We sing in the midst of our hectic lives, through our own joys and sorrows, because sometimes, when things are the hardest for us, we need to sing.
On November 4, 1912, at a congregational meeting, my church chose its first song leader, A.G. Hvass. The written record says, “The choir has also faithfully served during this entire time.” It’s now a hundred years later, and our church choir is still faithful and still singing. This anniversary has led me to reflect on what it means to be a member of a choir, its role in my life, and its role in the life of my church.
In these days of self-absorption, self-promotion, and self-interest, being a member of a choir offers a striking contrast. Choir is about being a part of something larger than yourself. Singing in a church choir is all about “us” not “me.” In a choir, if you stand out you’re doing something wrong. While you may fear going it alone, in a choir you join other altos, tenors, sopranos, or baritones, and together you make it possible for something powerful to happen.
And something powerful does happen. Choir becomes a place of service in the church, a place to grow, a small group, a glimpse of heaven, a front-row seat, and ultimately, a lesson about life in the church.
In choir, we make a commitment to participate in worship, and to join with the pastoral staff as they lead the congregation in worship. The pieces we sing are carefully chosen to enhance the texts. We sing for baptisms, funerals, and during communion. We sing in the midst of our hectic lives, through our own joys and sorrows, because sometimes, when things are the hardest for us, we need to sing. By our very presence, we are affirming our faith. And, throughout all of these occasions, there are times when the Spirit moves in the message of the morning, combines with the words of an anthem or a hymn, and blows through the congregation in a way that is beyond any rehearsal, plan, or order of worship. God is with us.
The texts of the anthems we sing teach us about God, and help us grow in our faith. Sometimes, when we’re faced with a week’s challenges or joys, the words of a hymn or anthem we’ve rehearsed come to mind and speak to our need. The texts become not just our song, but our meditation and our prayer.
One memorable example of this was when we were rehearsing the anthem “E’en So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come,” by Paul Manz, and our director, Charles Olson, told us the background of the piece. It had been written when Manz’s infant son was critically ill. One night as they changed watch at their son’s bedside, the composer’s wife suggested a text that promised comfort from Revelation 22. Manz worked through the night on a composition based on this text, and that joy expressed in the climax of the anthem was realized when their son was saved from death and recovered to full health.
On Sunday morning we sang that anthem knowing what the composer faced when he wrote it, knowing how his faith had been tested, and knowing that in the face of it all, he wrote these words: “Rejoice in heaven, all ye that dwell therein, rejoice on earth, ye saints below. For Christ is coming, is coming soon! E’en so Lord Jesus, quickly come, and night shall be no more; they need no light nor lamp, nor sun, for Christ will be their All!”
In a choir, you can’t really be a loner. When you join a choir, you are automatically a member of a small group—a small group that makes music together and in doing so, becomes a family. At every rehearsal, we take a few minutes to share our individual or congregational joys, sorrows, or prayer requests, and we pray together. We study the texts of the anthems, and we reflect on their meaning not just at rehearsal, but throughout the week. We know each others’ bad musical habits, but we love each other anyway, because we are a family. We have potluck suppers, watch choir romances blossom, celebrate birthdays, and grieve our losses together, and doing these things together makes the difference for us.
Many members of our choir have sung for decades, through various choir directors, organists, and choir members, and we thus have a deep sense of our heritage. When anthems are distributed for rehearsal, we are at the same time reminded of our history and confronted with our mortality, because ours may be the piece of music with one of our former choir members’ names written in the corner (in pencil of course) with their notes on when to breathe and how to pronounce the text. Although these former members now sing with the saints in heaven, we remember where they sat, the jokes they told, or their favorite anthem. When we sing, perhaps even holding their music, we know that they are among our cloud of witnesses.
Singing in the choir gives us a prime location—a front and center view of our congregation. From the choir loft, we count the hats on Easter Sunday (down to five last Easter), watch the trustees as they hurriedly assemble their offering-taking team during the preceding hymn, and witness the drama when that stray cup tips over in the balcony, dripping coffee on someone’s head directly below. We see the new baby’s first trip to church, the one returning after a long absence, the new widow attending church alone for the first time, and the visitor we make a mental note to find after the service.
More reverently, we enjoy the privilege of watching the faces of our congregation as their lives unfold before us: the face of the one being baptized, the confirmand’s face while surrounded by family members and friends during the pastor’s prayer, and the faces of grieving family members during a memorial service. We watch them sing with fierce determination in the midst of their sorrow, and in their faces we witness the power of our shared belief in the resurrection.
The lesson we learn from singing in a choir is that it’s a lot like life in the church. We are a part of the body of Christ—we each do our part, given our strengths and weaknesses, out of our gifts and interests, and somehow God uses us imperfect people to do powerful things. As we live in community, we form strong bonds, and we become a family. We are connected— we can’t be in broken relationships because we’ve sung together. We make it work. We rehearse until we get it right. We keep on singing. We sing more quietly when we need to, stepping out of the way for a more important part, and sing more boldly when it’s time. We honor and remember those who went before us, but we welcome the stranger. We see Christ in our midst and in the faces of our congregation. And through it all, despite our need to control and our failed attempts to get it right, God surprises us, moving in our midst in a way that defies our understanding.
This is my anthem to my choir, and ultimately, to life in the church. ■ Janis Rueping is a member of North Park Covenant Church in Chicago. http://www.christkingparish.org/editoruploads/files/Adult%20Choir/2016%20choir%20article.pdf
Morning by morning I wake up to find
The power and comfort of God's hand in mine
Season by season I watch Him, amazed
In awe of the mystery of His perfect ways
All I have need of, His hand will provide
He's always been faithful to me.
I can't remember a trial or a pain
He did not recycle to bring me gain
I can't remember one single regret
In serving God only, and trusting His hand
All I have need of, His hand will provide
He's always been faithful to me.
This is my anthem, this is my song
The theme of the stories I've heard for so long
God has been faithful, He will be again
His loving compassion, it knows no end
All I have need of, His hand will provide
He's always been faithful, He's always been faithful
He's always been faithful to me.
Songwriters: THOMAS O. CHISHOLM, WILLIAM M. RUNYAN, SARA GROVES
He's Always Been Faithful lyrics © HOPE PUBLISHING COMPANY
The perfect wisdom of our God
Revealed in all the universe:
All things created by His hand
And held together at His command.
He knows the mysteries of the seas,
The secrets of the stars are His;
He guides the planets on their way
And turns the earth through another day.
The matchless wisdom of His ways
That mark the path of righteousness;
His word a lamp unto my feet,
His Spirit teaching and guiding me.
And O the mystery of the cross,
That God should suffer for the lost,
So that the fool might shame the wise,
And all the glory might go to Christ!
O grant me wisdom from above,
To pray for peace and cling to love,
And teach me humbly to receive
The sun and rain of Your sovereignty.
Each strand of sorrow has a place
Within this tapestry of grace;
So through the trials I choose to say:
“Your perfect will in Your perfect way.”
Stuart Townend & Keith GettyCopyright © 2011 Thankyou Music ( Adm. by CapitolCMGPublishing.com excl. UK & Europe, adm. by Integrity Music, part of the David C Cook family, firstname.lastname@example.org) and Getty Music Publishing (BMI) (Adm by SongSolutions email@example.com)
By Phil Nitz
Imagine that it’s Christmas Eve. You and your family have just finished watching your favorite Christmas movie, donned your festive pj’s, hung your stockings, and shaken all of your presents one last time to venture a guess as to what’s inside. And now, before the children go to sleep, it’s time to read the Christmas story from the book of Luke. You read these familiar passages as your family listens intently. You begin to recall all those childlike images you’ve painted in your head since your Sunday School days. And now it’s the part of the story where the shepherds are keeping watch over their flocks by night…
“And lo, there appeared in the night sky a bearded man in his late twenties with a guitar and thick-rim glasses, and he said unto them, ‘Hey guys, this is a new one – sing along if you know it!’”
And suddenly with him was a man playing a djembe, a bass player, and his wife, who is a pretty good singer.
They sang songs of praise for about 20 minutes, and the younger shepherds really enjoyed it because of how fresh it sounded, and the older shepherds were very confused.”
As you already know, this is not what Luke actually wrote. The real events were much more special, much more otherworldly, and much more impactful on these lowly shepherds. These men were moved by the words of a heavenly choir – a message delivered with the power of a “multitude” of angelic voices, and they quickly went to Bethlehem to see the newborn king.
Now let me pause for a moment and assure you that I am not against the modern worship movement nor am I against praise teams, guitars, or guys with beards. I actually identify very closely with the man I described above (minus the thick rimmmed glasses – God decided to give me great eyesight). Music is a beautiful medium of worship, and we should always be thankful for the people who put the time and energy into preparing and leading our times of corporate worship.
However, it is important to notice the cultural shift that is occurring in many churches today. The scenery is changing, and many traditions that have been held by Christians for hundreds of years have all but disappeared. Our sanctuaries look less like sacred spaces set aside for encounters with God and more like black box theaters or the set of American Idol. Metal scaffolding has replaced the arched columns, simple music stands have replaced lecterns, and the guitar-driven praise team has replaced the choir.
All across the country, schools are cutting music programs entirely, and the modern church is following suit by watering down its music and worship programs because the “choir thing” isn’t relevant anymore. However, for those of us who are crusading to recover, maintain, or restore the time-honored traditions of the Church, the choir is an essential part of the service.
Among the many reasons the choir is vital to the life of any church, consider these three:
About the author:
Phil Nitz serves as Staff Arranger and Worship Leader at Christ Church Nashville. Upon earning his Master’s Degree in Church Music from Lee University, Phil began his career in Nashville in 2013 and is quickly becoming a sought-after arranger, orchestrator, and vocalist. Though he is well-acquainted with many varying styles, both vocal and instrumental, Phil feels most at home leading worship with his guitar in hand or directing the Christ Church Choir.
...adapted from “Great Things He Hath Done” by V. Henrick
That seems to be the perception of quite a few people these days. Choirs aren’t cool. They’re old fashioned.
Our Christian school just started a high school choir again this year. At the first rehearsal, there were 13 girls and 3 boys. At the second rehearsal, there were 13 girls. Choirs are just not cool enough.
If you agree, I’m going to try to dissuade you from that notion. If you’re one of the boys that didn’t join the choir, please read carefully.
So, here are 10 reasons why you shouldn’t believe that choirs are not cool.
10. Cool people sing in choirs.
Don’t believe me? You think only nerds and goody-two-shoes sing in choirs? Check this out. Snoop Dogg was in a choir. Brad Pitt, Barack Obama, Walter Payton. I’m not saying all these people are cool. After all, none of them sing in a choir anymore. But then there’s David Archuleta, Josh Groban, Andrea Bocelli and a host of famous singers who’ve all sung in or with a choir at some point in time and continue to do so.
9. Choral music is used to soundtrack some of the biggest Hollywood flicks.
If choral music wasn’t cool or relevant, you know as well as I do that Hollywood wouldn’t use it. Ever. The most popular Disney movie ever, Frozen, is opened by a wonderful choral piece, followed by another. Heck, there’s even a hit TV show centered around a cappela singing. But it’s not cool. Really?
8. Yoga is cool. So are choirs.
Controlled breathing techniques in yoga have been known to have long-term health benefits, especially impacting blood pressure. Choirs practice controlled breathing all the time. Studies suggest this could have the same effect. In fact, when members of a choir sing together, their pulses synchronize within seconds of singing together. Read more about this here: http://www.voanews.com/content/choirs-synchronize-heartbeats-along-with-voices/1699072.html There is a unison within a choir that is not experienced in any other group. Minds, voices and bodies become unified. Bonds are built.
7. Team sports are cool. So are choirs.
Just like team sports introduce and reinforce interpersonal skills, motivation, determination, sportsmanship and so on, choirs do the same. Begin working on Handel’s Messiah for the first time as a choral group and you’ll be guaranteed to hone your interpersonal skills within your section, your motivational skills, your determination and sportsmanship (when you completely miss that rest and you belt out an uncalled-for-solo!) And as mentioned earlier, bonds are built in a choir, arguably much more than you would on any sports team.
6. Choirs have been around for thousands of years. If they weren’t cool, they would have been obsolete thousands of years ago.
Perhaps you’re thinking, “Thousands of years. Exactly, they’re old fashioned.” If you are, please go outside to your vehicle, pull out your tire jack and remove the four round things your vehicle rides on. Yes, the wheels. They’re old fashioned. Obsolete.
5. The human voice is cooler than drums, guitars, pianos, horns or any other instrument.
Yes, it’s cooler than the organ too, for the “king of instruments” fans out there. Bach, probably the most widely known musician in the world, still today, composed well over 300 choral works. Like this article states, “Because the human voice was used for expression before the invention of instruments and because all melodic instruments learn from the human voice, it can be said that all music itself comes from vocal music.” http://www.learntoplaymusic.com/blog/why-the-human-voice-can-be-considered-the-ultimate-melodic-instrument/ That leads us to our next reason.
4. All music comes from choral music. That makes it über cool.
Since the human voice was the only instrument we had at one point, choral music is naturally the grand daddy of all genres of music. Think about it. Where did country music come from? Jazz? Rock and roll? Techno? Dance? Hip hop? R & B? All genres can be traced back to the beginning of the 19th century, where the spiritual songs of the Deep South blended with the popular choral music, which gave rise to blues, jazz, R & B, country, rock and roll and the list goes on. Every genre of music on this planet evolved from choral music. This is why you’ll see choirs being able to sing pieces from so many different genres.
3. Singing in a choir is good for your mental state.
Teens generally think they’re OK. Or at least, that’s what they tell you. There’s no struggles. No difficulty finding their way. No girl that broke their heart. No worry about fitting in. But if you’re a teen, or if you’ve been a teen, you’ll know and remember what it was like to be a teen. Even if you’re not a teen now, you know the mess this life can throw at you. So, join a choir. Why? Because it will make you happier. It's proven. Scientific. Check out this article:
2. Choir membership is on the rise.
If choirs were not so cool, they wouldn’t exist. But more than that, if choirs were not cool, more people wouldn’t be joining them. Did you know that according to Chorus America, 32.5 million adults sing in choirs, up by almost 10 million over the past six years? That’s nearly 1 in 10 Americans that sing in a choir. Big deal, right? Well, consider this: studies show that basketball is most played sport in the US with 26.3 million participants. So, the most popular sport in America is left in the dust by choral singing. Yeah…. you read it here first.
1. There are choirs in the coolest place in the universe.
“And after these things I heard a great voice of much people in heaven, saying, Alleluia; Salvation, and glory, and honor, and power, unto the Lord our God.” (Revelation 19:1, KJV) So, if you’re a Christian, you’ll know that joining a choir here is just a foretaste of the greatest choir ever. Millions of people in heaven singing the Song of the Lamb, singing to the King!!!!
In conclusion, if you think you’re too cool for a choir, think again. Are you reading carefully?
Consider this: people don’t remember who the King of England was during the early 16th century, but they’ll remember who Bach was. My point? The arts are important. They’re lasting and timeless. And choirs take center stage in the realm of musical arts.
So in short, choirs aren’t cool. You’re right. They are healthy. They are happy. They are inspirational. They are relevant. They’re important. They are sacred. And choirs are rich with history.
Choirs aren’t cool. They’re awesome.
"Music is God's little reminder that there's something else besides us in this universe, a harmonic connection between all living beings, everywhere, even, the stars."
Robin Williams, quoted in The Sun - Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Horatio Spafford (1828-1888) was a wealthy Chicago lawyer with a thriving legal practice, a beautiful home, a wife, four daughters and a son. He was also a devout Christian and faithful student of the Scriptures. His circle of friends included Dwight L. Moody, Ira Sankey and various other well-known Christians of the day.
At the very height of his financial and professional success, Horatio and his wife Anna suffered the tragic loss of their young son. Shortly thereafter on October 8, 1871, the Great Chicago Fire destroyed almost every real estate investment that Spafford had.
In 1873, Spafford scheduled a boat trip to Europe in order to give his wife and daughters a much needed vacation and time to recover from the tragedy. He also went to join Moody and Sankey on an evangelistic campaign in England. Spafford sent his wife and daughters ahead of him while he remained in Chicago to take care of some unexpected last minute business. Several days later he received notice that his family's ship had encountered a collision. All four of his daughters drowned; only his wife had survived.
With a heavy heart, Spafford boarded a boat that would take him to his grieving Anna in England. It was on this trip that he penned those now famous words, When sorrow like sea billows roll; it is well, it is well with my soul..
Philip Bliss (1838-1876), composer of many songs including Hold the Fort, Let the Lower Lights be Burning, and Jesus Loves Even Me, was so impressed with Spafford's life and the words of his hymn that he composed a beautiful piece of music to accompany the lyrics. The song was published by Bliss and Sankey, in 1876.
For more than a century, the tragic story of one man has given hope to countless thousands who have lifted their voices to sing, It Is Well With My Soul.
It Is Well With My Soul
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
It is well (it is well),
with my soul (with my soul),
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to His cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.
And Lord haste the day, when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.