The Church Music Leaders
THE MINISTER OF MUSIC AND MINISTRY
In a vast number of churches the responsibilities of the minister of music are either assumed by a worship or music committee, a single individual such as the choir director or organist, or the pastor. In smaller churches where multiple staffing does not exist, the responsibilities should be assigned to a church committee (assuming appropriate membership qualifications), the choir director, or the organist. In multiple staff situations it is essential that one individual be charged with the music responsibility.
THE LEADER’S ROLE
The title minister of music is preferred over choir director or director of music because the title itself focuses on the very purpose of church music. The involvement of the performers and the congregation in the service music experiences should not be the same as for other mu¬sic performances outside the church. It is, rather, the Body of Christ using the vehicle of music in experiences that are spiritual in nature and God-directed in focus, thus ministering to the needs of the people as a result. There is a sense in which the worshiper ministers to God in the act of worship. Therefore, the one charged with overseeing and providing leadership in all aspects of the church music program can and should be a minister of music. If for no other reason and there are obviously other reasons), the title helps the congregation and the musicians to remember the purpose of church music and the calling of the church musicians.
RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE MINISTER OF MUSIC
The minister of music plans and administers the total music program of the church. Spiritual and musical maturity are both essential to assist him in decisions relating to policy matters, program development, and budgeting. In the interpersonal relationships between the minister of music and the participants in the music program, opportunities exist for spiritual counseling that require similar under¬standings to those common to the clergy. Thus there is considerable opportunity for one with this calling to not only minister through his music talents as a director, singer, or organist, but also in the one-to-one relationships.
Church music departments have often been called the war departments of the church. Too frequently insecure musicians hiding behind facades of artistic temperaments destroy any chance for the Spirit of God to work through them because of the resultant tensions. Jealousy is not uncommon among those whose responsibilities put them in front of people. Church musicians are not immune from the human characteristics that can render any Christian weak or ineffective. It is incumbent upon the minister of music to order his personal life so as to be without reproach. A constant dependency upon God’s guidance through the Holy Spirit, careful, open, and honest relationships with others, and the avoidance of evil or the appearance of evil are all spiritual attributes for which the minister of music should strive. One leads by example, and where the example is inadequate so also will be both the leadership and the worship experiences of the followers. Regardless of one’s musical expertise, true ministry only results from lives lived in conformity with God’s will and from a dedicated commitment to Him. If any members of a church music staff are for any reason not part of the team effort in the ministering endeavor, it is the responsibility of the minister of music to approach such people in love and ultimately resolve the problems. In the best of situations inter¬personal relationships can be occasionally strained, but if tensions persist, the ministry is bound to be hindered.
Because of the complexity of the relationships of the office as well as the confidentiality necessary in interpersonal relationships, I per¬sonally prefer one individual to be responsible rather than a committee. The ideal is to have one individual with the qualities, qualifications, and calling that will effectively provide the needed leadership. That individual should have freedom to select his staff members. When selecting staff members, the minister of music should look for team players who are not only effective musicians and spiritual leaders but whose perspectives are similar to those desired. Obviously one choir director who uses literature not in keeping with the basic music philosophy can undermine the program.
THE CONDUCTOR/CHOIR DIRECTOR
The conductor wears many hats during the course of his work. The selection of a music score, the analysis and study of the score, the initial presentation of the work to the choir, the correcting of mistakes, the development of a tonal production, the explanation of musical and textual ideas, the final polishing, and the actual conducting in performance all require a synthesis of his understanding in the areas of music literature, vocal techniques, conducting techniques, music history, group dynamics, music theory, and Scripture. The conductor must not only be a good musician, but he must be able to draw upon many different areas of knowledge to become proficient. The con¬ductor is a leader not only of music but of people and as a result has the full responsibility for developing techniques that efficiently and effectively bring the desired results.
Ultimately the full responsibility for artistic or mediocre performance lies on the shoulders of the conductor. Leland Sateren, professor emeritus and conductor, Augsburg College Choir, Minneapolis, has said, “There is no such thing as poor choirs; there are only poor conductors!” It is true that the better the talent that exists within any given musical organization, the better the potential for excellence in performance.* But that potential can be realized only if the conductor is able to motivate and encourage the reaching of that potential. In many instances the talent has been average within performing groups, but because an outstanding conductor has worked with the group ex¬ceptional performance levels have been achieved. Ultimately the con¬ductor cannot blame his singers (the bad little church choir or the untalented youth choir) for poor performance. Only incapable people blame others for their own inadequacies. The capable conductor as¬sumes full responsibility for insuring excellence of performance. *Refer to chapter 7 for a discussion of the place of excellence in the church music program.
THE CHALLENGE OF THE CHORAL CONDUCTOR
The conductor is a leader, not a follower. As a result it is important that he not only develop the techniques of leadership musically but also have some of the personality characteristics that set people apart as leaders in other areas of life as well. There are successful conductors who are also very quiet and in some ways unassuming or introverted. Generally speaking, however, the personality patterns for successful conductors tend to follow the extrovert kind of personality. Chances for success are somewhat less for one who tends to be shy and with¬drawn than for one who tends to be outgoing and able to speak in front of people with some ease. That should not be construed to sug¬gest that it is impossible for the shy person to be a successful con¬ductor. It simply means that he may want to develop his personality through the taking of courses such as drama or public speaking, or through other means, in order to more comfortably become a leader.
The conductor is an accomplished musician. He must not only be a leader generally, but he must be a musical leader. The musical ear must be well developed so he can “hear” very easily (essentially an intellectual process). He must develop the mental capacity for perceiving nota-tional error and be a good music reader. It would be absurd to assume that one who cannot read music could ever achieve at any significant level as a conductor. (Of course there have been a few exceptions.) Score reading becomes one of the primary responsibilities of the con¬ductor, and teaching others to read is part of the task as well.
The conductor is a music historian. He must be totally aware of the styles of all the music periods. Because the conductor synthesizes music history and translates historical fact into his work, it is imperative that he develop an understanding of music history that gives rise to the sound of a given style. For example, the word Baroque must conjure up sounds for him, not merely names and dates. The conductor not only recognizes the Baroque style but creates it with live musicians from the musical and textual score. Interpretations are maximally the wishes of the composer (an accurate reading of the score) and must minimally be an extension of the conductor’s own personality, feel¬ings, or desires. The conductor is thus a servant of the score rather than the egotistical master of the score. Musically educated artist-conductors place themselves under the wishes of the composer. Everything is done within their power to interpret the score, always thinking of the wishes of the composer. Thus it is that the conductor must be steeped in the general characteristics of the style he is working with and the specific desires of the composer within that style. The self-indulgent conductor who specializes in an exclusively personal inter¬pretation reflects an amateur point of view.
The conductor is a music theoretician. He must be able to analyze each score both harmonically and formally. Thematic development, un¬derstanding musical phrasing, and the shaping of line are important elements of that analysis in order that those music elements are ap¬parent in performance.
The conductor is an aesthetician. He must know the aesthetic realm because he deals in the aesthetic realm with both the audience and his performers. He has views on the word beauty, on the arts as they relate to each other, on what music means, and on how to evaluate music. Thus he develops a philosophic frame of reference from which to work that will steer him in the selection of all literature performed with the given group or groups for which he is responsible.
The conductor knows the psychology of group dynamics. He must develop techniques of motivation to encourage responses to the musical gestures. It is important to anticipate singers’ responses in rehearsal situations so that expectations for the group may be met. A rehearsal climate of artistic gratification and achievement is necessary to maintain the members in a choir, to assist in the recruiting process, and to insure good performance. The conductor is charged with maintaining good group morale, which necessitates an understanding of how to encourage positive interpersonal relationships within the group. The conductor must be aware of the psychological conditions that give rise to meaning in music so that performances reflect those considerations.
The conductor is a voice teacher. He must be able to develop good basic vocal habits on the part of the singers, solving their specific vocal problems. A basic vocal philosophy, which will give rise to all he does vocally and result in a specific “sound” of the choir, is necessary. We probably have all heard choirs the sound of which would be difficult to describe. When that is the case, one can be relatively certain that the conductor has not taught any specific vocal approach. On the other hand, the sound of the Roger Wagner Chorale, the Robert Shaw Chorale, Concordia, St. Olaf or Bethel Choirs, or the Johnny Mann Singers is easily recognized. The reason for that is that in each case the conductor has taught specific vocal approaches that resulted in a given sound for his group. It is at this point that the individual stamp of the conductor’s personality and vocal philosophy is probably most apparent. His own creativity and understanding is most legitimately uti¬lized in this manner.
By contrast, the interpretation of scores leaves much less room for individuality. It is far less legitimate for the personality of the con¬ductor to be stamped on a piece of Bach than it is for the choir to employ a vocal philosophy that bears the stamp of the name of the conductor. Effective and pleasing singing does not just happen. It is taught through specific vocal exercises and an emphasis on a specific vocal production.
The conductor is an educator. Because so much time is spent teaching, it is necessary to develop sound pedagogical techniques. The conductor does not only teach specific notes and sounds, but he also teaches attitudes and concepts that must transfer from one musical situation to another. The ability to be a quick problem solver is necessary, and in being a problem solver he must often utilize pedagogical techniques that are effective.
The choral conductor is aware of the structure and meaning in the text of the literature to be performed. The text of every piece must be understood literally and poetically, and the conductor must be able to solve all problems of articulation and performance relating to the text as well as to the music. Ideas must be sung—not merely words.
The conductor is an administrator-organizer. He prepares budgets, organizes and plans schedules, files reports for those to whom he is responsible, and coordinates music activities with others of the music department and the institution at large (the school or the church). The choir is a complex organization, and the conductor must be highly efficient and organized so as to use time wisely.
He is also charged with the responsibility of determining how large numbers of people spend their time. If he has a rehearsal once a week or even one hour every day, multiplying that time by the number of members in the choir will give him the total number of hours for which he is directly responsible. Assuming he directs several choirs a week in rehearsal, the total number of hours for which the director is responsible is enormous. From a Christian perspective the stewardship of time is of as much importance as the stewardship of money. It therefore becomes imperative that time not be wasted in rehearsals. Humor has its place as a pacing device, but when rehearsals become joke-telling sessions or a waste in any other way, the conductor must be held directly accountable. The conductor soon learns that the greatest enemy to success is lack of time in rehearsal. As a result he must organize his thinking and plan rehearsals well so that as much as possible can be packed into each rehearsal.
The conductor is not only an artist-musician but also a master of the con¬ducting technique. Through conducting gestures and other visual means, every aspect of the music must be expressed. The conductor is the eye-gate of both the performers and the congregation. Everything done must have meaning musically. The conductor must develop technique that reflects not only such things as good attacks, good breathing, line, releases, and fluid beat patterns but must do so within the context of the style of any of periods conducted. In other words, he develops techniques that best reinforce the music to be conducted within the style of that music. That must be done within the boundaries of traditional conducting techniques so that as the conductor moves from one group to another it is not necessary to immediately teach what the gestures mean. The gestures must be so convincing that an untrained singer will respond automatically to them without having to ask for verbal explanation as to their meaning. And too, it is important that members of an accompanying orchestra or other instrumentalists clearly understand the conducting gestures so as to not waste precious rehearsal time. That is only achieved through the utilization of the traditional conducting gestures used by orchestral and formally educated choral conductors.
The conductor is never a showman. A conductor worthy of his calling must be a sincere, honest, deeply dedicated musician endeavoring to Lead the performers in the creation of a meaningful experience. Thus making the conducting gesture look like the music sounds is necessary and should become the goal of all conducting students. Flamboyance and showmanship routines have no place in the concert hall of serious music and certainly are every bit as inappropriate in the church.
Finally, perhaps the single most important requirement of artist-conductors is that they provide meaningfully satisfying experiences for their congregation or audiences and the performers. The conductor who cannot do that is merely a mechanical musician going through the motions and leading performers in mechanical reproductions of the music. Within the context of church music, meaningful spiritual experiences are primary in importance, but artistic values also remain an important part of the total experience as well.
The effectiveness of the conductor will be determined by his ability to develop the varying responsibilities stated above and the ability to interrelate those responsibilities at a high level of achievement. Conductors will be stronger in some areas than others, but too much weak¬ness in any single area will limit their overall effectiveness. The serious conductor’s task, then, is to develop his abilities to the highest level. There are no shortcuts; success is only achieved through discipline and hard work. The practice necessary for success in conducting is exactly the same kind of practice necessary for success as a pianist, violinist, trombonist, vocalist, or other artist. Some think that all one has to do to become a conductor is to learn how to beat 3/4 or 4/4 patterns. (That, unfortunately, is how some church choir directors are chosen.) Anyone who views conducting in that manner simply does not understand the role of the conductor. Conductors who are artist-conductors have worked at the perfection of their art in precisely the same way the great artists in other fields have done. That means daily practice of technique and the development of musicianship until each is mastered. At the point at which technique and musicianship are mastered and he has developed a broad repertoire of technique, the conductor then spends time selecting and studying scores in precisely the same way any accomplished artist studies his work.
It is possible for one not to have a strong conducting technique and still develop a good level of performance. In such cases, however, performance of the music must be in a mechanical fashion because the conductor would not dare change anything in performance for fear the performers would not know what such a change in gesture would mean. Inspiration in the moment of performance is held in check be¬cause the conductor is forced to recreate exactly what he has done in each of the preceding rehearsals.
Some of the most meaningful experiences choirs and audiences have are when the performance issues in a level of communication that comes through the excitement of on-the-spot inspiration. Slight and subtle variations in the recreative act are only possible when the music is mastered by the choir and the conductor has the technique to respond to those moments of inspiration. A conductor incapable of going be¬yond mechanical reproduction really does not need more than mini¬mal rehearsal time in preparation for each anthem. In churches where one hour per week is scheduled for preparation for Sunday services, that kind of restricted schedule is probably enough because in all like¬lihood the choir will simply “get by” anyway. But where conductors are capable of producing at much higher levels, adequate time to in¬sure arriving at those levels is necessary. A good conductor who can produce at a high level will always take steps to assure adequate prep¬aration for such production.
PERSONAL ATTRIBUTES COMMON TO SUCCESSFUL CONDUCTORS
Although it is unrealistic to think that every church has or will have artist-conductors as part of their church music programs, it is helpful to have goals for which aspiring young musicians may aim. Serious conductors in church music who are not satisifed with their present achievements and wish to improve their abilities and effectiveness can benefit from observation of those who are successful in the field. Through years of observation and discussion with eminently success¬ful conductors I have discovered the following attributes to be apparent in those who were particularly successful. My observations have ranged from the most esteemed orchestral and choral conductors in the world to those who are effectively ministering in local churches in this country. They all seem to have several characteristics in common.
They have confidence in their professional endeavors. They know they are capable because of the repertoire of success they have built along the way. They are not necessarily proud (confidence and pride are two different characteristics). They tend to be outgoing in personality and have winsome ways.
They all demand excellence of performance from their performers. Their expectations are always high, and they keep self-discipline and hard work as the path to success. Mediocrity is born out of complacent self-satisfaction or a willingness to accept less than the best from a given group. Weak musicianship, weak leadership ability, weak conducting technique, laziness, or other reasons can be given for such mediocrity. However, successful artists are intolerant of mediocrity because of an inner compulsion to excel in their work. The demands made upon oth¬ers are also made upon themselves. Average conductors who accept less than the best from their performers often do not know the dif¬ference between average and outstanding performance themselves. Thus it is that a group that performs for such a conductor is doomed to average or mediocre performance—an unfortunate waste of time and talent for the performers. Performers have a right to, and should in fact expect, the highest possible levels of achievement from their conductors.**Attitudes that foster mediocrity contribute largely to mediocre performances. It is incongruous to give less than one’s best to the Lord. One must do his best not only to achieve a high artistic level but to honor God to the fullest of his ability. Pastors and administrators should know the difference between mediocre and outstanding perfor¬mances and be committed to utilizing mucisians who qualify.
They are able to envision the outcome long before the performance. Not only can they conceptualize the perfect performance in advance, but they can successfully bring their performers to a realization of that con¬ceptualization. “What will be will be” or “let’s see where we come out” attitudes simply do not exist among artists. They set goals and achieve those goals at all costs. Often the goals set are above what might be expected for a given group, but it is not uncommon for such groups to perform over their heads because of the effectiveness of the con-ductor. It is seldom if ever possible that a group will perform over its head when it has a conductor who has not aspired to such heights. More common is the situation in which the choir performs far below its ability and is hampered by its conductor.
They are never satisfied with their own performance or that of their performers. They always strive to grow and improve. They are driven by an inner sense that they can improve, and they take whatever steps are necessary to insure personal and group growth. They study music and scores for their entire lives to produce the desired musical ex¬cellence. The same compulsion produces a need for Christian conductors to study God’s Word as well in order to produce the needed spiritual discernment. In the secular-realm, prior to his death, Arturo Toscanini was known to have been studying and working to improve in his work. Eminent conductors such as Leonard Bernstein, Herbert Von Karajan, Erich Leinsdorf, and Sir Georg Solti all set aside specific periods of time during the day when they work and adequately prepare themselves for their responsibilities. They know that there are no shortcuts to excellence. Hard work on the part of all (performers and conductor) is the only path to success. Practice is the only exercise that makes perfect. If the giants in the field must prepare themselves for providing great aesthetic experiences for those who hear them perform, it is every bit as important that those who minister in the name of the Lord be as well prepared in the utilization of music for spiritual ministry.
They are motivated primarily by the music demands rather than the social demands of the group. Their primary dedication is to the art of music and, within the realm of church music, spiritual communication. They are secondarily motivated to be dedicated to their performers. That does not mean that they are not loving and understanding and do not relate well to their performers. However, the totally people-centered conductor tends to specialize in the social interactions in the rehearsals and in the other personal contacts with the performers rather than on those interactions that are music-centered. Conversely, the music-centered conductor focuses his attention on the musical aspects of learning, mastering and performing the score. It is important that such a conductor not fall into the trap common to some otherwise suc¬cessful conductors of viewing their performers only as performers. It must be remembered that the performers are people with feelings, who need the personal attention of the conductor. They are each im¬portant to the total success of the group. They may need encourage¬ment and other forms of personal attention, all of which demand the time and energy of the conductor, who must strive to meet those needs. The rich experiences that can result from the give and take between conductor and performers should never be overlooked. The only fac¬tor that will limit such experiences will be the time that is consumed in so doing. The conductor will often feel a tension between his music responsibilities and social responsibilities to the group. Those social responsibilities must not become means in themselves (in the thinking of the conductor) lest choir members begin to enjoy being part of the group for reasons other than the musical/spiritual ones. When mem¬bers begin to feel that it is a pleasure to be part of a group because of the benefits of group involvement or travel experiences (touring, fun on the buses, getting to know girls and boys) the conductor has moved from the realm of being a conductor to that of being a soci¬ologist. The greatest compliment that can be paid to a conductor is that people want to sing for him because of the musical/spiritual ex¬periences he provides. And more important, effective communication can take place through choirs’ singing because they paid the price of mastering the music. Without a doubt the Holy Spirit uses people in spite of their inadequacies, but that is no reason to continue pre-sumptively in inadequate music performance. The social aspects of the choir situation are important and need to be considered as such by the conductor. However, the successful conductor always focuses pri¬marily on the musical responsibilities of the group.
THE CHALLENGE OF THE CHURCH ORGANIST
The church organist is one of the most important leaders in the corporate service experience. The organist not only must be techni¬cally proficient on the instrument but thoroughly knowledgeable in the philosophic realm of church music. A poor organist can severely diminish effective potential of any service, and a good organist con¬versely can do wonders in insuring such potential. To technically mas¬ter the instrument is only part of the task of the organist. An under-standing of all service objectives (as well as being a sympathetic supporter of the objectives); a knowledge of organ literature (as literature to be used not for concert performance but as a utilitarian spiritual experience vehicle); a thorough awareness of purposes and implementa¬tion techniques for effective preludes, offertories, and postludes; a fundamentally sound accompanying ability; and the willingness to be a supportive and cooperative member of the music team (where the organist is not also the minister of music) are all necessary attributes for the effective organist. Again, the demands of the church music responsibility require more than the mastery of an instrument, as may more likely be the case of the concert artist. In addition, it is essential that the organist not only be sympathetic with the denominational im¬plications of a church, but he must also have the necessary spiritual commitment and discernment that gives purpose and direction to his work. It is most unfortunate that some churches have been caught in the trap of employing organists whose only qualifications are skills re¬lated to the playing of the instrument. That may be due to the church’s lack of understanding, vision, or willingness to appropriately fund the position, to an inadequate instrument, or to the unavailability of a fully qualified organist.
The organist, like the minister of music and the choir, leads the congregation in the important experience of congregational song. Harmonic or improvisatory creativity appropriate to the purposes of the service as well as within the context of the hymns can be a large asset in encouraging congregational involvement. That ability is per¬haps a rare gift but is so helpful when used meaningfully by the or¬ganist. Most Christians have experienced those occasions when the in¬troduction to the hymn was so much in context with the basic thrust of the hymn that they were compelled to sing with all of their being. There are also those experiences where the organist was more effec¬tive at turning off the congregation than at encouraging them. Thus it is that the task of the organist is not only to play the instrument effectively but to lead the congregation.
THE SELECTION OF SERVICE LITERATURE
Usually the organist’s responsibilities in literature selection are lim¬ited to the prelude, offertory, and postlude sections of the service. To haphazardly select pieces is to miss the total potential for spiritual ex¬perience during those moments. Generally speaking, it is a rare or¬ganist who is not conscientious in his responsibilities. Organists who have studied the instrument not only for the purpose of being concert artists but also to primarily function as church organists are usually exemplary in that regard.
The prelude. The purpose of the prelude is to prepare people (after they have entered the sanctuary) for the experience of worship. It is in fact the beginning of spiritual involvement of the worshiper rather than a perfunctory aural experience at the beginning of the service. It is not music “to walk in to” or “to socialize to.” Where it is thus used, the pastor and minister of music have an education job to do. More will be needed than the usual impotent heading in the bulletin exhorting all to be silent and bow their heads in meditation and prayer. It is also not a mini-concert for the organist to demonstrate his skill on the pedals. When the congregation fully understands the purpose of the prelude, and the literature played convincingly supports that purpose, the people will usually respond appropriately. The task can be made more difficult by architectual aspects of the sanctuary. When people enter a sanctuary they bring with them all of the burdens and tensions and a multitude of extraneous aspects of life that must be consciously quieted in order to get seriously involved in the act of wor¬ship. Some sanctuaries visually reinforce a sense of respect, awe, and seriousness of purpose upon entering. Others, however, may reflect an opposite atmosphere—one that is almost flippant or irreverant. In such edifices the organist’s task is much more difficult and in some cases, perhaps impossible. If what the ears hear is not reinforced by what the eyes see, the chances of effective involvement are dimin¬ished. Certainly, a congregation that worships in such an environment does so in spite of the situation and without the helps and aids that can be so meaningful in encouraging the appropriate responses.
Architectural considerations aside, the prelude should always be chosen with two things in mind. First, the objectives of the experiences to follow, including the church calendar or seasonal thrusts. Second, an understanding of what music means—the selecting of pieces that cre¬ate the desired basic moods and feelings and meanings that are sup¬portive of the specific objectives. If worshipers are to use prayer to prepare themselves for worship, a bombastic, joyful, driving selection may not encourage the desired prayer involvement. If meditation is the objective, a meditative or pastoral setting is necessary. Organists simply cannot select literature because it is what they like, or what they feel like playing this week, or because it is by their favorite composer. When those are the criteria, their contributions will be relegated to the “unimportant” category in the minds of the congregation. But when the necessary time is spent in a careful and prayerful selection of the prelude, it can start the service in a meaningful direction.
The offertory. It is often the responsibility of the organist to play the offertory in churches where offertory solos or choir selections are not used. The purpose of the offertory is not to play background music while offering plates are being passed. The offertory should accom¬plish one or more of the following objectives:
1. It should provide a conscious corporate focus on the act of Christian stewardship. That can be done by playing a familiar hymn with a text that deals with the stewardship of time, talents, life, or money. It does not mean the organist should play We Give Thee But Thine Own each week. However, a periodic reference to the stewardship theme through a familiar hymn text is helpful.
2. It should create a mood conducive to non-corporate creative medita¬tion by playing appropriate selections without familiar texts or with no text. Obviously there is no guarantee that the congregation will use this time appropriately. They must be taught to utilize such moments, and there is great risk for non-involvement. Such risk is acceptable, however, because as a congregation grows in its understanding and commitment to genuine worship, moments that can be uniquely in¬dividualized become increasingly precious. The insecure worshiper will always want each time slot filled by an activity in which he is led. The worshiper who is willing or even desirous to exert extra energy in the worship experience will inevitably appreciate moments set aside for non-corporate meditation.
3. It should focus attention on the broader themes of the service. (But at some point, either through congregational singing and/or verbal corporate prayer, the act of stewardship in worship must come into focus.)
The offering and offertory is not a time for relaxation on the part of the congregation (either physically or mentally) but an important time of spiritual dedication and giving—a time that must be carefully thought through by the one who provides the appropriate musical leadership.
Background prayer music. In some churches it is common for the or¬ganist to play while the pastor leads the congregation in prayer. Often this is done at the beginning or end of the offering when the ushers come forward. The organist may also be requested to play back¬ground music during the pastoral prayer. The origin of this practice is not well documented—perhaps it began in churches who broadcast their services on radio and had to provide “filler” for the radio au-dience. At any rate, organists and pastors alike need to know that when something familiar is played while a prayer is offered, the minds of the congregation will often, and perhaps usually, gravitate to the text or tune of the familiar hymn rather than pray with the pastor. For the less disciplined they may even only mentally hum the tune with no conscious involvement in the prayer. Further, there can be ridiculous incongruity between the thoughts of the prayer and what is played.
It sometimes seems that some pastors must hate silence because dur¬ing moments of silent prayer they also request the organist to play background music—once again like a radio program. If the text is familiar, the pastor may as well audibly read the text because the at¬tention of the congregation is occupied in mentally following the mu¬sic and text of what is played. Creative non-corporate prayer (where heaven is bombarded with as many different prayers as there are wor¬shipers in the church) can only take place when there are no musical sounds to distract the worshiper. Some may feel that background mu¬sic makes the worship service smoother. If one were to view the service within the context of a radio program that might be true. But as an aid to worship it flunks the test. The organist in such a situation would do well to tactfully encourage the pastor not to expect background music during prayers. If music must be provided during silent pray¬ers, it must be understood that no one will pray a prayer other than the text related to the music that is being played by the organist (as¬suming it is familiar). Organists who try to avoid playing familiar hymns, knowing full well what happens to the congregation, may then begin to improvise, and if they are not extremely gifted, such improvisation can also detract from the worship experience. The point is that if mu¬sic is to be used during any prayer time, it must be very carefully thought out so that it is supportive rather than damaging to the prayer experience. It is a curious thing that some pastors prefer music with their prayers, which creates a kind of competition for the attention of the worshiper. In most cases the music wins out.
The postlude. Too often it could be tempting for the organist to select the postlude in isolation from the specific thrust of the service. Un¬fortunately, the postlude becomes concert time for some organists. But the time is abused not only by organists; congregations also misuse the postlude. They use the postlude as “walking out music,” to loudly greet friends, or for general socializing. But the postlude is not back¬ground music for socializing. The congregation has a valid need to socialize and greet one another following the service. A friendly wel¬come to visitors and happy social interaction among believers is not only desired but should be strongly encouraged—following the post-lude, not during it. Where no foyer exists, and the church is so de¬signed that there is no space other than the sanctuary for this purpose, it admittedly becomes a difficult problem. One solution is that the con¬gregation remain in place until the postlude is completed. Ideally the postlude is a musical culmination of the final thrust of the service (often articulated in the sermon), creating the intellectual (cognitive) and emotional (affective) conclusions appropriate to the service. If the fi¬nal thrust is one of joy the postlude should be appropriately happy. If it is dedication to the task of serving the Lord, it ought to reflect a sense of determination and boldness. In some circumstances silence may be an appropriate response, but happy people may desire to re¬spond overtly during the postlude.
Where the organist does not coordinate preludes, offertories, and postludes with the objectives and themes of the service, precious time is wasted, and in essence the idea that those moments are unimportant is unwittingly signaled. When the organist conscientiously does en¬deavor to choose appropriate selections, it then becomes the respon¬sibility of the pastor, minister of music, and others who can help to encourage and teach the congregation to use the time wisely. The con¬scientious organist always checks with the pastor to ascertain the pri¬mary thrust of the sermon. The postlude is then selected and sched¬uled so as to support the mood and emotions of that thrust.
CORPORATE AND NON-CORPORATE EXPERIENCES
It is important for the organist to understand how corporate ex¬periences differ from non-corporate experiences because the organist involves the congregation in both group and creative individualized thought patterns. Any selection chosen with a text or title familiar to the congregation evokes responses that follow in the direction of that text or title. When What a Friend We Have in Jesus is played, in most churches the text conjures up meanings, feelings, emotions, and total corporate responses that are limited to the context of that text. If what is desired is a singular kind of experience that is less creative on the part of the worshiper, that kind of selection is appropriate. However, when what is desired is a non-corporate freedom that encourages in¬dividual creativity of thought and involvement, one must not restrict the congregation with such a selection. Rather, the organist should choose literature with no text at all or at least with an unfamiliar text. With that type of music the focus more consciously shifts to the moods and abstract feelings that are created by the selection. It is precisely for such non-corporate reasons that Bach, Buxtehude, Franck, or other composers of organ music are used in services. Obviously the congre¬gation has to know how to use such literature, or the organist will frequently hear “he never plays anything I know!” Such statements are an indication that the individual does not understand the purpose of the prelude or the exciting potential of the creative non-corporate experience. Again education and encouragement are the answer. Or¬ganists who only play Bach because it is great music or because he happens to be their favorite composer are in need of education them¬selves. A congregation usually reflects the effectiveness of its leader-ship in its understandings. Organists who blame congregations for lack of understanding or involvement often need to point the finger of blame at themselves. However, the organist cannot do the job of ed¬ucation alone. It is up to the minister of music and pastor to reinforce a correct vision in these directions and so assist the organist in his work.
THE ORGANIST’S INSTRUMENT
The reason some churches have difficulty employing gifted and qualified organists is sometimes due to the fact that the church organ is so inadequate. As it is impossible to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, so it is also impossible for a bad organ to effectively function as an instrument of worship. Small churches with limited resources may be pressed to install no more than an adequate instrument. When funds cannot specifically accommodate a good pipe organ, some of the newer electronic instruments are a good solution.
The design of the sanctuary and the acoustics of the church all have an impact on how an instrument will sound. As with vocal music, hard surfaces reinforce and enhance the sound of the organ. Soft absorbent surfaces deaden the sound, not only playing havoc with the vocal pro-duction of the choir but with the sound of the organ as well. Church leaders preoccupied with carpeting, soft seats on the pews, and other sound absorbent materials would do well to visit the cathedrals of Eu¬rope. The churches of the world with incredible acoustics are the ones where no carpet, draperies, or sound absorbent materials exist. A fine instrument in poor acoustics will not be effective. Therefore the con¬gregation concerned about realizing the optimum potential of the or¬gan (and I might add—the choir) must be equally concerned about the acoustics of the church as they are about the instrument that is installed.
Although it is desirable, it is not essential to have a recital-quality instrument in a church. If the primary purpose of the use of the or¬gan is kept in mind, the church will insure that an organ is selected that can effectively enhance the congregational singing, accompany the choir and soloists, and play appropriate prelude and postlude lit¬erature. My opinion is that it is better to install a more limited pipe organ than a more elaborate electronic instrument.
Some electronic instruments come close to imitating pipe organ sounds, but in my judgment there still is no substitute for the genuine product. To date, I have heard many electronic instruments (some very elaborate and costly), but none compare to the good pipe organs I have heard throughout the world. Generally, a good pipe organ out¬lives the electronic instrument and is probably a better long-term investment for the church. Contrary to what one hears from enthusiastic electronic fans, the pipe organ is not necessarily a great deal more expensive to maintain than an electronic organ. If a budget is ex¬tremely limited, the electronic instrument may be the solution. Most important, this aspect of the budgetary philosophy of the church de¬serves careful consideration and insight that penetrates beyond the immediate future. The difference between a poor electronic instru¬ment and a small but effective pipe organ can mean a radical differ¬ence in how the congregation worships in each service.
Thankfully, few churches install electronic organs of the bar room or roller-and-ice-skating-rink variety anymore. And too, the reputable electronic companies usually encourage churches to steer away from their theater or one-man-band models. Dollars spent (albeit sacrifi¬cially) on excellent instruments are dollars invested in the future wor¬ship life of the congregation and become not an investment in a key¬board, pipes, and air source, but in lives.
The above article, “The Church Music Leaders” was written by Robert Berglund. The article was excerpted from chapter 5 in Berglund’s book, A Philosophy of Church Music.
The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”