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Defense of Artistic Excellence in church music

Jim Feiszli ask that I forward this to you.

Subject: Worship excellence
Compilation of responses to the following query:

For those of you who are worship leaders in your respective churches,
is a query for you...

How do you convince your pastoral staff or even inquisitive members of
congregations that musical excellence is actually a good standard to
practice in church. Many folks believe that because it is church and
of it is volunteer, we should not "inhibit" folks from participating in
music and/or worship, regardless of their abilites and/or selections.

I think we should strive for a healthy balance, but the leadership
want to put any verbage in our upcoming fall mission statement that
toward "musical excellence"


Jarrod Beckman
Director of Music, VRCC

I believe it is St. Paul who said we are "to grow in perfection" (NOT
are already perfect.") A healthy attitude would be to meet the choir
members where they are, but to take them a step beyond. maybe we
not just ask how, but WHY, we have music in church to begin with--it is
mandatory, but optional (what an option) for worship itself. Many
musicians, and pastors, have not struggled with this question ... or a
theology of music and liturgy ("the WORK of the people") in church ...

Donald Freed

My philosophy is that music should enhance the service. When music is
down to the lowest common denominator, it usually isn't very good music
the better musicians are frustrated. I've found that most people rise
to a
challenge if it's not too big. The congregation seems to appreciate
music well done.

As far as mission statements go, our last one (before I was hired)
about what great music we had. The tone was that his is one area we
have to worry about.
I have found enthusiastic singers of a wide range of classical music and
support for major works. We have done Charpentier and Raminsh with
satisfaction. On the other hand, I am worried about an element of the
congregation that would prefer Christian Contemporary music as more
inclusive. This music surely has its place, but in our situation I
think it
would dilute the musical excellence we have worked for. Another element
the church thinks that the harder we work on quality, the more we are
concentrating on performance rather than worship.

I would like our next mission statement (to) support the best possible
performed well as a crucial element to worship, and to recognize that
doesn't happen automatically.

Frances Fowler Slade
Director of Music
All Saints' Episcopal Church
Princeton, New Jersey

Perhaps they would assent to wording such as, "giving our best gifts
back to God." The
distinction between judging worship music as "artistic" and "sincere"
should not exist.
Regardless of the musical background of the group, they should strive to
do and be their best, because their task in worship is the highest:
giving glory to God and opening a window of insight into the holy for
the congregation.

Tom Porter

Perhaps you could ask whether we have any right to offer to God anything
less than the very best we can produce. That does not mean in any way
"inhibiting" people from participating, in fact you are obliged to
participation wherever appropriate. Nor does it imply any particular
musical style: guitar groups should surely be aiming at excellence in
style as much as expert choirs in theirs. Also, excellence needs to be
defined in each church situation - what is excellent in one place may
not be
in another, but the obligation to strive for it is surely at the heart
our vocation as church musicians.
Peter Gilmour

we have a music committee which meets every 3 mo ( more if necessary)
enough musicians and others on it to talk about the effectivenes of the
worship team members.. it is a touchy issue sometimes because you don't
want to turn anyone 'OFF' by not selecting them to participate.. yet...
the smoothly flowing and excellent musicianship (seldom perfect but
truly doing their best for the Lord) ... is the best for leading folks
true worship... much prayer and tact... generally if surrounded by
prayer those involved are sensitive to God's leading.

Hope that helps.

Dear Jarrod,

If you receive ANY replies that offer viable suggestions or answers to
query - PLEASE forward them to me. Like many music ministers, I too
have a
problem convincing our pastoral staff, and unfortunately, other
that musical excellence should be paramount.

I have used the passage from Psalms: "Play SKILLFULLY unto the Lord."
it seems to fall on deaf ears. I have also said in response to:

"We don't care if it's perfect, we just want to sing."

"Fine," I say, "Then, sing WELL."

Since we are making an offering to our Lord - the God Almighty -
it be the very BEST offering possible? Should we not strive for
in all that we offer Him?

I am not questioning the fact that there are varying degrees of musical
proficiency - however, whatever proficiency level - should it not be the

I suppose I have answered questions with more questions - never the
these are my thoughts.

Best wishes,



Timothy F. Hendrickson BM, MM,

Director of Music Ministries

Trinity Lutheran Church

Midland, Michigan

It may not work for you, but it was awfully satisfying for me, when I
"Of course, people with bad taste are just as entitled as anybody else
enjoy the music in church; but shouldn't we also be trying to make a
range of music accessible to the whole congregation?" -- but it's
imnportant not to say something like this until you've just done a bongo
solo, or something like that.:-D

~Doreen in sumoland~

~Why knock yourself out to gain the good opinion of people whose opinion
is valueless?~

On reading the responses to "Musical Excellence," I wanted to add that
I became Director of Music last year, we had two adult choirs. One
choir was
dedicated to musical excellence. The other choir considered itself the
choir and had customarily sung simplified music with simplified
standards. I
decided not to treat them that way, and they steadily improved through

On the subject of "giving our gifts back to God..." That's the
used in our old website, which I didn't change last year. I am changing
this year. There's truth in the words, but I think it means most to the
choir members. This year, I want to emphasize that we are working to
the worship service through words and music.

Frances Slade
Director of Music
All Saints' Episcopal Church

I've directed church and school choirs for 35 years. Presently, after
retiring from 30 years of large high school choral music in Texas, I'm
directing music at Marbridge Ranch, just south of Austin, Texas.
( We "Make a Joyful Noise",
although sometimes it's not perfect, intonation or tone-wise. As a
matter of fact, sometimes there are more "wrong notes and words" than
right ones! These precious angels sing in churches all around our
community. Their music is honest and enthusiastic! "Quality" of
performance is totally defined in its ability to communicate to a given
audience at a given time and place. " God loves you when you sing!" -
Mac Davis, Lubbock, Tx. philosopher.
Fred Ratliff - Austin, Tx.

Could you parallel "excellent music" with excellent preaching or
Christian Education? Do people expect excellence in those areas?

To me, music in worship is both "preaching" and "Christian Education."
wise minister in a church where I once worked often said that music had
ability to reach people in ways that preaching couldn't.

Wouldn't it be odd to make an offering of less than our best to God?

Robert Keener, DMA

My wife had to deal with this question right after she took over the
children's/youth choir at our church. Since the kids had responsibility
for the Family Service each Sunday, she got a little more strict with
than the previous director had been. One of the mothers--who happened
be a very good friend and still is--called her on it, arguing that all
gifts are equal in God's sight. Susie's response was that those who
been blessed with special talents or abilities denigrate those blessings
they do not give of their best.

To clarify, Susie did not exclude anyone who wanted to participate, but
insist that they learn responsibility in things like notifying her in
advance if they would miss a rehearsal or service. After a while the
were acting much more responsibly than the members of the senior choir!!

So yes, musical excellence has its place as a desirable goal and a high
standard to reach for, but musical excellence in the service of God, the
church, and the congregation. Music for music's sake should have no
place--or rather should find its place in concert presentations and not

For whatever it might be worth to you.


John & Susie Howell
Virginia Tech Department of Music
Blacksburg, Virginia, U.S.A. 24061-0240
Vox (540) 231-8411 Fax (540) 231-5034

I heard recently of a church choir director asking a member of his choir
not to continue (in whatever "tactful" rhetoric possible, bottom line:
because of inability to sing, carry a tune, blend, etc.)

That seemed a little over the line to me - what do you folk think?

My own humble opinion is that I think we (church musicians) are
called to
take whatever resources we have and make the most excellent music we can
with them. I know with a children's or youth choir I would never take
step - do you think there's a difference with an adult choir? I guess
saying I don't.

All God's creatures got a place in the choir...unless they sing low or
unless they sing higher.... :)

Best, Pam

Well, my church uses a "blended" service format, wherein the pastor (who
happens to be a good musician) plays and leads a small (2-3 players)
group for part of the congregational singing, while the organist plays
all hymns. My choir is responsible for an anthem each week, which is
selected, of course, by me. The attitude of the pastor, and therefore
pretty much the whole church, is that within those 3 "styles" of music,
do the very best literature we can find, and do it to the very best of
God-given abilities. Our congregation has been equally appreciative and
enthusiastic of Ubi Caritas, Hospodi Pomilui, and Plenty Good Room. We
always singing to God the instant we drop our jaws, and the pursuit of

perfection, as asymptotic as it is, in that setting, is not

Dean M. Estabrook
Director of Music
St. Andrew Presbyterian Church
Yuba City, CA

Well, my minimal goal is that the music should not detract from the
I have sat through "musical offerings" during which I feared several
unpleasant physical responses.
The music should never be an ordeal to listen to. And, if worst came to
worst, I would ask someone not to sing.

In the event, I've never had to do that. I have moved sopranos to alto,
tenors to bass. When I took my present position, there were several
difficult voices in the choir. Before I started, I was afraid I might
to deal drastically with one soprano. She actually turned out to be an
asset, once she understood the kind of vocal production and blend
Another singer, a bass, was famous for never singing any dynamic but
and it wasn't a voice you wished to hear above all others. He quieted
and placement in the choir helped the blend problem a lot. I think he
have gotten softer either because the music was harder or because there
some other strong voices and he relaxed a little.

I would work very hard to improve vocal production and musicianship
asking someone not to sing, but sometimes you do get those who sing
lower and

Frances Slade

I think a balanced approach is best.

It is good for people to genuinely want to offer their best efforts to
God because they love him (and know he loves them unconditionally). But
producing very high quality music in order to somehow 'earn' his love,
more of it than less talented musicians 'deserve', would of course be
less desirable.

On the one hand, it is good to offer our music to God in praise and
worship. However, even our best efforts are far from God's perfection.
The difference between an 'average' choir and a 'good' one is probably
tiny compared with the difference between our best efforts and God's
perfection. So, while it is good to give God the best we can, we should
make all our musical offerings with humility, not arrogance and pride.

Also, if we are prepared to put our best efforts into the music in
church, we should put even more effort into loving God and loving our
neighbor (which may include musicians or non-musicians with whom we
sometimes disagree). Tolerance, prayer and kindness are probably useful


PLEASE!! Youth Choirs can and do routinely sing excellent music as an
integral part of a church worship service.... and not as an "extra
to satisfy the need for "contemporary" music. In fact, it has been my
observation that those youth choirs that are most active are the ones
directors that challenge them with really good scripture based music.

A sample of the composers that we are singing this year.... Rutter,
Benjamin Harlan, Ken Medema, Joseph Martin, Sandi Patti, etc. .... in
words a wide variety of styles and settings to reflect the diversity of
congregation and others to whom we sing. The more these kids are
to be excellent the more they respond with effort and delight.

Just couldn't let that comment pass!!!

Ken Avent
Director, Celebration Singers (yes, a youth choir!)

First, I want to wish the poster who posed the question "good luck" and
Godspeed. I'm afraid you're going to need both! I want to speak to two
issues: first, the matter of what to say to convince your priest, and
on the issue of kicking someone out of a choir, which arose our of this
discussion of "Musical Excellence."

I don't believe you're going to be able to change your priest's mind.
clergy, unfortunately, can become very orthodox or ultra-conservative in
their views and practices. They don't see it or think their way is the
or only way. It sounds as if he is afraid it might sound "elitist" or
prideful or something. From what I've heard and experienced singing in
churches, and speaking with Catholic musicians, I think this is a trend
in the Catholic faith, i.e., to keep things more simple, more folksy. I
know that is a generalization, and not true for every parish, but I
think it
is true for many.

While I agree with the poster(s) who responded that we should serve
humbly and not let pride get in the way, we also have a responsibility,
to do our best, both as Christians and as professional musicians (the
Music Director or Director of Music Ministry or whatever it is called in
your parish) to serve God, our parish, our congregation and our other
choir members. We were hired to bring our expertise, our experience
and our knowledge to create a beautiful work (enhanced, improved,
inspired worship) for God. We owe God our best. He didn't give us
second best, He gave us His only Son. Thus God set the standard.
I think it is up to us to live up to that standard. Some congregations,
priests, faiths don't follow that line of reasoning. I wouldn't want to
work for/with them.

I believe in balance above all. While I always strive for as close to
perfection as can be obtained, that is balanced with generous
amounts of praise, support, and steps on my part to insure my
choirs succeed. I plan according to their ability levels, and not
to my ego or the level of rep I might want to do or am capable of.
I've never asked a singer to leave a group, and am not sure I would,
but I might.

Once I was working in a small choir and a man joined the choir who
had always wanted to sing in a choir, but never had. He had a lovely
tone quality, but one major problem...he had a hard time matching
pitch!!! Invariably, he would either sing in the cracks somewhere or
would double the sopranos and octave or two lower. It was a small
choir and so there was no hiding his voice. I asked him if he would
be willing to come and work privately with me for 30-45 minutes each
week before rehearsal. He agreed. I began with helping him recognize
the pitch of his speaking voice and began helping him to identify the
basic intervals and sing them back. It was a bit frustrating at times,
but also a blessing. He worked very hard and improved a great deal
within 3-6 months. I moved to another church at that time, so don't
know how he eventually made out, but it meant a great deal to him
to sing in the choir.

At another church, I had a couple of older gentlemen who sang with
can only be called a very raucous tone. Their vowels spread, they
were loud (too loud) and no matter how I approached the situation
(both privately and corporately in choir) they just didn't get it. They
were nice men and I guess were doing their best, but felt they were
too old to change. It became a bit of a problem as the choir grew
and improved. We had several singers of a much higher caliber and
they became frustrated with what these men were doing to the
quality of our results. That's the danger. While it isn't a
per se, I still believe the music we provide for worship and for God
should be the best we can possibly make it. We owe just as much
an obligation to the choir members who are there every week, work
hard, follow direction, and strive to create a beautiful result, as we
do to those who, while they may be doing their best, just don't
meet the caliber of the rest of the group. Luckily, in this last
situation, the two men who were creating the blend and balance
problems dropped out of the choir. I urged them to stay, but
they knew they were creating morale problems in the choir. I
honestly don't know what I would have done if they hadn't.

I think now if that were to happen, it would depend on the
quality of the choir I had. If the choir were only average, then I
might say ok, or I might ask them to come and work with me
privately first for a period of time, at which point we'll evaluate
their progress and see if they're ready to join the choir. If the
choir were excellent and I thought it wouldn't be fair to the
choir or to those newcomers who wouldn't be able to keep up,
then I would either work with them privately or perhaps found
a choir that performed only occasionally, and it would do much
simpler repertoire, and my expectations would be lower in
accordance with their lower talent/skill level.

Whatever I did, I wouldn't turn them away cold. I would find
some way to make use of their interest, energy, talents and
love for God and music. Perhaps I might utilize them as a
chaperone or helper with children's or youth choirs, or as a
music librarian or to be responsible for cleaning the robes, or
driving on outings. I would find some way that he/she could
participate. If the choir were superior and doing difficult music,
and there weren't enough others to form a small alternative
choir, then perhaps that person or persons would only sing on
Sundays where we were doing simpler music, and I would make
sure at least once a month to do music that he/she/they could
take part in and feel comfortable and successful with.

While I think that God expects our best efforts, I believe even
more that He expects us to treat each other with consideration,
love and respect. All too often, people who have given of their
time and energies for years singing in the choir or playing the
organ are unceremoniously "dumped" when they get older and
their skills diminish. I believe it is our responsibility in the
music ministry to recognize and show our appreciation for those
members, and find creative ways to still utilize their skills and
talents in which they can still be successful. It is not being
kind to allow them to embarass themselves or to ask them to
do things they aren't capable of, however. It is a difficult thing
to deal with, and must be done in love and with respect and

Craig Collins

Well said Craig! As one who has taken a lot of flak for enunciating the
need to offer the best and most beautiful we have to God, I echo
you say. And your thoughts on handling the aging or unsuitable chorister
Unfortunately in my country as in yours, the simple, folksy,
musical candy-floss approach is all too prevalent in Catholic churches.
very grateful for a pastor who is supportive of our endeavours to do
music at the "non-guitar" Masses. I don't know what the answer is
the lowest common denominator is always going to have a big, perhaps
majority, following. I guess we must just continue trying to gently
those that will listen towards something more beautiful and more
for the liturgy. If you find the answer let me know!
Thanks and regards
Peter Gilmour
Our Lady Star of the Sea
New Zealand.

Hi Everyone!
I've been watching this thread of conversation with much interest, since
I've just been hired for a Church choir directing job after being in
school choir and community choir settings for the past eight years.
Before that, I was music director at a church that was redefining itself
in every way and I kept pulling them and pulling them to think "out of
the box"--just because your church is on the small side doesn't mean
the music has to be on the small side! We did Mozart, Handel, Bach as
well as Eugene Butler (one of my favs) Douglas Wagner and Allen Pote. I
heard so much "we can't do that" and after working a while on "that",
having choir members asking for more. I am proud to say, the quality of
music improved because I was there. I left because my husband accepted
a fellowship out of state and my musical career centered on teaching,
grad school and making some (at least a little more!) money and our
(very musical) kids. I am right back in the thick of it with accepting
this new job. This was my voice teacher's former position and the
quality of the music and singing was quite high--he was the chairman of
the voice department at a well-known Midwestern school of music. The
last few years, without his guidance, the quality has not been the
same. It will be my task (and joy) to bring it back. I have a
different perspective, perhaps because I am a Choral director AND a
Music Educator and I am also the parent of someone with a disability who
LOVES music. My true feelings about musical excellence center on the
"self-fulfilling prophecy" that is so much a part of working with
someone with a disability: if you believe you can do it, you can do it
and if you believe you cannot do it, you cannot do it. We, as
directors, have to instill in choirs the desire to succeed and the
knowledge that they can--to the glory of God. My son , who has autism,
loves music--to listen and move and to match pitches (he cannot speak).
He also has music teachers in his life that encourage him to be the best
he can and want him to participate in the school's music program--no
matter what. My other two kids are musically gifted (and normal)--and
participate fully in the high school music program--my other kid is so
welcomed because our family is such a large part of the music program
and his delight in the music for music sake is refreshing. As a choir
director, I cannot in good conscience throw someone out of my choir when
my son is so totally accepted by some of the best music teachers in the
state! Excellence in Church Music is a matter of perspective and belief
in the people you are leading--anyone who does their best for me is more
than welcome.

Marie Grass Amenta,
Chancel Choir Director
First Presbyterian Church of Homewood

Hi, Nicola. I would tend to agree with you wholeheartedly. This was
point I was making on the subject when I first began following this
Even people who are not as musically gifted as others can give their
best to
God. It is true: God does not love us solely for our talents. We love
because He first loved us. And we love Him because He is our maker, our
Redeemer, and our friend. Intolerance solely based upon our own
I feel, would be displeasing to God, and, therefore, should not be
practised. We are His, and His alone, and He values all that we have.
let us remember this when we offer our praises, our music and our
prayers to

Lynn Bannister
-----Original Message-----
From: Nicola Edwards
To: Choraltalk
Date: Friday, August 27, 1999 4:34 PM
Subject: Re: Musical Excellence

My focus has always been on whether or not the musical group is
achieving its intended purpose or not. Sacred music in the worship
setting is primarily meant to inspire those listening or participating
in it to a higher form of prayer. In order to succeed at this, one
must ask themselves: is this music inspiring everyone as far as it is
possible to do so, without being distracting (either because of poor
sound or because of excessive performance) ?

This, of course, covers different areas of music, in terms of style,
performance, and member competence. However, I think it can be said
that everyone appreciates music that is done well. In the sacred
setting, poorly executed music will not inspire the good musician to
prayer, while well-executed music will inspire everyone to prayer and
lifting their hearts and minds to God.

My experience with this is personal. I sat in the congregation of
churches for umpteen years before I could no longer pray effectively
because of the poor quality of music being produced. I worked my way
into being an organist and choir director, and have received nothing
but complements in terms of music appreciation and its contribution to
the service, while at the same time expanding the choir from 5 members
to 20 in just one year. My choir and music performs, but only to the
extent that it inspires people to pray and reflect on God and his

OK. I'll get off my soapbox now. :)

Jim Meyers
Organist, Choir Director
Sacred Heart Church
Ventura, CA

In a message dated 99-09-05 01:06:54 EDT, you write:

<< It saddens me that our society has allowed its common denominator to
so mournfully low. We simply have no standards, and what few we have we
afraid to enforce for fear of excluding someone. God forbid that we not
completely inclusive in every thing that we do.

Hopefully this dreadful trend in sacred music will go the way of
pulpit robes and earth tone sanctuary decor. In the meantime, I intend
to do
everything in my limited power to save great music from this purgatory
pabulum. >>

Dear Kevin,

I think you hit the nail on the head! But it's not just feeling the
need to
be inclusive--it's feeling the need to please everyone, or not offend
Same is true for education--music and otherwise. That's why I am
with many other fine quality teachers) looking at getting out of public
education. I also look at providing a quality choral experience for
outside the public school domain. It is sad!

Best wishes!

Eloise Porter
Shelburne, VT.


The last two responses on this topic have been from experienced
directors who
are ready to flee their respective church and school jobs, primarily out
frustration and exhaustion, after seeing the standards -- of their
their staff, and society -- plummet over time.

While I agree with most of what they both had to say, (Purgatory of
and Spiritual masturbation, indeed!) I find their reaction
Having returned to teaching this year after working in the private
sector for 15 years, I'm a 42 year old first-year teacher. Frankly, it
scares me to hear quality veterans running away screaming.

With all due respect -- I have not walked a mile in your shoes -- Isn't
easier to change this system from within? Can anyone express some hope
the future?

Mark Kloepper
Seattle, WA

Dear listers,

You may remember me from last year this time as the Music Director who
having problems with "The Rev" (last name withheld, but I suggest
to give you the right flavor) appointed from a 700 member church to our
2300 member church.

To Mark, who asked if it isn't easier to change the system from within:

In March, I was given an ultimatum by "The Rev". After months of covert
downright abusive behavior all the while denying that he had any problem
with the music program, he finally divulged his agenda. Church music
to be like top 40 so that it is IMMEDIATELY comfortable to the hundreds
unchurched who will soon be flocking to his retooled mega-church.
they haven't seen attendance go up, it's gone down. But "you just wait
see".) He semi-jokes about being called the C.E.O. at that point, not
Senior Minister. This in a traditional suburban United Methodist
Six voice choirs, four bell choirs, adult and youth brass choirs. New
building program only one-third funded. The Staff/Parish committee
heaved a
sigh of relief upon being told of this plan to rake in the dollars of
unchurched, thus solving all their anxieties and the church's financial

The ultimatum was: I could stay if I could accept that: 1) I would no
longer be "responsible" for choices of musical style or even specific
pieces. 2) I was there only to facilitate the Rev's every wish,
opinion or God-forbid-opposing-opinion was not going to be tolerated.
numerous business people on committees totally bought this approach
"This is what bosses do. You are there to give the Boss what he wants."
After two years of "establishing a relationship" (read: "blind
obedience") I
MIGHT be allowed some small input into the music program that I had run
22 years.

After being in charge of a large, allegedly successful music department
(four employees under me, three years of a Concert Series now totally in
black...), I found myself wanted as nothing more than a music
Shut up and wave those arms, sucker. Smile at the people, sell
in short, manipulate the flock. Well, usually I am a sucker for Jesus,
I failed in this instance, God forgive me. I resigned in June. Enough
congregation members either 1) didn't notice 2) didn't care enough to
intervene or 3) actually wanted the changes so that I was left with no
support. Of course post resignation, the Rev was aghast: "I don't
what's wrong with him." and "This is his choice, it has nothing to do
me.." Right, I guess, to a certain degree.

A fine musician, band director from a local university, was hired to
me. Never had a church job, no choral or handbell skills by his own
admission. When questioned on this, the interview committee replied,
and I
kid you not: "Skills for this position were a NON-ISSUE. We just need
friendly person who can work with the Rev." (Read "who will do what
told.") I assure you that I'm a friendly, enjoyable, and even funny
(No, not just looks..) That hurt.

At this point? The two adult bell choirs are in jeopardy due to too
open positions from no recruiting and dissatisfacton. One early service
adult choir of twenty is down to three members. The two later service
choirs are down from forty each (total 80) to a total of 12 people split
between them. (At least from the sign-up for the start up dinner and
rehearsal.) The new guy asked "How do we schedule the Concert Series,
do we
just put a sign-up sheet up at church and let people sign up if they
want to
give a Concert?" No Concert Series this year, I'm betting.

The first purchase by the new regime from funds that we were hoping
could go
to a new Sanctuary Steinway: A very complete ROCK DRUM SET for use in

My point is: no, it is not easier to change from within. It is easier
get out so that I can have a happy life.

Chuck Peery


This has been an interesting and helpful thread. In fact, I've been
compiling the comments in order to share them with my Church Music
A couple of ideas I have not seen expressed:
1) We ought not confuse "excellence" with "holiness." It seems to me
that one of the many things that Jesus drew attention to was the
relationship of "holiness" to "specialness" (or ritual cleanliness)
versus the relationship of "holiness" to compassion and generosity--the
gracious attributes of God.
2) In the spirit of compassion and generosity we must recognize that
there is a difference between "singers music" and "listeners music."
That which feeds the soul of the musician does not always feed the soul
of the listener. The musician, through study and exposure, has time to
discover the inner message of artistic music. The listener, often, has
only 4-5 minutes to get the point. Therefore, I tell my choir, "This
piece is for us and if you do it well enough the listener may get the
point." Then, in the spirit of generosity, I will say, "This piece is
for them, the listener will understand it readily."
I have found that the congregation will often remember and request
anthems that the choir rather quickly tired of rehearsing.

Dr. James Kempster, Professor of Music and Associate Dean
Pacific Union College
Angwin, CA 94508

James Kempster makes an interesting point contrasting "singers' music"
"listeners' music". Maybe we should make a point of repeating "singers'
music" within a reasonably short time so the "listeners" have time to
the point after a couple of hearings.
However, I'm a little uncomfortable in a church context with the concept
"singers' music" as if we are singing some pieces to indulge ourselves.
Surely it's all "God's music" in two senses: (a) the best and most
music we can make offered to God as the primary audience on behalf of
congregations and (b) music to help our people participate in the
worship of
Peter Gilmour
Our Lady Star of the Sea
Howick, New Zealand

Oh my! Well now have hit upon the reason that I left church music. Here
are my
thoughts, which could fill a book.

Today's alleged Christians are children of a self-serving and "me"
oriented age
of prosperity. The young adults in churches today (people in my own age
are accustomed to instant gratification, complete disposability of
nearly every
product they use and a want for little to nothing.

This is being reflected in church by the overwhelming trend toward the
elimination of anything that stands for tradition, effort, commitment or
discipleship. Instead, they want a worship experience that is based on
the over
stimulation of emotions. They want to "feel" the presence of God as
opposed to
"seek" His presence. I have a term for this: spiritual masturbation.

That church governing bodies want to eliminate anything that could
inhibit a new member is a symptom of this self-serving, personal pronoun
mess that we call worship. In the early church, there was but one day in
year that a newcomer could become a fully vested follower in the Way. It
Easter Sunday. It was the purpose of the season of Lent (the 40 days
Sundays prior to Easter) that the new members were to be trained
in the ways and teachings of Christ. In this day and age, we wouldn't
dream of
requiring anyone to actually explore and reflect on the meaning of
service and
discipleship. We certainly would not subject them to it for forty days!
We want
them in there "feeling" good about Je-a-sus-ah as fast as we can, so
that we
can sooner get our little hands on their wallets to fund our "Family
centers" our "gymatoria" and our billion dollar a year day care

Consequently, we have done away with great choral singing in favor of
bands. We have cut out the great hymns and anthem literature of the last
thousand years and replaced it with tepid, near meaningless, repetitive
choruses" that do nothing more than whip up a frenzy of emotion. Once we
the building it is difficult to remember what all the excitement was all
because we have been given no spiritual food; only enough emotional
candy to
send us into insulin shock.

What to do? My only thought is to persevere. I left church work to form
professional choir in the hope that I might reach some audience
somewhere and
convince them that there was more to life than entertainment. I don't
know if I
will succeed, but I can't not try. It saddens me that our society has
its common denominator to slip so mournfully low. We simply have no
and what few we have we are afraid to enforce for fear of excluding
God forbid that we not be completely inclusive in every thing that we

Hopefully this dreadful trend in sacred music will go the way of
pulpit robes and earth tone sanctuary decor. In the meantime, I intend
to do
everything in my limited power to save great music from this purgatory

Kevin Sutton
Artistic Director
The Helios Ensemble, Dallas, TX

Kevin Sutton wrote:

>Instead, they want a worship experience that is based on the over
>stimulation of emotions. They want to "feel" the presence of God as
>opposed to "seek" His presence. I have a term for this: spiritual

Could this not also be said of some people who enjoy traditional church
music? There are certainly many traditional pieces which also produce
immediate emotional responses in many people.

>Once we leave the building it is difficult to remember what all the
>excitement was all about because we have been given no spiritual food; only enough >emotional candy to send us into insulin shock.

Many contemporary Christian choruses are based on texts taken directly
from the Bible. Just because you don't like their style and music
doesn't mean that no-one can effectively worship God with them. What
makes you think you know what's in the hearts of people who prefer a
contemporary style of music? Do you really think that God isn't
perfectly capable of taking these musical offerings and accepting them
whenever they are genuinely meant?


Dr. James Kempster, Professor of Music and Associate Dean
Pacific Union College
Angwin, CA 94508

on April 30, 2002 10:00pm
In our parish "artistic excellence" has created a choir of paid music students who are not members of the congregation, who present Holy Communion, and especially Evensong, as performance, period.

The music director seems to believe that he is directing a cathedral choir somewhere in the Church of England (we're a 125-person parish in semi-rural California).

The congregation often can't sing what he selects for hymns, and never sings the service music.

The rector's excuse for all this? Hiring the university students might lead them to become members of the Episcopal Church. Uh-huh.

I think that music meant to be sung by the congregation should, first of all, be singable music of whatever genre is appropriate to that community. If the choir must sing complex pieces to keep themselves amused, they should be allowed to do so whenever an anthem is appropriate. Removing the congregation from participating in the music for the sake of "excellence" is inexcusable.

on August 12, 2002 10:00pm
Nicola i'd like to elaborate on your posting...I was somewhat disheartened after reading several of the posts that ultimately
ended up doing little more than belittling 'contemporary Christian' music or, I think it's safe to say, any music that is not
strictly in the classical choral/orchestral tradition...if we're sincere about being a minister of music we have to constantly
keep at bay any prideful, elitist and exclusionary thoughts or beliefs pertaining to our musical preferences that do not serve to edify Christ and minister to those
who are already His and those who need to be led to Him. I've been extensively trained in band, choral and piano
music and I love classical music as much as I love jazz, gospel, pop etc. However, in spite of my personal preferences,
I have to keep in mind at all times that we were created to worship Him and I think it goes without saying that out of all the
ethnicities, cultures, races etc. present on earth that God does not have a preference for a particular style of worship music. We
are expected only to worship Him in spirit and in truth, praising Him by singing new songs to Him, on non specified stringed
instruments and cymbals that may or may not be part of a drum set (not specified in the Bible), and other instruments of course. The absolute best
musicians have always been open to and appreciative of various music styles-studying and incorporating them into their own
works or just enjoying them period.
Remember, Christ absolutely never looked down on anyone who earnestly sought him and of course we all know about Him constantly being
in the company of the poor, diseased, sinsick, etc. It's unfortunate that as a church musician, or minister of music we can
posess such a snobby, totally un-Christ like attitude when it comes to music styles when instead we should enhance the worship
experience for every believer and win non believers by opening up to all types of music that has been soley created for worship
and is appriopriate for our respective congregations. Keep in mind that artistic excellence only suffers if we allow it to-regardless
of the style. Various artists enjoy their success because of excellence on their recordings and in their live performances-you
won't hear any wrong notes, the ratio of wrong to right notes is probably the same across the board for all types of music. And sincere Christian artists of any style have
a special additive-the blessing of God. So let's be a little more inclusive with this music issue-I know God would be.
I'm sorry for not speaking on the subject but I really had to address the subtopic that crept into the postings.
Thank you, from South Carolina
on October 4, 2002 10:00pm
I recently came aboard as the director of Music at a small church in the suburbs, which is recovering from declining attendance and other problems (the last full-time permanent pastor was dismissed for sexual misconduct). The groups (chancel choir and praise team) kept on going despite no director, but ultimately needed direction and focus. Based on experiences I've had over the years as both a paid employee and a volunteer, I decided to address this issue at the first rehearsal. I opined that the two main differences between performance groups and groups of music ministers (which I considered each of them to be) were these:

1. motivation -- while both seek to present the music to listeners in the best way we can, music ministry has the added motivation of sharing a belief in God via music.
2. effect -- again, the main difference was that music ministers would share and, hopefully, encourage others towards belief.

Both groups are obligated (to both God and the music) to make the performance the best it can be. Sure, we come from varying levels of ability and experience. We can make a "joyful noise", but how much easier it is to listen to when it's a beautiful noise! And many members of the congregation won't be able to detect wrong notes. But they will be able to detect attitude and confidence levels.

With Chancel Choir, I'm getting them into a schedule where we devote at least 3 rehearsals to the Sunday anthem. We also rehearse the hymns, so that they may sing them with confidence, and inspire the congregants to sing out. The praise team (which mostly sings in unison) has a core of songs that they know well -- their main problem has been vocal production and building a sense of ensemble. We may have a long way to go (Lord knows we're not perfect), but already we're getting results, and positve feedback from the congregation.

Sure, the drive for excellence may be uncomfortable at times. But I also remind them that this is where growth occurs. I also remind them that their service as a volunteer is deeply appreciated by all. This is important. Good luck to all.

on October 18, 2002 10:00pm
Music in worship is not a performance. The only purpose of music in worship is to "bust open" the Word. That is the reason why we were given the gift of language and music, so that we can praise God rightly with the Word in song.

When we love someone we want to give them the best that we can: small as the best flower, big as the best boat... Then we should give God the best we can be in worship also. Especially when worship is about praising God only.

What is our best then... Different church and choir has different abilities. God gave us talents according to our own abilities. A small church in the country side would not have the same abilities or resources as the National Cathedral. Even a choir that has wonderful potential, yet has never been challenged, would need time to step up gradually.

The process is long and hard, we need to educate them as well as love them. And sometimes, this education also include educate the Pastor.

Blessings my colleagues

on December 27, 2003 10:00pm

Every church should strive for excellence in music. Every church should strive for excellene in everything!

Think about it this way...

If one day my wife received a phone call from the United Kingdom syaing that the Queen of England wanted to dine with us in 6 weeks, you'd bet there'd be much preparation.
We'd spend a lot of time cleaning our home and making it presentable. We'd probably purchase some new clothing and spare no expense. We'd invest in lessons on how to eat properly, the proper way to greet the Queen, the proper way to speak in her presence, etc. We would do this because of her title/position; she's royalty.
So I ask you this, why should it be any less different for the King of Kings? This "relaxed" attitude is the wrong attitude. We should work just as hard, if not harder, for the Lord our God.

I hope this brings in some light.

Musically Yours,
on January 20, 2004 10:00pm
I feel you get what you expect. My own church choir has grown to around 30 members from the original 5 when I took over the position. It was when they started winging as a group and working on tone and intonation, etc. that more people started to join. Who wants to sing with a bunch of out of tune singers? I'd be had pressed to pray with music like that myself, so why should we allow the congregation to?

Just my humble opinion. First time here at this sight. Tomorrow is the first day of the Chinese year of the monkey! Hee Hee Hoo Hoo!
on April 1, 2004 10:00pm
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina or Michael W. Smith; only a fool would say that the latter is as musically gifted as the former. Musicals and praise choruses that stretch on forever bring in piles of money. This is the new den of thieves; the contemporary "Christian" market.
on April 10, 2004 10:00pm
My apologies in advance for a long post to come...

I have loved reading the articulate defenses of artistic excellence in the church. I too, grieve over the "anything goes" attitudes so prevalent not only in the laity but also in the pulpit. Our society has grown standardless and there are those in the Church, too, who would emulate that generic turn.

I have actually heard pastors saying that the reason they want to go to the contemporary worship style is that they believe the traditional stuff "will turn people away from the church, or fail to bring them in".

EXCUSE ME, but what is it that grows the Church? The Church is the Body of BELIEVERS in Christ, not merely "satisfied customers". Is it not the WORD of God that brings people to faith? "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God" we read in the Epistles.

I am sure many of us would agree that music carries its own meanings, even music without text or literary allusion: there is a language that is music itself. Certainly music chosen for worship should not be reminiscent of worldliness or banality or music that is heard day in day out on the media or on the street. Its intervals, phrasing, and harmonies should be so much better crafted than the "top 40" mentioned by an earlier poster.

Additionally, in the argument of style, I observe that in the majority of contemporary songs, one finds a deplorable substitution of quantity for quality. What I mean is that the WORDS are often poorly chosen, based on experiential language rather than Scriptural concepts, and those with words/music repeated, mantra-like. These songs usually include the litany of "me, me, me" rather than on the praise of CHRIST and what He has done. Very often they contain very foggy theology. I leave it to the readers to come up with their own (myriad) examples of this watered-down, synergistic type of text. Surely pastors, musicians, and lay people alike ought to be VERY sure that anything sung in the Church is at least SCRIPTURAL and in keeping with the teachings of its own denomination!

Those of you in traditionally liturgical churches may also agree with me regarding the troubling practice of summarily ditching portions of the Ordinary and Propers in past years. I have been very bothered by the substitution of "praise choruses" for liturgical responses. A well-composed contemporary hymn states in one of its verses "Our liturgies sum up the hope we have in Him". Judging from some of the poor quality "praise choruses" used instead of well-composed musical responses, I think a very small hope is expressed!

I too, am trying to raise the standard of our church from within. I am an unpaid volunteer musical director in our church (with a Master's degree in Music. I am grateful for the small amount of respect towards my opinion that this affords me with some in our congregation). Still, I am discouraged with the way many in the congregations seem to be bent towards only that music which does not offend their personal comfort zone, but I am unwilling to substitute theological orthodoxy in vocal music for "crowd-pleasin'". I try to remain open to works unknown by me but which have evidence of outstanding craft in both music and text. I thank the other posters for their insights: it is good to know one is not totally alone "crying in the wilderness"!

I think perhaps our continued, humble, tireless work and submission to the Lord, as well as our prayers, are probably the only way changes for the better can be made. (The Holy Spirit is the great Convincer, after all.) I for one will continue to work to do music the way the Lord has taught me, to "worship the Lord in the beauty of Holiness", through the opportunities He has given me in my education and in my own singing.

God's blessings to you all as you seek to serve Him with the best of your abilities.
on August 11, 2004 10:00pm
I don't know that I can add much to what has already been said, but I believe that we should always ask whether musical excellence is an end in itself, or a means to an end? IMO, it should ALWAYS be a means to the end of honoring and glorifying God. This means giving the best of what we have to this effort, and working to improve. The output will vary from church to church, but the goal should be the same. A 'good enough for God' effort might be adequate, but what does it say about our passion for who we are as God's people? This also implies selecting high quality music, regardless of style and/or difficulty level.

On the other hand, if artistic, aesthetic, musical excellence is the end in itself, then we risk falling into the sin of idolatry. Artistic and musical excellence should grow out of our love for the creator of all good things.
on January 21, 2007 10:00pm
I am Music Director in an Anglican Church and have been for twelve years.
The congregation used to drag the hymns something fierce and the Canticles, Te Deum, Benedictus es etc. were never pointed properly. To remedy the tempo situation, I would set the tempo from the Introduction and maintain it even though folks were left in the dust, sometimes a measure behind. I was always very careful to utilise an organ registration that was always supportive and not overbearing and through careful working with the choir, we now have an incredible singing church who appreciates excellence in music. Some of our Congregation are now trying to properly sing the minor propers and all sing with gusto the hymns and maintain the proper tempo from the very beginning.
By religious preference, my wife and I are Roman Catholic and go to a beautiful church near our home. The Priest is outstanding, the Mass beautiful and spiritually uplifting but the music is deadly. The "choir"does not sing in parts, their entrances ragged and the music uninspiring and the whiny keyboard does nothing to uplift hearts. The Music Director is not trained as a Church Musician and with due respect is competent but not in Church.
Church Music is a Ministry and along with Liturgy and Preaching form a spiritual whole.Hopefully, the clergy would not dumb down and simplify worship and neither should the the music.
Musicians aspiring to be employed in Church Music, should have the training in Liturgy, choral conducting etc. as their counterparts, the Clergy.
on July 8, 2007 10:00pm
Guess I'm a little late for this discussion, but I if I stumbled upon it, someone is bound to stumble upon it after me.

The bible says that God inhabits the praises of his people. So with our worship we are building his temple. How are we building it? What are we building it with? And what are the skills and right attitude needed to build it? Is there a biblical standard for these? And lastly, how does God expect this "temple" to function? Or, simply, what does God plan to do with it?

These are some tough questions. But I really believe they are all answered in a particular passage of the Old Testament. The passage I'm refering to is the entire 29th chapter of 2 Chronicles.

Here, the bible speaks of King Hezekiah as he reopens the temple of the Lord after years of disuse. If you can make a leap with me here to see the physical temple of the Lord (the one Hezekiah is reopening) as the one we create with our worship on Sunday, and our church musicians as the priests and levites Hezekiah commands to get it ready for use, what you will see, I hope, is a clear expression of...

1. the right attitude of a worship leader (or any other church musician - we don't all have the position of "leader");

2. the function of worship within the context of corporate worship;

3. the exact duties of a worship leader or church musician;

and finally, what I believe to be God's intention...

4. the result of having done all these things excellently (both, done with the right attitude AND simply done right, to the very best of everyone's ability.

If any of this peaks your curiousity, please visit my blog. I go into full detail there. (Nothing wierd! I just didn't want to take up so much space here. :) Here's the URL

The revelation I got from this passage put worship music and musicians into perspective. I hope it helps this discussion.

Thomas Timphony
Harvest Family Church
Hammond, LA
on July 8, 2007 10:00pm
I'm sorry. I put the wrong URL in the last post. The one you need, if you're interested, of course, would be this one...

Sorry about the confusion!

Thomas Timphony
on June 28, 2008 10:00pm
Dear Colleagues,

We are losing ground. Quality choral music is taking a back seat to schlock. In my Southern community of about 40K, only about 3 churches are still doing quality music. Most have sold out with praise teams and self-serving me-hymns.

It can happen to even the best of churches when pastors start pandering to the least common denominator and succumb to the whim of select congregants who want "stuff like we here on the radio." I shudder. I totally understand the above posts of people who just finally gave up. It will break your heart.