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The mission of the ACDA is to inspire excellence in choral music through education, performance, composition, and advocacy.

Choral Caffeine: The Church is Not a Battlefield

It is probably safe to say that all places of religious worship are supposed to be about fellowship, spiritual enrichment, peace, and love.  Thus it is always amazing to hear people complain about one church or another, demonizing them because of some practice or perceived ill that the find objectionable.  Such folks even criticize the music.
In his article, “Worship Wars Can and Should Be Avoided” (Indiana ICDA Notations Vol.34, No.1), David K. Lamb examines this curious phenomenon.
       Too often, certain people seem to think that everyone else should be moved by the same type or style of music. The result? Worship music wars.
       Never mind the fact that many of us have choir members who have shared their time and talents with the church four or five decades. A few well-meaning but misguided folks think they know what everyone will or should like. Their opinion is that whatever is modern/new is far better than the old, outdated stuff with its soaring descants, beautiful choral anthems from oratorios and cantatas, and memorable hymns that have offered inspiration and comfort for centuries.
       These “informed” parishioners are sure that guitars, microphones, drum sets, and electronic keyboards are needed to attract new members. These same people appear to have a wealth of information to share concerning those who will join the church if we simply expand the program to include more contemporary music.
       Many of us know of churches where long traditions of fine choral music have been dramatically affected by the addition of the guitars and microphones.
       Choral directors who hope to preserve the tradition of fine choral singing in houses of worship need to embrace flexibility in an effort to continue creating inspirational experiences both for the singers and for the worship partners in the pews.
(For additional articles on a dazzling array of choral topics, visit ChorTeach.)
on March 26, 2014 6:23am
It is an unfortunate truth that there are worship wars.  Can they, should they be avoided?  Some of these "informed" sorts are the clergy, many of whom have absorbed half-digested notions, ideas, theories, etc., without having had either the experience or time to not only consciously but prayerfully think these notions, ideas, theories, through.  Reinforced by similarly-minded folk in their parishes, they then push the issue, while ignoring the experience of the musician who is there PRECISELY to provide the guidance and knowledge to help the music provide support to the worship of the community.  We've seen posts here which break your heart, of musicians whose priests and ministers exercise their power in thoughtless and heartless ways, often working out issues of their own via the musical choices and approaches.  I myself have suffered, along with others in a worshiping community prior to the present one, from a priest whose view was (it seemed) that the choir was in competition with him, and that he would crush this opposition that "grabbed attention" from HIM - despite the fact that all we were doing was trying to enhance the worship with song, and that worship ISN'T about HIM.  There is a cultural bias in this country against the arts, or at least, there is a vast degree of indifference to them, and it thus becomes only the deeply committed on either side of the debate as to what should be done who engage in these sorts of cultural battles. The vast majority of our parishioners don't really care, just as long as you don't bother them too much about it.  SHOULD such cultural wars be avoided?  I think we could agree that the answer should be "yes."  CAN they be avoided?  No; not so long as there are people who are deeply committed to one or the other viewpoint.  CAN such worship wars be mitigated or their intensity reduced?  Probably, but that compromise which is called for will be unsatisfactory for all, in one or another way (makes me think of Harry Truman's dictum that if everyone's mad at you, you must be doing a good job!).  There are many worshiping communities whose solution is to have different musical "styles" at different services, so that those who just can't STAND "contemporary" music can flee to the "traditional," while those who snore loudly during such music, run with eagerness to what is more "upbeat," "cool," whatever.  For those communities who have no such choice possible, the compromise occurs WITHIN the one service - and that's where things get dicey.  What we musicians must do is listen a lot; pray even more; and hope that ultimately, whatever solution we propose in the context of our services of worship are worthy (whatever that might mean), consistent with the message of the day, and consistent with the general "flow" of the worshiping community.
Could I comment here, yet again, about the differences (in my view) between "performance" and "presentation" in a worship setting?  Sure; but it would be a great deal of wasted space, because it's not necessarily germane to David's article.  That difference, however, informs a good deal of the debate FROM THE STANDPOINT OF THE MUSICIAN him or herself.  That difference in approach is at the root of the difficulty from the musician's side of the discussion.  An "examination of conscience" (oh, an ugly concept) is needed to determine just how the musician approaches the worship setting and the role of music within it - and that determination will give us the root of the matter.
on April 1, 2014 4:55am
A Catholic music director in the Bay Area said to me, "We (church musicians) are performers, we're not entertainers."
on March 26, 2014 7:49am
Hi Scott - what a good point you make and I agree in general.  Some music now is becoming, what I refer to as oversung with too many decants and variations that the point being made is simply lost.  On the other hand too much guitar and banging tambourines can also cause the point to be lost.

I wrote my  Christmas carol The Age Old Reason for Joy as a wake-up call to teach the young and remind the older just what Christmas is all about and set it to a memorable tune with simple harmonies and 'new' words.

Please spread the word as everything needed for learning and performance is available as free downloads from the dedicated page on my website - here's the link
There's the SATB score, a 2 part score for schools and young choristers, the words and accompaniment plus other aids.

Any problems with the link simply Google the title or search YouTube where you'll see we had a lot of fun recording and filming a performance at my local chuch with the choir and children from the local primary school.

Best wishes and joyous singing.
on March 26, 2014 9:53am
I have to say, I agree with the idea that worship wars are passe, but this article seems to only present one viewpoint; that worship wars are being perpetrated by those who wish for modern music.  In my experiences as a musician who leads BOTH styles, sometimes separately and sometimes within the same service, I find that the abuse occurs on BOTH sides of the issue.  As far as I'm concerned, there is room enough for ALL OF US at God's heavenly banquet, so there should be room enough for all of us in the church.
Julie Ford
Applauded by an audience of 1
on March 31, 2014 5:26am
Julie - Agreed that the article seems one-sided; and agreed that the guilt can be spread without a second's thought to both sides of the "wars."  I also agree that these "wars" OUGHT to be passe; but they're not, in fact.  There is a tendency in some circles to sneer at "blended" worship music choices; sneer as they might, the truth is, I don't see one age out there in the pews, I don't see one musical preference.  My situation's a bit weird; I'm at a military base (which you would think would normally cater to a younger community) but, because it's in the D.C. area, has a lot of retirees.  My choir's a good case in point:  we have three twenty-to-early-thirty-somethings; 4 military retirees AND their spouses; and then the odds and ends who sing with us, thank God!  So I pick music that reflects a rather wide range of tastes - good ol' Protestant hymnody (really?  at a Catholic Mass?), "standard Catholic hymn #1 or #3 or #7" from my youth; "Glory and Praise" music (a song collection of music mostly from 1966-1982 that was heavily used in the Catholic Church in this country after the Second Vatican Council); "contemporary" music (i.e., anything written after 1995); and anthems from the 16th to the 21st century (Byrd, Gibbons, Bruckner, Pitoni, etc., etc., etc.).  To my mind, as much as it might seem as though this is musical "shlock" it is in fact necessary to avoid exactly what David Lamb is writing about.  It works for us.  Be it noted:  we also have a "contemporary" choir (i.e., heavily guitar-driven, but with additional instrumentation of winds and strings) who does, yes, "Glory and Praise" but also has indeed moved more into "contemporary" music - which sort of sets them apart from a lot of "contemporary" choirs in most parishes locally (which tends to be a throwback to the "folk masses" of the 1960s and 1970s); and a Hispanic choir, which is vigorous and, while not particularly worried about all the proper musical aspects (there's a lot of ad lib harmonizing which can be a little out-of-control for my taste, but which IS in keeping with their tradition), has a great energy and enthusiasm, and they are just full of joy at the doing of the music.  This provides some choice - oh, and yes, there are three Masses a weekend that have a song-leader (cantor).  It may be messy to some, but by golly, it works.  And there's a great deal of respect for what each choir brings to the table.  The only regret I have is that there isn't more interplay between the groups - but that hasn't always been true (the Catholic Chaplain's approach is critical here) and doesn't necessarily have to remain true in the future.  Maybe the answer is in not looking to sharpen the edges oif the differences, but to soften them somewhat; not to stand on a pedestal of purity, in musical terms, but to stand humbly with everyone else and focus our gaze on God.
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on April 2, 2014 8:41am
As a newly hired church musician/director, I have experienced many highs and some difficulties during our transition. church membership is simply a cross section of humanity and will always be a place where communication should be 2 ways. Listening is key, caring is required, flexibility is needed, and compassion for change is absolute for we all know, change is difficult. Allof Us are at God's heavenly Banquet and Julie Ford has a good point; and music is a way of sharing our differences and our sameness.
Carolyn Eynon