Preaching to the choir

The congregation IS the choir!

CongregationThe whole point of corporate worship is that it’s active rather than passive and it’s meant to be fully inclusive. Obviously, various individuals have different roles (musicians, Music Directors etc.) but the fact remains that we’re worshipping together as a single unit. When we raise our voices in song, we’re honouring God with a sacrifice of praise. With this in mind, our responsibility as musicians is to motivate, educate and support our congregation so as to help them raise a truly joyful noise unto the Lord.

Here are three very simple suggestions that will make an almost immediate difference to the quality of congregational singing.

• Have the congregation stand to sing
Why do we sometimes sing seated? Is it too much to ask people to stand to sing? Is it too tiring? Obviously, I’m not talking about anyone with age or health issues, but for the rest of us, why don’t we stand to sing? I’ve never sung in any choir were we sang seated, not even in practice, and there are many good and well-documented reasons for this.

Here are two simple and compelling examples:

Standing is a mark of respect whenever you’re in the presence of someone of significantly higher status than you. When we sing in Church, we’re singing to God. Why wouldn’t we stand?

Good posture aids good breathing technique and good singing is all about breath control. Quite simply, we sing better on our feet. Once again, when we sing in Church, we’re singing to God. Why wouldn’t we stand if it helps us to sing better?

• Have the congregation sing music they know and like
This may seem obvious but it is important. We all sing better when we’re confident and know what we’re singing. There is, of course, good reason to introduce new music but singing well from a familiar repertoire is altogether better than struggling through unfamiliar melodies.

Remember too that repetition builds confidence and confidence, in turn, brings skill. People sing better when they engage with the music. It’s really easy to see when the congregation likes particular hymns so let’s sing them reasonably often!

• Encourage the congregation to consider themselves as a choir
Think about organising a practice session for the whole congregation from time to time, perhaps during a Church retreat or as part of mid-week activities. Take time to teach the basic principles of choral singing and seek to engage them in learning to sing well as a group. (This may, of course, be unrealistic if you have a very large congregation but, in most cases, it’s worth the effort.)