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TuneUp – Tips for Church Music Directors: Difficult Music

This was originally published in the October issue of InTune, a Church Music Review. Click here for a free subscription.

Many church choir directors don’t think that they can perform difficult music with their group. They have only enough time to rehearse more simplistic music for Sunday services.

It is not, of course, absolutely necessary to have more complex music in a worship service, but music with more development or richer harmonies can help to express a teach a more full range of Christian affections.
For five years I directed a church choir of 16-23, most of whom could not read music or had never before sung in a choir. However, we did some fairly difficult music, including Bach chorales, Tallis contrapuntal works, and more modern, challenging anthems.

Two obvious, but helpful suggestions for average choirs in terms of tackling more difficult music:

1. Don’t sing in both services. Unfortunately many church choir directors feel obligated to sing in both the Sunday morning and evening services. That requirement prevents any significant rehearsal time on any one piece. In most churches, the Sunday morning service is considered the more formal service, and Sunday evenings are reserved for more of a “family time” or teaching time. Don’t feel like to have to sing in that evening service. Or, even if you do have to sing in that service, perhaps you could do what David Stertzbach in Tempe, AZ does:

Dave’s choir sings a new anthem every Sunday evening, but then repeats that same anthem on the next Sunday morning. He has found that such a practice is beneficial for the the choir and the congregation.

2. Don’t be afraid to repeat music. For some reason many church choir directors are afraid to repeat choir anthems over a period of several years, yet alone during the same year. However, if a piece is worth singing, if it is worth using to help a congregation worship the Lord, then it is worth repeating. This means, of course, that you will have to buy music that is worth repeating, and that means that some of it will probably be a bit more difficult. But that’s the purpose of these suggestions, right?

One final word to pastors. Unfortunately it is often pastors who put the pressure on the music director to sing new pieces every service. I would urge pastors to consider why they insist on this. Performing good music well to aid a congregation in worship of the Lord is more important, I would suggest, then perpetual novelty.

Again, performing complex music is not necessary, but it can greatly enhance a worship service.

Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is Chair of the Worship Ministry Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

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