What is the function/intent/purpose of a choral anthem in today's mainstream Protestant worship service?
Date: April 13, 2011
By "anthem", I mean a short composition (<10 minutes) sung by the choir rather than the entire congregation. In the tradition I come from, this is usually sung during the Liturgy of the Word. The congregation I work for is about to do a review of everything we do in our worship services. We're going to be asking, "why do we do this?", and the answer "because we've always done it that way" is simply not going to cut it. While I fully support this process, I don't want to talk myself out of a job as choir director, so help me out... why do we sing 'anthems'? (And I know full well that not everyone does.)
My best guess so far is that that it is a time during worship in which the Word is shared through music. The congregation hears a message from the choir, kind of like they do when they listen to the minister give a homily from the pulpit. The message can be used to teach, offer praise, set a mood for more teaching, and/or offer a link to the whole Body of Christ through the ages and around the world by using traditional songs & texts or songs from another place. Being sung by the choir alone rather than the entire congregation allows for more complex music to be presented, which may (or may not) speak to people in a different way than a simple song would. The choir itself functions as a small group ministry, so the preparation of the anthem has a role in the group ministry. It could also be said that the church has a long tradition as a patron of the arts, and that by singing choral anthems, we continue this patronage by purchasing music to support composers, paying choir directors and section leaders, and teaching music technique in the choir.
What say ye all?
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