This isn’t a rant as much as a constructive response to the modern trend of congregations singing in unison from lyrics projected on a screen in the sanctuary...
No one’s arguing that it’s not a good thing for lots of people to raise their voices in song. But we’ve achieved this by “dumbing-down” music to make congregational singing more accessible to our congregants.
We’ve traded utility for beauty.
We’ve settled for melodies instead of harmonies.
We’ve elevated the mundane and mediocre over the exceptional and excellent.
And on top of this, many church sound techs are mixing the singers and musicians from the platform so that the congregation is immersed in that performance. This well-meaning but ultimately illusory practice creates the impression that the sanctuary is filled with worship; when it fact, it’s just filled with volume. The result is that it’s difficult for people in the pews to even hear themselves sing, much less hear their neighbors lift their voices in worship. [For more on this subject, click here to revisit our blog, “Is It Too Loud?”]
I’m not here to argue that choir and congregants alike should become expert singers. I am, however, encouraging our church music programs to promote musical literacy.
Over the past few years, we’ve heard choir directors say they can’t put a choir on the platform because there simply aren’t enough people in their congregation who can read music. Likewise, hymnals have become obsolete because most congregants can’t tell one note from another.
I’ve got a good friend who leads a fairly sizeable choir in Texas who teaches each section their part by rote because most of them can’t read music.
Do we really believe that what we’ve given up has been worth the price? If not, here’s a radical suggestion: launch your own singing school!
You heard me correctly...
What if your church music program offered a “Singing 101” course for folks in your congregation and community who were interested in learning how to sing?
Here are ten basic steps to launch your own singing school:
- Consider recruiting a local high school or college choral director or vocal coach who teaches singing for a living. You could lead the class—but having others involved opens the circle of influence.
- Develop a ten session “beginners” course that meets once or twice weekly at your church for no more than an hour.
- As an alternative, you could work with your local recreation center to offer this offsite at their facility. [What a creative way to reach out to your community!]
- Emphasize that this course is exclusively for beginners and that only a love of singing is required. No experience is necessary.
- Promote the event through your website, church bulletin, social media and local press for at least four weeks prior to launching it.
- Set a goal of recruiting at least three people for each SATB vocal part. Get a “ringer” from your current choir to serve as a “section leader” at each class.
- Make sure each participant has resources with which to practice during the week (e.g. sheet music, rehearsal CD’s, YouTube clips, etc.).
- Use specific hymns and worship songs to teach core singing principles. At the end of the course, schedule a public performance of the best five to six songs that the class has learned—possibly even at your church. Award certificates of completion at the event.
- Once the first course is complete, consider offering an “intermediate” course where the beginners could continue their development. Likewise, offer a second “beginners only” course to get new people into the pipeline.
- As capable singers emerge from your “Singing School,” recruit them to sing in your choir and ensembles. Likewise, use the songs they’ve rehearsed in your worship services, and see how the quality of your congregation’s singing has improved.
PS: Consider dusting off the hymnals and putting them back in the pews if they’ve been absent for a while.
Remember years ago when churches used softball teams as a way of evangelizing the community? These days, some congregations offer fly-fishing, motorcycle, and even cigar aficionado groups.
If you've been asking yourself "How to grow my church choir?"...why not offer a singing school course and see what happens!