The Music Director’s Hat

The Music Director’s Hat
Cheri Walters

So you’re the new music minister. You arrive at the church office, unpack a few books, sit down at your desk, and then what? You haven’t got the foggiest idea where to start.

“Whoa! Wait a minute!” You protest. “I should be so lucky! An office? A desk? A place to put my books?”

Some of you have the luxury of being confused in your own office in a full-time position. Others have to be confused with a couple of file cabinets in a Sunday school room and a part-time or even volunteer position.

But whether you’re full-time, part-time, or volunteer, you need some organizational skills. In fact, if you’re trying to juggle another job or homemaking responsibilities which is another job, pay check or no you need organizational skills more than anyone!

“This year I’m going to get organized!” Every New Year’s Day I make that resolution, but I doubt whether I’ll ever have it all together. In fact, I’m beginning to think that it’s impossible; I’m learning that for any of us, organizing our lives is an ongoing process as we grow and our needs evolve and change But I take comfort in the fact that I am more organized this year than I was last year, or two years ago, or ten. And I keep resolving to be more organized next year!

In my attempts to get organized, I’ve discovered two major requirements: The first is to find the right tools for my particular needs; the second is to learn how to use them efficiently.

After that, organization is mostly a matter of maintenance, at least until my needs or those of my church require new tools.
This chapter will detail several of the organizational tools I’ve come up with myself or borrowed from other more organized people. I encourage you to adapt them for your church situation or use them as a starting point to create your own.

Determining Your Direction

They say that “If you don’t know where you’re going, any old road will get you there.” The ubiquitous “they” also say, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll surely hit it.” While they are not always right, in the case of organizing and planning they have spoken the truth!

The first step toward organization is a step backward to look at the overall music ministry of the church. If you’re new in music ministry, if you’re new in a church position, or starting a new choir year, ask yourself these four questions:

1. What are my objectives for this music ministry?
Let’s call objectives our general aims. All of us in music ministry share many objectives: to use music to enhance our worship of God; to reach out to the unsaved through the music; to edify the believer through “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.-

It’s important to remind ourselves of these objectives regularly so we keep on track. Sometimes I think we should tie them on our hands and foreheads and write them on the door frames and gates like Israel did with God’s commandments! If we don’t have a reason or direction for all our organization, it’s just so much busywork.

2. What specific goals will help me realize these objectives?
Goals are more precise than objectives. They can be measured: “I want to present a youth musical this summer”; “I want to see the choir increase by 25 percent this year.” Make goals as specific as possible; they give you a yardstick to measure your progress. According to author Barbara Hemphill, “Research shows that less than 3 percent of the U.S. population put their goals in writing. It also shows that having written goals is high on the priority list of high achievers.”

Set goals that are in keeping with your objectives. Ask yourself, “Is this goal (presenting a summer concert series) going to help me accomplish the objective (of communicating the gospel to unsaved people)?”

3. What musical events are expected of me by the pastor and congregation?
Unless you are pioneering a church (and perhaps even then), there will be expectations placed on you before you ever walk into the choir loft. If this church has always had a Christmas musical and an Easter musical, it’s a sure bet that they expect you to continue that tradition. If the pastor has had success with a big fall music recruitment campaign, he’ll want you to plan a music month in September. It’s better to ask at the beginning instead of finding out in August.

4. What events would I like to add?
Perhaps one of your objectives is to encourage a greater degree of commitment in your choir members. One goal that would move you toward that objective is to reward faithful choir members by acknowledging them with choir awards. So you might decide to add a music department appreciation banquet in June before everyone leaves on vacation. Or perhaps a choir retreat would be nice in early September to get the fall music off to a good start. Maybe you’ll decide to plan a special dedication service during music month to honor those who serve in the music ministry. Any or all of these events can help you reach your objective.


Most of the superorganized people I know are never out of arm’s reach of their calendars. There’s a very good reason for that. The busier you are, the more apt you are to forget what you’re supposed to be busy doing and where you’re supposed to he busy doing it and when and with whom.

So after you’ve listed those objectives, goals, and musical events, get out your calendar, a pencil, and an eraser.

Start penciling in your major events. Christmas and Easter are obviously first, then add others that apply to your situation. Will the choir and soloists provide special music for a missions convention? Don’t forget annual events like a church anniversary celebration or homecoming, family Thanksgiving service, Mother’s and Father’s Days, patriotic holidays. Write down everything you know about or anticipate for the year.

While you’re doing this long-range planning, count backward from a music event to where your starting points should be and pencil them in as well. (If the Christmas musical is on this date, then rehearsals should start by this date; music should be ordered by this date; I should start looking for a Christmas musical by this date.) Work backward from the event giving yourself a little extra time in case things take longer than you think.

Another thing to add to your calendar that many of us over look is tuning of the sanctuary piano and any other church instruments requiring regular maintenance. Whether you’re convinced it’s necessary to tune the pianos once a year, twice a year, or at some other interval, pick a date and write it down.

Okay, you’ve looked at the overall picture and written in a skeleton plan for the year. Now it’s time to start fleshing it out with some detailed planning.

Based on your answers to the questions in the previous section make a list of your daily, weekly, monthly, and annual tasks. Assign a day or time for each one. Some are already decided for you, like a weekly staff meeting every Tuesday morning, or adult choir rehearsal every Wednesday night. Write those down and then plan around them.

Perhaps you’ll want to make Tuesday afternoon your rehearsal-planning time. Have both a long-range plan (“Eight to ten Sundays from now I want the choir to sing this new anthem”) and a weekly plan that moves toward it (“I’ll introduce it with one brief run-through this week”; “I’ll spend ten minutes going over parts next week,” etc.)

Maybe you’ll decide that the third Tuesday of each month is your time to plan the worship music for the following month. Decide whether you’ll introduce new choruses to the congregation by using them as offertories, instrumental preludes, or by having the choir sing them first as an anthem or call to worship. This is your time to plan worship and choir music that fit together. If the pastor is preaching a sermon series or through a certain book of the Bible, ask if he knows what his texts or subjects will be for the month, and plan music that reinforces those themes.

If you use instrumentalists who play other than C instruments, planning is a must! Although some musicians are accomplished enough to transpose on sight, it’s really presuming a lot to wait until service time to inform them of the congregational music. Because our church has several instrumentalists who need music transposed to their key, our worship leaders know that they can’t just throw something together at the last minute.

If you are the one who arranges and transposes the instrumental accompaniment parts, set aside a regular day and time for that, too. One music minister friend, who does a great deal of arranging, sets aside every Thursday and is unavailable for phone calls or meetings on that day, except in emergencies.

Listening to new music is one of my problem areas, probably because it involves making decisions that I’d rather postpone. The only way to deal with the mountain of accumulated music from music publishers’ choral clubs and music conferences is to make an appointment with myself at least one day a month. But first, I find it helps to make a list of music I’m looking for: Communion songs, children’s Mother’s Day songs, lively opening choral anthems. This lifts the load of decision-making a little by narrowing down my music needs. The limits of the music budget and rehearsal time are also effective in narrowing down choices of music I like but can’t afford or don’t have time to teach in rehearsal.

Are you responsible for scheduling solos, duets, and trios for the worship services? Make a list of all the soloists and groups in your congregation, pick a date to sit down with your master calendar, and schedule a month at a time. After you get the glitches worked out of it (like remembering to plan around Robin who is in children’s church every other Sunday morning, and Joe who has to work the first Sunday night of the month), try scheduling a quarter (three months) at a time. Type up the list, photocopy it, and distribute it to every singer and instrumentalist involved. You can always make changes in your plan if someone is ill or out of town. But a soloist, for example, having a list with her name on it gives her a goal to work toward. I’ve found it’s much more effective than saying, “I’d like you to prepare a solo; let me know when you’re ready to sing it.”

“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.”