In March of 2017, arranger Dave Williamson went home to be with the Lord. He left a loving wife, three children, and many grandchildren. He also left a legacy of worship that has inspired thousands of churches and millions of believers.
In addition to scoring and producing more than 500 major recording projects (for such artists as Natalie Grant, Larnelle Harris, Babbie Mason, The Martins, Point of Grace, Sandi Patty, and Truth), Dave wrote, arranged, and/or orchestrated hundreds of anthems, collections, and musicals for almost every major faith-based publisher.
His great talent was the ability to help even the most modest choir inspire their congregation to worship.
Regi Stone, Discover Worship’s creative director, interviewed Dave back in 2011. We invite you to spend seven and a half minutes hearing Dave’s heart for The Worship Leading Choir (or reading the following transcript).
Hi! My name’s Dave Williamson. I’m here in the offices and studio at Discover Worship. I’ve been asked to come in and share a few words on a subject that is near and dear to my heart which is the Worship Leading Choir. I know a lot of you who are watching this video lead choirs, some of you have never led a choir, and a few of you are wondering whether a choir might or might not be relevant for the church today as it exists.
So I want to talk to you just a little bit about why I think it IS. I’ve just written a book called God’s Singers. This book is sort of my magnum opus...it’s a distillation of 40 years of ministry in music. People who know me think I’m 61 going on 35, and I think that’s true. My approach to the choir is not necessarily the approach that you’ve seen or experienced all your life. One of the quotes from the book preface says: “Some of the thoughts presented in the next 31 chapters don’t fit into any widely taught study of how to be or do a church choir. Actually some are quite radical, but these are radical times, and if new life is to be breathed into the choir, perhaps a new approach is called for. I hope much of what we discuss here will ‘rattle your cage’ at least a little. Put on your ‘man from Mars’ glasses with me.”
Here’s what happened to me. Back in the early 1990’s, I was in the position of helping plant a church here in Nashville. I don’t know if you’ve ever planted a church before but it’s "the best of times and the worst of times” like Dickens says at the beginning of A Tale of Two Cities. The best part of it is you get to do everything the way you wanna do it, and the worst part of it is you have to do it all yourself. So, we were talking about what we were going to do in planting this church, and the man who would be the pastor of the church leaned over to me and said, “Dave, would you be our worship leader?” Well, you would have thought with me being a musician that would have come up before now but it hadn’t, and I’m not proud of the answer I gave him...I said, “No, I won’t.” And he asked, “Why?” I said, “Two reasons: 1) this is Nashville, and there’s a worship leader on every street corner, and 2) I know from having been at churches where you were the pastor that face to face encounters with God in worship are going to be a primary core value of any church you pastor, and I don’t know how to do that. That’s not part of my tradition. So, I just wanna sit in the congregation and learn with everybody else. Then he said the thing that pastors’ often say that’s maddening, “Would you pray about it?” When has anybody ever asked you that, and you’ve said no? Well, I didn’t say no either, and much to my surprise, a couple of weeks later I came back to him and said, “I think God is saying that it’s gonna be okay...He’s gonna cover for me."
So, for the next 6 years, I was in the best place in ministry I’ve ever been...flat on my face before God! Because I knew that in leading the worship of this church, if the Spirit of God did not (as we would say colloquially) “show up” and help to energize and initiate worship of the Father through whoever we were that we would crash and burn because I didn’t know how to do this. One of the key ingredients in determining how the worship life of that church was deciding whether or not we were going to have a choir. And the key question occurred to me: Is the choir man’s idea or God’s idea? Because if the choir is man’s idea, I think we can just turn the page and go on to whatever’s next. But if the choir is God’s idea, not so fast. So I could take another 45 minutes and go through all kinds of Scripture to prove the ultimate realization that came to me after several weeks of study: the choir is God’s idea! So that being the case, maybe we better come to a screeching halt in our plans to dismantle choirs everywhere and figure out how to do the choir God’s way.
The choir does not exist, I’ve discovered, to do the things I had always expected it to do: be a group of people who were sort of bored and maybe boring, and sat up in the choir loft and only really came alive in the service when it was time to sing the anthem they had been rehearsing really hard, and otherwise just kind of checking out. But in fact, the choir is one of God’s worship leaders. As such, it really makes a huge difference in how we approach the choir, how we think about the choir, and how we DO the choir, in order to allow it to be the worship leader God has called it to be.
A choir can make sense in almost any musical context, although I know a lot of us don’t think it can because we’ve never heard it be that. There’s a 75-minute music CD at the end of my book that has rehearsal techniques to get your choir to sing rock ‘n roll, black Gospel or whatever style of music is appropriate for your church. I want to encourage you, if you are leading a choir, and you’re in the same place that I’ve been for much of my life (standing in front of a group of people and attempting to bring them to a place of reality and relevance in your church), whether your church is made up of 20 somethings or whether your church is gray and grizzled, either way the choir makes sense. I wanna encourage you to consider the ministry of a choir. God bless you!
In this interview, Dave references his tremendous resource, God’s Singers, which is available on Amazon.com for choir directors and their members. We encourage you to consider purchasing this timeless guidebook for the Worship Leading Choir in the 21st century.
Discover Worship is privileged to offer more than 120 anthems arranged by Dave Williamson, as well as dozens of musicals, mini-musicals, and collections that feature his handiwork—all of which are available for instant download and duplication with an Unlimited Annual Membership.