This article is advice to church musicians and other musicians for edification. To be a musician means that we have had good training, continue to sharpen our skills, and gain new ones. It also means that we can’t imagine a time when we’ll be completely satisfied that we have learned and experienced all we need.
As a musician, we need to take advantage of all that we can. Enroll for courses, pursue degrees, attend conferences, and day-long events. We also need to read books and journals, join organizations, and go to concerts. In addition, there is a need for us to listen to recordings of music which we know, like and that which we don’t really like.
Above all, we should be a musical pluralist who is acquainted with popular and art music, folk and ethnic music, secular and sacred music. That has learned how to integrate all his/her musical knowledge, skill, and discernment.
Who is a Church Musician ?
All that has been said above give us the advantage to be a musician of high caliber. In order to be a church musician, we need to take those skills with us into our church work in a spiritual manner to serve the great master. To be a church musician means you engage in music for church services and other functions in the church like funerals and weddings. And also, You lead congregational singing and maybe an accompanist to other musicians.
Serving as a church musician means that we have a special use, purpose, and focus for our musicianship. The discrepancy between performers (choir or choral group) and listeners (audience or the congregation) is not as clear in the worship space as it is in the concert hall. Congregational song, in spite of all it’s musical “imperfections,” has primary importance, to Worship the King of kings. Everyone under that roof and in the gathering is royalty.
ALSO READ: The Voice in Music
In the church of God, we choose our repertoire not to highlight virtuosity or for good programming. The repertoire is to fulfill the roles in the liturgy. Also, to communicate and minister to souls. We want to be involved enough in other, non-musical aspects of congregation, parish, and diocese life so that it is not “their church” but “our church.”
Putting “church” in front of “musician” to make it Church Musician does not modify it, weaken it, or negate it. But it does water it down. It baptizes it for a special purpose and places upon it a divine blessing. Keep pondering, studying, and experiencing both halves, and the powerful combination, of the title Church Musician.
To become an outstanding (or better) church musician, thorough knowledge of your field ( organ, voice, sacred music literature) is of course a given. In addition, it is thought that personal faith is practically important to assist one during the hard times and keep one concentrate and grounded. Also, some knowledge of psychology and emotional intelligence will also be of help because as church musicians you cannot separate yourself from dealing with people. The advice here is to encourage us to fulfill both halves of the title which is “the church” and complement it with “the musician”.
In this part of the advice, I will roll out the five modules advice I thought will be of great benefit to all church musicians. The rest of the advice will be in “advice to church musicians – Part 2“. The Part 2 of this article will follow this one.
To be a good church musician, you need to take note of the following:
1. Be Physically and Mentally Fit
If you would be a successful church musician you have to be physically and mentally fit. The role of church musician is energy consuming and mentally demanding.
First, you must be an athlete, take care of your health and your body. A good nap before Thursday or Friday day/night rehearsal and regular exercise in addition to proper eating each day is a must. Also, if you are the organist, regular practicing in order to ensure feet, fingers, and mind are functioning very well is necessary.
Secondly, you must be an actor, you must know your “lines and material,” and know how to present them effectively so that the choir and congregation will respond effectively. Without more agitation, you should find a way and style to carry your congregation along and raise their spirit to participate in the service.
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Furthermore, you must be a psychologist that know how to work with the minister, the staff, the congregation, and all of the chorister of all ages. You must be a “people person” with humanity and empathy.
Also be a musician and student. This mean you should not be satisfied and stay where you are. You need to keep learning, growing and progressing. Lastly and above all, be a minister and pastor to the individuals in your choirs, and to the congregation, teach and admonishing them in love.
2. Don’t overlook the congregation
Always remember that your role as a music leader is not limited to the choir but also the congregation. In all you do, don’t overlook the congregation as a significant feature of your musical resources and a means of exercising real musical leadership.
Though enlarging the hymnic (and service music) repertoire of a congregation can be both challenging and gratifying. This is so especially if it involves adding new ways of singing: rounds and canons, A Capella, or in parts. Always keep it in mind that your work as a church musician will gain energy and purpose if you can free yourself from a performance mentality and understand what you do as an offering to God.
Try as much as possible to maintain the congregational singing repertoire; music you keep and don’t use will be obsolete in a decade. In that sphere, introduce new music and hymns to your congregation every year. Learn and find a way to love congregational singing. Also, find and establish a way to promote and develop congregational singing. Endeavour to put yourself into leading congregational song as you normally do for your solo repertoire.
3. Make Best Use of Your Tools
Remember that no one has it all and no one gets it all. One of the most important ways for church musicians to make their work fruitful is to learn and work with what they have. This is absolutely necessary than wishing they could work with different (usually larger and better-funded) forces. Arrange music into S.A.B if you don’t have tenors in your choir. You can also do S.A.T if you have no Bass. Similarly, you can’t try two-part if you cannot manage S.A.T or S.A.B. In fact, when all else fails, there’s unison. Above all, just make sure you do it well.
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With this in mind, if you don’t have sopranos who can handle a descant reliably, use an instrument instead. If you don’t also have a children’s choir, ask for time to teach the Sunday school children a hymn that they can teach to the adults. In short, celebrate and find a way to improve the resources you have rather than mentally disturbing yourself for what you don’t have.
4. Plan your time and be prepared
Planning in its essence assists musicians to establish their goals and provide ways and methods to accomplish them. Plan ahead and you can schedule the choir repertoire a year in advance. As a leader, make better use of your singers’ rehearsal time. Volunteers deserve this from you. Talk less, practice, and sing more. You don’t need to spend so much time informing them orally what you can educate them to pick up from your conducting. Also, you must be ready before you engage them. Do your personal rehearse and study the piece very well before the practice or performing time. It is absolutely astounding how much can be achieved in just one rehearsal if the director is actually ready in body or mind. Also, you would be surprised how much fun the rehearsal can be if you actually know the music thoroughly and throw yourself into the rehearsal.
5. Be an active listener
This is an indispensable skill for each and every musician and church musicians in particular. Active listening is a way of paying attention to music performance in a positive and remarkable way. Keep training your mind and ear and make them strong! Detecting that wrong tenor note instantly, without going through the piece several times asking yourself what is not right, can spare remarkable time. I have noticed otherwise accomplished directors who honestly don’t hear blunder in the middle voice and don’t regulate them.
In order to achieve this end, you can team up with a colleague. Give each of yourself the freedom to play a well-known hymn (or harmonized melody) with just one incorrect note in the harmony part for the other to detect. To make it really deceptive, you may use a different cord to make it sound perfectly good. Also, you can practice by listening to every line of the harmony part of any choral music as you are following the original music score. You can as well engage yourself in following multiple voices at a time. Furthermore, ensure you know each part of the music rehearsing with your choir(s) and have how the entire music sound in your head. Both harmony and rhythms. Then at rehearsals, be sure to listen, listen, and LISTEN!
ALSO READ: Advice to Church Musicians II
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