My practical musicianship these days consists of my work as a church organist and choir trainer. I’ve been organist at churches in Exeter, Norwich, South Shields, Byker, Rutherglen, Paisley and Bearsden …
APRIL 2014. John Rutter talks about The Importance of Choir
I found this fantastic Youtube clip today, in which John Rutter talks passionately about why choirs are such good things, why we sing in them, and their benefits. Everyone should sit and watch this – it’s only three minutes or so. If you go to church, or if you’re involved in education, or you love music … this is for you! Click HERE.
DECEMBER 2014. How do you get People to Attend things?
The annual Christmas Carol service in my church is at 11.30 next Sunday morning. This is the first time it hasn’t been an evening event. Theoretically, more people will attend in daylight than if they had to trail out on a winter’s evening. However, mitigating against this is the fact that when there’s an 11.30 morning service, it is invariably a second service, a traditional one at that, and poorly attended. Everyone knows this. I asked the minister to promote it this morning, and I put up a few posters (flyposting at church, whatever next?), but – and this is a first – when I went for coffee after church, I “worked the room” with one of my posters in hand. Make no mistake, everyone should now know about it! Now, in marketing terms, you have to demonstrate what the benefit is to the attendees. It’s during daylight hours. It’s shorter than ever before. There’s no sermon. (I don’t know if negative benefits count! They probably do.) Finally, I concluded, “and it’s going to be great!” A slightly vague benefit, admittedly, but we’ll see.
Assorted Musings about Church Music
To be very honest, church music is rather in the doldrums these days. Church choirs are declining, or being replaced by praise bands. It’s understandable that younger Christians are surrounded by pop music, and choral music doesn’t resonate with them as it might have done in the eary 20th century. Now, this is all well and good, but we’re at risk of throwing the baby out with the bathwater!
Something I inherited from my father (himself a church organist and latterly an ordained minister), is the ability to see things from all sides. This leaves me sitting squirming on the fence on many occasions. However, here are some apparently irreconcileable facts, in no particular order:-
- Choral music is now less popular
- There’s a whole wealth of fabulous choral music which is at risk of never being heard again – a rich treasury of tradition going back centuries
- Schools don’t encourage choral singing as they used to. We have a whole generation of young adults who have never experienced the joy of singing in a choir and making music together. Choral singing is so much more affordable, and egalitarian, than instrumental music – and we all know that instrumental tuition is being cut back in many local education authorities, too. Deprived of choral experience, and unable to read music unless they were lucky enough to learn an instrument, is it surprising that young people and young adults aren’t rushing to join church or even secular choirs?
- Praise bands are great for updating the “diet of worship”
- Not everyone likes praise bands
- Not everyone likes choirs
- Choirs are dying out
- Gareth Malone has proved that choirs don’t have to die out
- Choirs prove week by week that people like singing, and like to think they’re enriching worship by their efforts
- Congregations are declining
- Congregations don’t like turning out twice on Sundays
- Ageing congregations don’t like turning out at night
- Clergy and church leaders wonder what they’re doing wrong, or what they would have to change in order to reverse the trend
- Church musicians are encouraged to “try something new” – itself a good thing, and of course we must move with the times – but we can’t come charging in on a white stallion to deliver mission impossible – and any expectation that changing the music will get people back to church is rather simplistic.
- If the clergy and the church leaders can’t buck the trend, then it’s somewhat unfair to blame the trend on the church choirs and musicians!
And, because I can see the situation from a variety of angles, I find it very difficult to say, decisively, “here is the answer”. Maybe there isn’t one!