The Church musician’s secret weapon
A well-trained choir is a real blessing to any congregation. The Church where I grew up had three choirs; the Male Voice, Adult Mixed Voice and Junior. We sang as individual choirs and sometimes as a single combined choir. This accounted for some 75-80 choir-trained voices which, in turn, represented upwards of 20% of the entire congregation. Thirty or so choristers took their places in the choir stall and the rest sat with their families dispersed throughout the congregation. No wonder we sang well!
The support of all these trained voices acted as a solid foundation for the rest of the congregation and was particularly supportive of those who sang less well or new visitors who were, perhaps, unaccustomed to congregational singing. Unfortunately, not every church has such a luxury, particularly in the case of small assemblies. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t make the most of those members who can sing or, perhaps more importantly, those who want to learn.
Here’s an effective strategy worth trying:
• Train up a number of singers
Invite a number of interested people to form a small singing group. The key things here are motivation and commitment because you’ll want your vocalists to work consistently over a sustained period of time. You’ll be amazed how few trained voices it’ll take to support congregational singing.
Many independent Churches tend to be quite small with congregations of 30 or less. Remember that figure of 20% choir-trained voices in my childhood congregation that I mentioned? For an assembly of say 30 people, it’d take just five or six singers to make a huge difference. A little quality goes a long way.
• Rehearse regularly
Your singing group should aim to practice regularly – not less than once a week – and you may want to begin with the normal repertoire you sing in Church. The goal isn’t so much to form an ensemble for performance purposes or even to lead the assembly in song, but rather to ensure a foundation of choir-trained voices who form part of the congregation.
Of course, there’s no good reason for the singing group not to sing in their own right or to lead from the front of the Church, but the emphasis here is very much on congregational participation in corporate worship.
• Practice from your normal repertoire
Practise the hymns you’re going to sing for the coming week. This is especially important if you aim to introduce new music to the congregation.
• Have your vocalists sing in the congregation
And finally, ‘hide’ your choristers in plain sight within the assembly. There’s good reason for this – honestly! Sometimes, when a choir, group or band lead from the front, people tend to listen rather than participate. Well-trained and practised vocalists really can be a ‘secret weapon’ in the quest for quality congregational singing because others will follow them. Their job isn’t so much to lead the congregation but rather to support them from within.