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Conference Morsel: Church Choir Reimagined

(An excerpt from the interest session “Church Choir Reimagined: Priestly, Prophetic, Pastoral, and Participative,” presented by Kai Ton Chau during the 2014 ACDA Central Division Conference)
       . . . We have just examined the tension between “performance” and “ministry” for the role of a church choir in a Christian worship setting. Then we looked back, very briefly, the development of the New Testament church choir from the early house church movement in the biblical times through the establishment of Scholar Cantorum of the Roman Church, and saw how the church choir in the Middle Ages quickly moved away from the priestly and Levitical nature of the Temple musicians in the Old Testament. The complexity of choral music for the church choir had evolved to a stage that choral music was no longer music of the gathered people (that is, the congregation). Throughout the centuries, choral music for the church choir has been liturgical and functional (as in the sung mass); the beauty of choral music has been fitting to be offered as “living sacrifice of praise” (as “the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name” – Hebrews 13:15). Since the Reformation movement in the sixteenth century, however, church leaders have been asking a very important question – how can church music be the music of the people? As choral musicians who have worship leading responsibilities, we therefore should ask ourselves: in addition to the anthem, how can the church choir be more participative continually throughout the Christian worship?
       One of the possibilities for the church choir is to be “prophetic.” The prophets of the Old Testament had the calling and charge to bring God’s message to His people. In the 21st century, the word could refer to those people who preach and teach God’s word. This is proclamation.
       A Christian church choir can be prophetic and participative in a worship service. If Scripture reading in a worship service is the proclamation of God’s word, then why not ask the choir to sing God’s word? When text is coupled with music, truth unites with emotion; it is powerful. Instead of reading the Old Testament lesson from Exodus 24:12-18 on Transfiguration Sunday, the choir can sing Hymn 728 from the “Lift Up Your Hearts” hymnal – a hymn in 7/8 time with echo effect! How about incorporating Pepper Choplin’s “This Is My Beloved Son” (Lorenz 10/3475L), sung by the choir, into the reading of Matthew 17:1-9 (rather than using that song as an “anthem”)?