Lots of Music Readers in Your Choir Doesn’t Translate to Learning More New Music.

Assumptions are often not all they appear to be. It seemed logical to me that if I had lots of music readers, I would be able to conquer more new music than the church down the street that learns everything by rote. However, that’s not entirely the case. Here is some interesting related data I collected on choirs that I think are interesting:

  1. Number of music readers does not affect number of new anthems learned in a year.
  2. The largest choirs in my study learned the most anthems; the smallest learned the fewest. While one could assume this was due to the music readers more commonly found in larger choirs, I think this data is more likely a financial decision. Larger choirs more often have more money to spend on new anthems and smaller choirs in smaller churches.
  3. Choirs that used printed scores only learned far fewer new anthems than those who just use projected media in worship services. This seems almost hard to believe since it seems that having the printed score means the song could be learned quickly. However, these churches using printed scores only in worship are usually smaller—thus, the financial piece in number 3.
  4. There is no correlation between age of leader or dominant generational cohort that affects the number of anthems learned in a year. So the reasoning is not philosophical, but pragmatic.

With this information in mind, here are some other factors that can influence the number learned:

  1. The church has a limited music budget. This factor overwhelmingly drives how much music in learned in a year. Unfortunately, the reality is many churches are limited on budgets and new music is reserved for Easter or Christmas, with maybe a new collection here and there.
  2. Rehearsal time. A 1.5-2 hour rehearsal definitely gives any choir more opportunities to learn music over an hour rehearsal.
  3. Fail to have music readers in every vocal section. There are plenty of choirs who have one (or two) sections that cause the rehearsal to lag because so much time is devoted to bringing a non-reading section along.
  4. Leader does not desire to learn lots of music. I’ve spoken with several colleagues that are against picking up a song in a week or so of rehearsal and then singing it. They believe that much time is needed for the choir to internalize the text and the artistry of the song.
  5. The choir uses full orchestra and one part (choir or orchestra) may have a much harder part than the other. I’ve personally had this issue. Some songs are very difficult for either the choir or the orchestra and so more time is required for one or the other parts.
  6. The choir takes breaks in the year. While most choirs take some time off in the summer or after Christmas, there are some choirs that only sing 2-3 times a month, thus limiting how many new songs may be learned in a year.

I’m sure the list could go on and on. My best guess is the financial piece and the rehearsal time drives most of the decisions on how many anthems are learned in a year. What else would you add to this list?

Who’s Steering the Ship? How Dominant Music Types in Church Choir Literature are Influenced by the Publishers.

Nehemiah 9:6- You alone are the LORD. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you.

God has created everything! He has created everything unique and diverse. He is Giver of Life. He is worthy of our praise! God has made creation unique—including you and me. Because we are differently made, we have different opinions and experiences. This means that we must learn to be humble in our understanding that our neighbor might have a different opinion or experience than we do. We bring these biases into all parts of our lives. I’ve found that most who lead choirs are brand loyal to some degree or another. I bet you know folks who are adamant that certain car makes are superior to others. Others are sure that certain cell phones and other technology are far greater than the other “competition.” We leaders of choirs are no different when it comes to being loyal to the publishers of choral music we buy for our choirs. Often, it’s even a composer or arranger that we like, so we stick with what “works.” There is nothing wrong with this approach in itself. My concern is that we limit ourselves by not branching out and seeing what’s available from other publishers because we think we are taking an unnecessary risk.

When I studied the choral literature of leaders of intergenerational choirs, I noticed a couple of general trends as I asked the leaders which publishers they buy their music from. These observations  highlight some interesting points to ponder:

  1. Church music publishers may be “loosely” identified in two camps: traditional/liturgical and evangelical
  2. Most leaders I spoke with purchase music from publishers in only one camp
  3. There are far more publishers out there that are traditional/liturgical
  4. While the evangelical publishers are fewer in number, they sell the lion’s share of music for the choir in the intergenerational church.
  5. Roughly 2/3 of the leaders (n=62) I studied buy almost all their music from the evangelical publishers. See chart below from my study:

primary publishers

If you are like me, you’re probably wondering why these publishing houses are so popular. There really can only be a few reasons why:

  1. Trustworthy. Most of us know what to expect from these publishers and the arrangers they employ. We subscribe to their choral plans and eagerly await the quarterly boxes (that fill up my office!), workshops, reading sessions as conferences, to see what’s newly published.
  2. Marketing. I don’t want to get into specifics here, but these publishers above spend an awful lot on marketing. They package things so they look “cool” and offer great discounts for choral plan members. These things make a difference for churches with limited budgets!
  3. Compatible Music Types offered. Similar to point one, we buy from publishers that will supply us with choir music that fits our choir/church, our preferred music type, and ability level.

I think the third point is really the most important. Are we really getting variety if we only buy from a few publishers? This is the question that drives me to ask—well, so what are the other publishers producing? I think it bears taking a deeper look into what music types these publishers are actually publishing. If contemporary and Southern gospel are the two most common music types found in choirs in intergenerational churches ( see Variety of Music is a great thing in the Intergenerational Choir), does this jibe with what the publishers are producing?

Publishers and Music Types

In my quest to figure out what were the dominant types of music published by these publishers, I decided I needed to speak to someone who was not affiliated directly with these publishers—I went to our local music distributor, PineLake Music. I spoke with both sister owners, Cynthia Revo and Beth Carter, as well as the late John Koger for a more objective opinion. Each provided me with great insight as to the dominant music types each of many of our church music publishers. Here’s the data:

What I did first is create a numbered list of each of the music types most likely found in church choral music. It is certainly not exhaustive…

  1. Black gospel  (1* will indicated what a called a whitened version of gospel music – 1 will indicated what I referred to as authentic gospel music including Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir arrangements at Word Music) Also, in my experience, only a small percentage of authentic gospel is ever written down for the purpose of publishing. You’re more likely to find this in non-evangelical publishers
  2. Southern gospel
  3. Contemporary
  4. Hymn arrangements
  5. Traditional Church Choral Anthems (I’ve typically described this term to my respondents as arrangers and writers such as Pepper Choplin, Joseph Martin, Mary McDonald, Heather Sorenson (some), Ruthie Schram)
  6. Spirituals
  7. Classical (Like Beethoven, Haydn, Bach-Masterworks)
  8. Modern Worship Anthems (A VERY newly composed Hillsong tune and the like)

After creating this numbered list, I made a list of many of the most frequently named evangelical and traditional publishing houses and I asked for input from the team at PineLake to identify the most common music types they published (see the first numbers in black). Then, I asked them to identify the top 3 DOMINANT music types they publish in rank order (most dominant first, then second, and third) in red

Prism – 1*, 2, 3, 4, 8 (3 8 1)

Word – 1, 2, 3, 4, 8 (3 8 2)

Lillenas – 1*, 2, 3, 4, 8(8 3 2)

Brentwood Benson – 1*, 2, 3, 4, 8 (8 2 3)

Lifeway – 1*, 2, 3, 4, 8 (3 8 2)

Hinshaw – 4, 5, 6, 7 (5 4 7)

Shawnee Press (includes GlorySound & Mark Foster) – 4, 5, 6 (5 4 6)

Alfred (includes Belwin, Lawson-Gould, HW Gray & many others) – 1-8 (5 4 3)

Hope – 1*, 3, 4, 5, 6 (4 5 3)

Hal Leonard (represents tons of publishers – largest music publisher in the world – ALL STYLES) 1-8 (5 6 3)

Beckenhorst – 4, 5, 6 (5 4 6)

Integrity – (No longer exists as a publisher, what is left is available at Hal Leonard) 1, 2, 3, 4, 8 (8 3 1)

Lorenz – (includes Heritage Music Press, SoundForth, Crystal Sea and Santa Barbara Music) 2, 4, 5, 6 (5 4 6)

PraiseGathering/Randy Vader – 1*, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 (4 3 2)

Here are some insights:

Prism, Word, Lillenas, Brentwood-Benson, Lifeway, Integrity & PraiseGathering (the EVANGELICAL publishers) are almost identical in their style and these priorities have varied over the course of the years.  I believe PraiseGathering is probably the most unique because they tend to be more inclusive of traditional church music styles (i.e. Piano Plus Hymn Arrangements) than their evangelical brothers. Integrity probably represents the highest representation of black gospel music for their artist/writers like Israel Houghton, Ron Kenoly and Alvin Slaughter of the evangelical publishers. Word had the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir for years, but as of the last 5 years or so they have begun their own publishing/distribution arm.

While it’s true that Hal Leonard, Alfred and Hinshaw have masterworks kinds of materials, I have limited my comparisons to the church division side of these companies.  Shawnee Press, Hope, Beckenhorst and Lorenz (the TRADITIONAL/MAINLINE church publishers) are similar to their evangelical cousins in that their styles of music are similar.

Side note: Another trend that has developed over the last few years is that arrangers who were once closely tied to a particular publisher are now free to roam the publishing world and you will see their names with many different brands. More later…

Let me tie this post up by bringing it back to how this relates to the intergenerational choir setting, since this is the purpose of my blog. I want to make a few points from the hierarchical rankings and then suggest some trends:

  1. All the top five listed in the above graphic, have contemporary and Southern gospel as one of the dominant music types
  2. Of the top 5, only Prism offers quasi-black gospel literature
  3. Hymn arrangements are found in many of the publishers, but only PG produces a large number of arrangements for publication.

The dominant music types found in these publishers suggests that choirs (all, not just IG) are singing what the publishers are producing. The question remains out there: who’s driving the ship? Are the publishers driving or is the consumer? I’ve met many arrangers; I am friends with some of them too. They want to write things that the church will use and the leaders will buy. If the church leaders were dissatisfied, the writers and arrangers would simply write something else. But, I believe that most leaders are not dissatisfied with the publishers and arrangers they have deemed a fit for their choir and congregation. AND that’s my issue. We leaders are enslaved to what we think is out their for us to choose from. So, we choose to stick with what works (see TRUSTWORTHY), and thus have no pressing reason to explore other publishing houses.

I think we leaders of choirs need to look beyond the top 5 for more variance. Look at Hal Leonard, Shawnee, Alfred, and Hinshaw if you typically stick to the top 5 above. The converse is also true. Go to reading sessions that offer a variety of publishers (such as at GO Georgia). Don’t simply listen to the same choral club CDs you’ve always subscribed to as they come in…listen online to these other publishers. Don’t simply drive to the nearest Prism Workshop as your sole source of literature—branch out so there is variety of music type, and variety of writers and arrangements—you’ll be glad you did!

Additional notes:

Did you know PineLake has two choral clubs that are from their bestsellers for that quarter that feature many different publishers. I’ve enjoyed subscribing to their contemporary/blended club for the last few years. Prism is a excluded. Check it out!

Many music distributors, such as Kempke’s, JW Pepper, and PineLake, have bestseller lists that can be very helpful for seeing what other colleagues are buying.

Variety of Music is a great thing in the Intergenerational Choir

Every choir has favorite songs they love to sing. These songs can have some special meaning to the choir or the choir just sounds good on these particular tunes. While I was researching literature of the intergenerational church choir, I asked my leaders to name 3-5 of their choir’s favorites. Almost every leader had no trouble coming up with a list of things their choir loves. After I gathered the information from the leaders, I had a total of 283 titles. Several of the leaders had similar titles, so there actually wound up being 160 different tunes in the list.

What I wanted to find out was two-fold. First, what was the music type category of each tune (Contemporary,  Southern gospel, Black gospel, Traditional church anthem, Hymn arrangement, etc)? Second, was there a difference between the music types the leaders reported they used and the actual music types from the favorite anthems?  Here are the results:favorite anthems

Now, look at the graph below from my last blog where I reported the music types given by the leaders when asked what types of music they use with their choirs. Remember,  the percentage of the graph above must equal 100 percent of the total of 160 different titles given, whereas below the percentages equal the percentage of the leaders that use the music type.

Music Types

The first thing I see when comparing the two lists is the ORDER of frequency. In both the music types of the favorite anthems reported AND the self-reported list of music types the leaders use with their choir, the music types are ranked similarly in frequency. This suggests that the leaders are well aware of the music types their choirs are singing and reported similarly when giving me their common music types. This suggests to me that choirs in the intergenerational church don’t have favorites that are in one music type either. Perhaps it is because they are exposed to various types of literature or maybe it has to do with the various ages that are involved in the church music ministry. Whatever it is, it reminds me that variety is alive in well in the intergenerational church choir.

I know some of you are interested in what would be on this list. Here are the top five songs in rank order:

  1. Thou, O Lord (19 indicated)
  2. The Majesty and Glory Of Your Name (11)
  3. We Will Remember (11)
  4. Jerusalem (8)
  5. This Blood (8)

Even in the list here, there is variety of music style! Variety is good, especially when done well.

 

Selecting Choral Literature that Fits the Size of Your Choir

Last week I wrote about choosing literature that fits the people in your choir based on their ability-levels and the culture of the church. Because of the length of the blog post that week, I wanted to wait to discuss one of the most important portions of selecting choral music based on the people in your choir…the size of the choir.  I want to explore briefly the merits of using such literature, especially as it relates to creating a culture of excellence in your own church setting.

Choose literature that fits the size of your choir

It is very interesting that 75% of intergenerational church choirs in Georgia have no more than fifty participants. My educated guess is this is probably similar (if not more common) in other areas of the country. Even the major evangelical publishers are attuned to this fact because many offer choral music options for the smaller choir.  As a undergrad Music Ed student, one of my favorite classes was a class called Choral Techniques. One of the things we discussed in the class was rehearsing larger and smaller choirs and how to handle the unique pros and cons therein. Having worked with both large and small choirs here’s a selected list of some observations based on the literature and production of it:

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

Small(er) Choir
1. Most have to pull their own weight, confident or not
2. Members feel more obligated to attend due to numbers
3. 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.

When I arrived at Ivy Creek five years ago, we would run 30-35 in the choir on a Sunday. We fit in that “smaller choir” category. I certainly felt more limited in what we could sing and sing well. Today, I lead a music ministry in the upper 25 percent. So what I chose for the choir to sing now can be broader in scope now that we run 55-75 each week between our worship services.

Here is the plan I used to ensure confidence and excellence each week without sacrificing the importance of stretching, molding, and inspiring for greater things when I first arrived:

*Make rehearsal FUN and WORTH the time of all who come. Bring energy to your rehearsal and make sure if you’ve got people in front of you, make sure that you aren’t wasting anyone’s time. Being efficient it not always easy. Follow some of these rules I live by.

1. Have a REHEARSAL PLAN each week of what you plan to rehearse. Make sure you write it down and let your pianist know which things to prepare for. In that plan you need to anticipate the trouble spots or SCORE STUDY.  This would include tricky rhythms, tricky harmonies, and the like. Think of multiple ways to solve the problem, because your first idea might not work!

2. STOP TALKING and SING. When I first started conducting choirs, I talked a lot. I didn’t meant to waste time, but I did. Model what you want with your voice and use conducting gestures instead of talking about it.

3. Have a time of DEVOTION and prayer

*Make sure your people CAN sing the literature. This is based on the points above. As yourself: is the tessitura too high or too low? Is there so much divisi in the choral parts that the sound will be too thin or unbalanced? Are the phrases so long that your people are going to struggle to make it through? Do you have the personnel to handle it? Are they going to sound good on this piece? Will they feel successful and know the song well enough to “lead” in worship—need to internalize.

*Start with things they know (or think they know) and CAN sing, and  then work for greater accuracy and musicality.  When I arrived I didn’t care for many of the pieces that were in the library, but I also didn’t have luxury of learning everything new every week (who does?). We were on a limited budget so revamping the whole library wasn’t an option. Regardless, they needed to learn to trust me and I needed to see how far I could push them. One week, I’ll never forget, we sang something that really sounded good and so we just did it again the following week. No one cared that we did it twice. In fact most were glad we did because it sounded good the first time. I had never done that before, but it was a good move. What I found out around this time was this choir had been learning music too quickly (thus, not fully securing the pitches and notes) and really needed to spend more time being secure. I found out having adequate time to prepare without beating the song to death was the key.

*Slowly I started introducing new songs (simple ones) with just enough repetition that they could attach to the song quickly. Because they had an overabundance of solo-driven literature they had used, I purposely chose things that were choir featured-only. Many of these new songs featured homophonic choral parts, which helped in the learning process. These types of songs early on always had repeating sections (like a chorus) that we learned first before getting into more specific details.

*Use classic literature. I don’t mean classical, necessarily. I mean used tested and proven literature with your choir. There is a reason songs stay published for many years. Use those things because they work. I regularly go back and buy things that I did 15-20 years ago that I think would work well with my group. Most of the time, the choir loves the nostalgia of singing something they haven’t seen in years. The other benefit to doing time-tested literature is you have enough familiarity with it that you probably know the pitfalls to learning it and can be proactive in your teaching approach.

*Strive for live accompaniment at all costs. The choir I inherited did not usually use live accompaniment for choral things. Our orchestra was in its infancy when I arrived and was not “ready” for the challenge of playing for choral things in additional to songs for congregational worship. My goal was to work towards more live accompaniment. At first, we did some things with piano and organ (perhaps guitar, keyboard strings, and drums) and that took us through the first couple of years I was at Ivy Creek. By the third year, I sensed our orchestra was ready to try out playing for the choir. If I remember correctly, we sang By Our Love from Word as our first orchestra/choir piece. Over the next several years, we’ve moved to orchestra accompaniment mostly entirely. Mostly, because some pieces are just not scored for full orchestra. Plus, there are some pieces that should be done “simply” with piano and/or organ.

Varying Music Types that are Biblically-rich Promote Unity

Colossians 3:15-17- And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.  And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

My children find it strange that my favorite radio station in my car is the one that no one can hear–power off! Yes, I rarely listen to anything while I’m in the car. Likewise, when I run, I find solace in the quiet of my footsteps and the occasional barking dog. Sometimes it’s hard to explain to my children why someone who has devoted himself to music ministry needs a “break” from music listening. I don’t hate music; I just tend to compartmentalize my enjoyment of it since I’m “working” with music all day. Can you imagine what life would be like without music? Most of us cannot fathom a day without music to propel us forward or to simply soothe the soul. Paul knew the power of music as well as he admonished the Colossians to use music to remember the gospel truth.

Having been called by God to serve in vocational ministry, I’ve devoted most of my life to promoting, teaching, and glorifying God through church music. I feel fortunate that I enjoy leading and worshiping in most music contexts that glorify Christ and articulate the message of the gospel clearly. I’m an anomaly, however. Most people I encounter do not like all kinds of church music. In fact some are more adamant that certain types of music are genuinely more worshipful and edifying to the body. Further, there are those that believe that the presentation of “their” idea of worship music is somehow more authentic. Just like my penchant for “music” while driving, there are folks who given the choice in their churches, would rather simply just turn the worship team “off.”  It is vital that worship leaders be sensitive to this me versus them mentality and strive to integrate a musical atmosphere that is sensitive to the various generations and cultures in our churches.

Likewise, Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, knew that unity was important for the early church because sin would always creep in and cause division. Not only should worship be vertical (in praise to God directly), Paul asserts that unity could be achieved by singing the WORD of God to each other (horizontally) in a variety of types of songs. Paul knew that the early church didn’t have the printed Word of God that we enjoy today. These early Christians would need to remember the Word somehow…and singing scripture was an incredible way for the word to “dwell richly” in the hearts and minds of those early Christians. The songs we sing today should do the same thing. We must sing substance and the music should complement the text of Truth. Further, the various types of music available today should be reflected in our worship services.  Here are some suggestions to select worship music that reflects ethnic and generational diversity, while being rich in text.

  1. Text is most important factor in selecting worship music. Period.  Worship music should include vertical and horizontal expressions of worship where the people of God sing to God as well as one another the truth of the gospel. For more information, see this previous blog post Building Community in the Intergenerational Church through Music- Selecting We-Centric Songs
  2. Use black gospel as well as southern gospel music, especially if you have African-Americans in your congregation. We Georgians are well adept at singing southern gospel; our people are familiar with it. However, if we are to reflect our communities, we need to sing black gospel also. There are numerous wonderful songs out there to sing. However, I’ve found the best places to find these songs is by looking into literature written for schools and/or community choruses.
  3. Investigate music from Latin America. I love syncopation, especially the habanero and other cross-rhythmic beats. We have a severe lack of latin flavor in many of our churches. Just be sensitive if the presence of congas and a cowbell make some folks in your church squirm! Again, school literature often has more variety in terms of literature.
  4. Integrate music from Asian cultures. In our county, the Asian population is exploding. Traditional Asian music utilizes a limiting pentatonic scale, but there are some interesting things out that can be used if you investigate.
  5. At the very least, utilize worship leaders (players and singers) who are not ethnically the same as the majority of your congregation. Example, I have a wonderful Korean young woman in my choir who studied opera in South Korea. She is an excellent singer, but didn’t know many songs in English she could use in worship. I suggested she look at some oratorios she might be familiar with. She wound up singing “He Shall Feed His Flock Like a Shepherd,” during December and it was a glorious offering of worship.

The key is strong text, varying music types, and utilizing folks from various generations AND cultures. Doing so can really make the difference in the worship experiences for ages to come. I believe this is exactly what Paul was referring to when he was encouraging the Colossians to be unified…bring your various experiences and abilities and be unified in PURPOSE and the Lord will be glorified.

Over the next few weeks, I will begin a series of blog posts related to choral literature in the intergenerational church. These blog posts reflect my research in the area of choral literature in intergenerational Baptist churches in the state of Georgia. Stay tuned…

Building relationships in your community is the key to creating a more diverse church

We live in a diverse country. One doesn’t have to travel far to see this. In any large city at any given time, people from all races and backgrounds surround us. During the week after Christmas, my family and I spent several days in South Florida where diversity is as common as the grains of sands on the plentiful beaches. Sometimes I think I’ve been transported to another world there because at any given time, one can hear multiple languages spoken simultaneously. I’ve learned also that people from different cultural contexts have different norms. I don’t mean just the different foods they eat, and so forth, I’m talking about differences in social customs as well. What may be perceived by some as rude behavior, is simply normal behavior to folks from other countries. Likewise, preferences, experiences, and taste in music can vary greatly from one cultural context to another. If we are not careful, our own ethnocentrism can creep in. This ethnocentric behavior can creep into the church as well. To combat this trend, I suggest that our churches grow and synthesize our people into multi-cultural musical worshipers while aiming to reach out to the diversity of the community surrounding the church.

Our musical worship should be expanded and enriched through incorporating varying styles of music. As we consider the impact that multiple generations, and their experiences have on a congregation, we cannot forget the fact that many of our people also have cultural differences that reflect who they are. There is a problem, however. Many of our congregations don’t have much ethnic diversity. Therefore, their musical experiences are vastly limited. But, just as I have claimed for other musical reasons, becoming more musical diversified in order to “attract” any segment of your population is ineffective at best. Building generationally and racially-diverse relationships is the key. It’s really all about context. As your church embraces and welcomes folks from all walks of life, THEN make sure what you are singing is also diverse. (more later on the music part).

How should we build relationships with our community which reach out to the diversity already present?

  1. Reach out to the local schools in the community
  2. Volunteer and support local civic and charitable groups
  3. Volunteer and support local ministries such as a pregnancy resource center, food bank, and the like
  4. Allow your church to be used for community events then be as hospitable and welcoming as possible
  5. As you become more varied ethnically, spend time learning cultural differences of those in your midst. You’ll learn so much just spending time with various folks from different ethnic groups than your own. It was expand you…in a good way!

Much more could be added to this list. The point is to reach outside the walls, especially if the ethnic make-up of your church is not very diversified. Then, LEARN from all, especially those with cultural and ethnic experiences different from the majority of your worshipers. Finally, be present in your community with the intention of promoting the gospel of Jesus through acts of service and love. Added bonus: Millennials LOVE to get involved and put their faith into action (not that other generational groups don’t), but Millennials are driven often by investing in their community. Get your Millennial leaders involved in helping plan and implement some of these ministries aimed at diversifying your local church community.

In my next post, I’ll talk about some easy ways to use varying types of music in diverse ways. Most are very easy to implement and use.

What is it About Candlelight Services Anyway?

CandlelightJohn 1 ESV

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

 

If you’re like my church, you do some sort of candlelight service during the month of December. Many churches even pair these candlelight services with the Lord’s Supper. Unlike many churches, our church opts to do this service the Sunday evening before Christmas (or Christmas Eve if it falls on a Sunday, which it does this year). This year, our service was last night, the 17th. It’s always a special time and of course the “best part” is lighting those candles…as we hear scripture about Jesus being the light of the world and how we are to take the light of Christ into the darkness of the world.

As a young boy, I looked forward to Christmas Eve Candlelight services. Perhaps it had something to do with my fascination with fire (another story!), but the experience of passing the light of Christ and in unity celebrating that the LIGHT HAS COME and kneeling to receive the body and the bread made (and still makes) a profound impression on me. Sure, singing O Holy Night and Silent Night was great, but the kinesthetic action of experiential worship made all the difference in the world to me. Together…with my family…with multiple generations of my church family…together in unity worshiping the Christ-child.

Several years ago, I was sitting in a conference and the leader asked us to jot down the most memorable worship service/experience we’d ever had a part of in our lives thus far. Of the hundred or so participants in that workshop, ALL recalled worship services that promoted something experiential. Many recalled physical acts of worship, special musical times, and the like, as worship experiences that impacted their spiritual formation in a profound way. There is a reason Howard Gardner gained so much attention in his work on the 8 multiple intelligences.   Read more about Gardner’s Theory here.   Continue reading “What is it About Candlelight Services Anyway?”

Xennial Christmas Music Memories

I am a Gen-X minister of music. Based on my birthdate, some would classify me as an older Millennial, but I feel like I identify with the Gen X generation more than the Millennial generation. Perhaps I feel this way because I am the third born of four children, born in 1977, and my older brothers are definitely Gen Xers. Recently, I’ve read some articles that have re-classified those of us born between 1977-1985 by grouping us into a new classification, calling us Xennials. Even one article I read called us the Oregon Trail generation. These terms are basically interchangeable because the characteristics described are synonymous. I laughed at the Oregon Trail reference, because it’s true, I definitely froze to death in Oklahoma while on the Apple II computers in the classroom-converted computer lab at my elementary school! Whatever you call us, there is definitely something about being born during a bridge period in generational history. I’ve included some articles on these terms that I think you’ll find interesting. It explains the dichotomy of being a bridger. After the articles, I’ll explain how being a Xennial has influenced my Christmas music memories and how I consider Christmas music to be a brilliant way to bridge gaps among generations.

Read here about Xennials:

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2017/06/28/xennials_a_23006562/

http://www.businessinsider.com/people-born-between-gen-x-millennials-xennials-2017-11

Read here about the Oregon Trail:

http://thefederalist.com/2017/07/21/finally-theres-name-generation-gen-x-millennials/

Christmas Music Memories from the Xennial perspective

As a so-called Xennial, I was raised in a family with Boomer parents and Builder grandparents in the same town. I had no idea that my Christmas “traditions” were somewhat skewed by the generational traditions of my elders until much later in life. You know when I realized it? When I started projecting my own idea of what celebrating Christmas should be to my own children. Let me elaborate specifically on the musical aspect of my Christmas memories…

If you grew up in my house, you developed a fondness for Christmas carols and holiday favorites from artists such as Bing Crosby, Burl Ives, Gene Autry, Nat King Cole, the Andrews Sisters and the like. I can still see the record covers today (my absolute favorite is featured here in the cover photo); they are etched in my brain. To this day, I much prefer these renditions of familiar Christmas songs to anything newer. These songs/renditions have been my soundtrack for the season for years. I can’t hear Holly Jolly Christmas or The Christmas Song without being transported to another time and another place; it’s uncanny! However, during my formative years, I learned all kinds of new Christmas songs also that are now “classics,” such as Mary, Did You Know, Welcome to Our World, Breath of Heaven, and In the First Light, among many others. I grew fond (and still am) of so many “newer” Christmas songs, but nothing “warms my heart” like Bing, Nat, Burl, Gene, and Andy Williams!

I realize that my “bridge” status between generations allows me to “talk the talk” in a broader way than most. In fact I believe it’s a wonderful thing because I love all types of Christmas music and can lead them (generally) with ease. I also identify with both groups so I can understand the differences that divide and try to find common ground beyond our theological beliefs. However, I’ve found that people in general prefer nostalgic Christmas music, which certainly is different for everyone. It is interesting to me, however, that people of all ages have a fondness for more traditional Christmas carols. People who wouldn’t necessarily prefer hearing a choir and/or orchestra any other time of the year are suddenly rushing to services offering just that.

One of the first churches I served had multiple types of worship services with varying music types. On Christmas Eve we would host three worship services with varying styles of music similar to the styles during the rest of the year. Even though at the time our most modern worship service had the most attending, our “traditional” Christmas Eve services were always the packed out ones. I remember asking a few who never came to traditional services why they chose to attend the more traditional service on Christmas Eve. Their uniform response was…”I like singing traditional Christmas carols on Christmas Eve because it brings back many memories…it feels like Christmas to sing these familiar carols.” At the time, I remembered thinking, “of course…I feel the same way” and then just left it at that. It got me thinking later, why is this the case? Recently, I’ve been grappling with the question: what if nostalgia, for nostalgia’s sake, can be hurtful to our spiritual understanding of musical worship? Can our “hold” on tradition limit us from experiencing the joys of “new songs?” Here are a couple of thoughts:

  1. When nostalgic music (and it can be newer and nostalgic) is more important to us than “putting a new song in our mouths,” we can alienate others.
  2. The converse is true. When we try to forget the perceived “tired and worn out” songs and assume that those who like them are emotionless, out-dated, and tired in favor of only new songs, we can alienate others.
  3. Because Christmas carols (especially those found in most hymnals) are universally sung and known, they can provide an excellent way to bridge the gap in services that typically don’t sing “older” songs. Want to try intergenerational worship services at Christmas? Sing something everyone knows (carols) even if the carols are accompanied by different instrumentation that you prefer; it is a great way to start.

If you’re like me, and newer Christmas music is familiar, but not your favorite, you are not alone. This does not give you a pass to forgo newer Christmas music, however. It’s important to remember that of all the times of the year, Christmas is the most nostalgic, so use it to your advantage to incorporate new and old music in worship services. You’ll find more “modern” versions of Christmas carols than anything else newly composed. Use new versions of older carols, along with new songs to bridge music gaps in your services that speak to all generations.

Reflections from Christmas at Ivy Creek

Christmas at Ivy Creek is always a highlight of the musical year here at our church. This year we had over 1200 guests in three presentations, 73 singers, 28 in the orchestra, 30 in our older children’s choir, 22 in the youth choir, 5 working in audio/visual, one narrator, and a partridge in a pear tree. Approximately 160 of our Ivy Creek people of all ages served in worship ministry this weekend. It is truly a joy to serve with these people.

Each year, my goal is to provide a worship experience that allows our intergenerational worship ministry the opportunity to share their musical talents. Not only do I intend to use groups of all ages, but I try very hard to select music that is varied in style. We sang congregationally as well, but here is a list of the songs and arrangers we used this Christmas in the link below. I always like knowing what types of things my colleagues are using each Christmas so I can get ideas for future years.  This year I pulled several things that have been around for awhile and mixed them with some new things. Don’t underestimate a song that is 10-15 years old and reuse it when it works. If it’s still available, it’s probably because it’s a good tune and worth repeating. I ALWAYS use things I’ve used before if it’s appropriate and it fits. 100 percent of the time, these tunes are some of our choir’s favorites. This year is no exception. This year, we used several tunes I used in the early 2000s and our choir LOVED them.

CIC 17 order

Finding things that I know will work musically/textually for my groups is essential. Here are the criteria I use when selecting music for Christmas at Ivy Creek each year in NO particular order:

  1. The music must be varied stylistically. There must be a balance between new and old (familiar). There must be SOMETHING from the major music types. I try to find something that hits black and southern gospel, a carol arrangement or two, something more “choral” or traditional, contemporary Christmas music, something “fun” (perhaps even secular).
  2. The music must be “catchy.” Call it cliche, but I believe if you want people to enjoy singing and playing in your music ministry, they have to love the music. Otherwise, the congregation will not enjoy listening if the choir and orchestra is not engaged.  I have a theory that selecting music is 70 percent of what makes a good event. I don’t think there is an exact science to it, because every church is different, but I do believe we should examine what characteristics are common in popular music and apply some of that to our selection of choral music. Personally, I’m listening for the “hook” in the song. Does the song grab my attention by the first chorus?
  3. The text and music should complement each other. Musicians study word painting in music as part of their training. We should never stop this! In fact I try to capitalize on it. When rhythmic figures and musical phrasing lend themselves to accentuating the text, we do that to bring out the message of the song.
  4. Some of the music must challenge my singers and players. Every year there is a piece or two that everyone knows will require some more time. I like that, because it gives us a goal to stretch our abilities. It’s definitely more satisfying in the end!
  5. The texts (each song and collectively) must tell the gospel story. I always, always make sure we never forget to mention the cross, the resurrection, and the second coming. We have JOY of the Christmas story and HOPE because of what happens AFTER he was sent.

I’m praying for many of my friends who have musical presentations in the coming weeks. May the gospel truth be shared boldly and the Holy Spirit prick the hearts of those listening to respond in faith!

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