The Music Committee

The Music Committee
By Lynn W. Thayer

Administration of the music in most of our churches takes many forms. It has no accepted or set formula. It may be accomplished through (1) personal direction of the pastor; (2) delegation of most decisions to a single member of the “session” or board of the church; (3) a worship commission (certain members of the general board); (4) a music committee; or (5) a combination of the above. While several denominations outline areas of responsibility quite specifically, others are general in their recommendations.

Often the music committee meets periodically, or on call, to hear a report on “how things are going.” Pros and cons may be discussed, suggestions made on what should be done, and then adjournment is called to end both the meeting and all serious thought on the part of the laymen until the next session. The director is left with more things to do than he had before the meeting! When the suggestions are not followed, he is often subject to censure for not getting them done. This procedure is in-efficient and outdated.

In more fortunate circumstances the committee embraces a group of laymen who recognize the mechanical details incidental to a successful program and who themselves assume responsibility for accomplishing them. Each is assigned to a specific area. Each concentrates his efforts in this area; at the same time relating the progress in this field to the united success of the entire department.

Activities in each area are coordinated and guided by the di-rector or minister of music. After major policies are established via conferences between pastor, director, and the music commit-tee, the actual operational procedures should be placed in the hands of the director. His must be the decisions as to appropriate music, conduct of the rehearsals, and other means of accomplishing the ends agreed upon.

His liaison with the pastor will be constant and continuing, to assure, that his direction is in keeping with the overall goals of the church and its central leadership. Pastor-director relationships are clearly portrayed by Lovelace and Rice in their book, Music and Worship in the Church (Abingdon Press).

When the major elements of the program are determined the director goes about the selection of his lay assistants. For each of the major activities he will attempt to select one person who has both a personal interest and the ability to get the job done.

One person who is definitely a “non-musician” is needed for every music committee. To those who like music, and to those whose background does not include music training we are equally responsible. This non-musical person helps us to keep our perspective from becoming lopsided in favor of music which might be effective only to one group of people.

Here is an excellent opportunity for “missionary work,” by the way. Frequently the person who has been lukewarm�or less�to the whole music program is won over completely after a few months of service with the committee. He has a close look at music at work. He sees its power as a part of the act of worship. He becomes an enthusiastic booster for that of which he was only passively aware for so long a time, and quite often voluntarily takes on an active assignment in the program. Of course the director must then find another non-musician for the committee.

Areas Of Representation

The fully-developed program of a large church obviously re-quires much more personnel than a beginning one, or than a complete one for a small church. The church with a new pro-gram or a limited one will select first from the areas listed in this chapter those which it can best develop with its current budget and available staff.

Choice of leadership has to come first, of course. The adult choir is the heart of the entire music program. It carries the first and main obligation for the music of the worship service. It is the group which brings new hymns to the congregation and provides leadership in all singing of hymns and responses. It helps to organize, to sponsor, encourage, and develop the younger groups who will soon become members of the adult organizations. Which additional choir(s) of young people will be added will depend on the numbers of each age available in the church parish. (See chapter on age-group choirs.)

Areas of a complete church music program
The adult choir
Age-group choirs
High school
Junior high school
Congregational singing
Music in the church school
The organ, pianos, and equipment
Training classes
Song leaders
Music reading
Instrumental activities
Small ensembles

Your music director, pastor, and you on the committee will determine together where your emphasis will be placed as the total program grows. The training classes and instrumental groups usually follow when the remainder of the program is firmly established. The areas are listed, not in order of importance necessarily, but to outline desirable extent of the program and to show where lay help will be needed. In following chapters procedures are presented for planning and action in each of these areas.
How often we hear, “But our church is so small! Our problems are so different from those of a big church!” Many years of experience in churches of all sizes have convinced the writer that most of the main problems have the same basic roots, and that the size of the problem is largely determined by the size of the church.

Specific Duties Of The Music Committee

Since the church music program begins usually in a modest way, with possibly only the adult choir, and grows with the addition of one age-group choir and then a second, this handbook deals first with the specific non-musical matters in which the individual members of the committee can relieve the director.

Factors pertinent to this growth are discussed for the benefit of new committee members, and for other laymen of the young church. Unfortunately, music directors sometimes change more frequently than the governing boards of the church. It is important, therefore, for the latter to know how to build and maintain a growing program. Loss of continuity which often results when a new choir leader is hired can be avoided when the sup-porting committee knows where, how, and why the program is going!


In any program growth and expansion there gradually evolve certain desired methods of procedure. The music committee comes to learn what works well and what does not in this job of helping to make better and more effectual Christians. Through their firsthand knowledge of these procedures, the committee can intelligently advise and support the pastor in his tremendous responsibility of guiding the whole church.

Inevitably, in time, a new director must be employed. The accompanist has to be replaced. Who in the church is ready with an outline of definite qualifications which the new candidate must meet? How often has a church found to its dismay, and too late, that the new director was not qualified to carry on all the departments of their former program? What shall be the policies governing the use of the organ and other musical equipment?

The music committee that can accomplish the preliminary screening, present its recommendations to the board and the pas-tor, and assist in making final determinations is indeed a jewel of great price.

The latter part of the handbook deals with a number of more general policies which need to be considered by both the new and the experienced committee. (Parenthetically, the “staggered” method of replacement in which only one, or at most, two members are replaced each year is the best insurance for a successful continuing program.)

It is highly desirable that each member be persuaded to stay on long enough to help train his replacement on the committee.
The reading of Chapter 8, “The Volunteer Choir,” is a “must” for every member of the committee and the governing board of the church.

Musical Procedures

A word of admonition here may be appropriate and may save many heartaches and disappointments. Let us assume that the general procedures, current policies, and the general types of music desired have been agreed upon between the new director and pastor and other members of his staff. The particular choice of music, the running of rehearsals, the selection and acceptance of choir members, and other matters primarily musical must be left to the decision of the director. This is the field for which he is trained. You are paying him. His must be the accountability for assembling and utilizing the details which in his judgment will be successful.

One does not tell the director what anthem he is going to use for this Sunday (except where dictated by denominational edict) any more than one tells the pastor just what he is going to say on his chosen subject. One does not tell the director how to run his rehearsal any more than one dictates to the pastor how he shall counsel the person who comes for spiritual help. On the other hand constructive suggestions brought in the privacy of a conference�not in the middle of an already planned practice�are welcomed and considered for possible use.

An autocratic “because I say so” is never good under any circumstance, of course. The considerate director shares with his choir the reasons for certain procedures. From them he often receives suggestions which may be beneficial to the whole pro-gram. He cannot, however, allow adopted standards to be pulled thither and yon by well-meaning but less-informed individuals. He must deal tactfully but firmly with ideas or thoughts which in his judgment might be inimical to the ultimate good of the group.

“Oh, let’s not sing this anthem. I’ve never liked it!” “Truth-fully, there are many others I like better, myself,” he must be ready to reply, “but the choir is not just for you or for me, is it? It’s for the whole congregation. Some folks seem to get much from it, and have asked for it again, so we’re doing it for them.”
Mutual respect and confidence in professional integrity must exist between pastor, music director, and committee. The pastor knows exactly what he wishes to accomplish in a complete worship service and it is the music director’s duty to do his utmost to help in seeing that it is done. The pastor has an equal responsibility, however, to respect his colleague’s professional ability and to consider suggestions which could add beauty and effectiveness.

Mutual discussion of problems at committee meetings may well influence the director to modify or change some courses of action adopted earlier. This can help also in the acceptance of new ideas or plans. The wise director is always alert to tailor the music program to the needs of his pastor and congregation. The intelligent pastor is at all times ready to try suggestions from those who are sincerely trying to “hold up his arms.”

Musical Balance Wheel

The music committee is, perforce, the “balance wheel” of this department for the church. When those persons employed for leadership in singing or playing cannot or will not perform the functions mutually agreed upon at hiring time it is the duty of this particular church unit to support the pastor in replacement action. It is, therefore, imperative that the entire committee be thoroughly conversant with the aims and method of operation of the church music department.

This article “The Music Committee” is excerpted from The Church Music Handbook by Lynn W. Thayer