithfully sit and listen to me practice piano scales, etudes, sonatas or some vocal solo because I preferred having an audience 😆. I’ll never forgot the times we’d be riding in the car and we’d be singing and she’d look over at me and say, “Will, I hope you know your talents are a gift from God. I pray you always use them for His glory.” My mom was my biggest fan and encourager.

In the midst of several pity parties over lost time with her, I have felt the Holy Spirit remind me that He has put strategic “mothers” in my life; a few just in the last few years. I think of three immediately:

First, if you are a part of our fellowship at Ivy Creek Baptist, you know Wylene. Wylene is our office admin. and a mother to all of her pastors (other sons as she calls us). She, too, has known the loss of a loved one fairly recently. She has the biggest heart and she loves just doing big and little things beyond her job description to demonstrate that love. Even though I haven’t know her long, you wouldn’t know it. Thank you, Wylene for loving me and taking care of me, even when I’m stubborn!

Second, Susan Rihner came into my life the summer after my mom died. I immediately liked her. She is fun, loyal, and has the most gregarious laugh, much like my mom did. She never hesitates to tell me how she feels, but tempers it with love. Sometimes I have to catch my breath when I’m with her, because she’ll say or do something exactly like mom. Susan, thank you for reminding me how full of life my mom was and how she told me what she thought, even when I didn’t want to hear it.

Third, how could I forget my precious mother in law, Margaret? I hit the mother load with her. In the twenty years I’ve know her, she has loved me like one of her own from day one. She, too, has had her share of heartache recently, but she remains a rock–unwavering in her faith and nurturing ways. Thank you, Margaret, for loving me as your own all these years.

Doubtless, some of you all are without biological mothers on this earth. It stinks; I get that. However, let the Spirit speak to you and reveal those precious ladies in your life that God puts there to fill that void and thank them royally this coming Mother’s Day.

I am blessed to have many, many “moms.” I appreciate all they have done for me. I want to challenge those reading to consider those who have invested in your own life. Have you thanked them? Likewise, if you are in a place of leadership, what are YOU doing to pour into the next generation?

Churches Lacking Unity are Like Dehydrated Bodies

Psalm 133 NKJV

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brethren to dwell together in unity!

It is like the precious oil upon the head,
Running down on the beard,
The beard of Aaron,
Running down on the edge of his garments.

It is like the dew of Hermon,
Descending upon the mountains of Zion;
For there the Lord commanded the blessing—
Life forevermore.

As one of the Psalms of Ascent written by David, Psalm 133 paints a vivid picture of the importance of unity among believers—that of liquids “running” and “descending.”  David uses the liquids oil and dew because of their significance to the Jewish culture.

First, David uses the simile “like the precious oil on the head” to describe the importance of unity. The oil described here is a fragrant, refreshing oil used to consecrate a priest…it was HOLY and for those set apart.  The priestly intent is clear because the Psalm refers to Aaron, part of Israel’s priestly tribe. “Moses ordained Aaron to the priesthood by anointing his head with oil,” (Leviticus 8:12).

Second, David uses the image of the dew of Hermon to describe the importance of unity. Mount Hermon is the north of Jerusalem (i.e. Mount Zion). Mount Hermon rises above the upper Jordan Valley. The melting snow, or dew, flowed down into the valley and fed the Jordan River all the way to Jericho.  In arid land where the rain is scarce and the rivers dry up, the land and the people depend on water that “flows down.” It is the scarcity of water in the dry lands, which makes Mount Hermon’s dew so valuable. Imagine great thirst and this is analogous to the church in disunity, without clear vision and purpose. Water is essential to life. Perhaps you’ve been dehydrated before. Your body literally starts shutting down, trying to use whatever fluids it can find to keep your essential organs going. In this passage David describes how unity is the opposite of dehydration…it is an essential ingredient to making making not only our physical bodies function properly, but also the body of Christ.

We need to be reminded often of the importance of unity in our churches. Scriptures regarding unity abound because frankly, the human tendency is to “do it my own way.” For instance, Philippians 2 reminds us that we are to consider the needs of others over our own, being like-minded and of one accord. That’s the key, friends! If we will live in mutual submission, guided by biblical truth, we will live in unity. Yet how many of us have stories of how disunity has caused great strife in our churches? The stories of worship wars, as well as a whole host of other divisive ways the enemy uses to “dehydrate” the body of Christ, are far too commonplace today.

A couple of weeks ago, I was speaking with a lady about how to be more intentionally  intergenerational in her church. She wanted some advice on how her church could be more unified in this philosophy, really. She told me of several long-time members who were upset with the new music being sung in their church. She recounted that recently the church had called a new worship leader who, in her opinion and apparently a large component of the membership, felt was doing his best to sing lots of different types of music intending to help bring the generations together. She described this small group as unwilling to show up to meetings to discuss the vision and direction of the church. Apparently, this small group has been content to fume. She asked me what I would do. I mentioned a couple of things I think are necessary to resolve conflict. I could’ve mentioned more, but here’s what I said then:

  1. Affirm the direction of music with your worship pastor. He is new and needs your support and help understanding the church culture and the heart language of the people. As long as the music chosen is biblically strong, it is useful for corporate worship.
  2. Those in leadership should meet with the lead pastor and worship pastor to make clear that the leadership of the church backs the direction of worship ministry. If not, there will never be unity. That’s probably the problem. If so, the direction should be clearly articulated before anything else happens. If it has been clearly stated…go to number 3.
  3. Since the group won’t come to a meeting designed to share the vision, go to them…but don’t go alone. Bring a few people that can articulate the vision and explain how the changes will continue to be biblically faithful to the idea of “singing a new song.” In that meeting be SURE to tell them how much you value them and listen to their concerns.
  4. Remember: some people are just NOT going to be satisfied until they get their way. Nothing you say is going to change that. But your actions from that point forward must reflect the vision you’ve cast. By the way, don’t talk poorly about these folks with others. That’s gossip, which is sin.
  5. PRAY! PRAY! PRAY! Only God can soften hearts. He desires unity. We can do our best to initiate ways to facilitate unity, but it is GOD who brings about unity as we humble ourselves and seek His face.

Once we are walking in unity, we will walk in the Spirit. If we don’t, our churches will be contentious. Since we are imperfect people, evil and selfishness are sure to intrude. We must guard our hearts and stand firm on biblical truth to preserve and protect our unity. Unity is necessary, not only for us in the church, but it reflects who we are to the world. The image and witness of any church should be unified and clear. Remember the image of the anointing oil? As image bearers of Christ, we are to be holy and set apart. How can we do that if we live in disunity? Our selfishness and personal agendas do nothing to reflect Christ of His character. In fact when the mission of the church is tainted by selfishness and pride, God’s glory is squelched. And friends, last time I checked, the bride of a Christ must reflect and magnify the glory of Christ by living in unity with biblical purpose.