Questions, Suggestions & Tips: from friends and readers

Q: We have a strong traditional choir, and have been blessed with some really good singers and musicians on our praise team. But we don’t have auditions. How do you deal with someone who wants to sing in a small contemporary ensemble who really doesn’t have the "chops?"

Suggestion: This can be a tough one. It’s always a blessing to have people who want to share their gifts, but every gift is not going to be a good fit with every need. We wouldn’t presume to suggest what’s right for you, but will share a few observations. None of us wants to hurt the feelings of a person inspired to participate. Even so, many music programs utilize auditions. This would be more appropriate for a small contemporary ensemble, where each part, and the associated blend are important, because each voice is visible - usually miked and amplified.

Choirs, by their sheer numbers, can absorb, and are often enhanced by marginal voices. We all know the "blending" vocalist versus the "soloist." Even so, a choir as big and blessed as Nashville’s Christ Church Choir, directed by Landy Gardner, has stringent entrance requirements. These include a documented personal faith and reliability commitment, as well as vocal ability. But in reality, most church talent pools are far smaller, and merely finding enough singers is the main challenge. One approach might be to require that new additions to your praise ensemble first spend some minimum time in the choral ministry. This might be painful for a few, but would serve to validate the person’s interest level and commitment. It would also give them important experience, and bolster the choir’s talent pool.

Another approach might be to create a praise ensemble apprenticeship program - like a "B" team. This could also be a useful pool of substitute singers. If these folks rehearse with the "A" team, and on their own, some of the questionable fits would probably take care of themselves. Rotating teams also help avoid burnout.

Tip: The same concept applies to players on all instruments. There are levels of playing, and especially in contemporary music, not everyone is or need be an improvisational soloist. But at least players should be able to function well from basic charts with lyrics and chord/bass symbols. Remember, the tighter your constraints, the fewer will pass the filter. If the goal is quality in music to foster meaningful worship, you can’t ignore things that don’t sound good.

Finally, would anyone want to hear lots of wrong notes and missed or extra beats from a piano or organ accompanist? Clearly, the answer is "no." Should it be different when it comes to vocal music ministry?

Q: We’re adding a contemporary style of music to our existing, and very successful traditional choral and music program. It may sound funny, but we’re not sure what to call the new group. We don’t want to offend or send the wrong message to anyone involved in our existing program. Any thoughts?

Suggestion: This is not a silly question - we’ve heard it from several music directors. Somehow, "praise team" or "worship team" doesn’t differentiate without implicitly suggesting that other music forms may not be as "praiseworthy" or "worshipful." This wouldn’t be an issue in a church offering only one music form. But in a blended or multi-form situation, there can be such sensitivities. We chose, ourselves, to retitle our column "Your Music Team," rather than "Your Praise Team," since we welcome choir and traditional stories as well.

It may be useful to develop a special name that is its own non-comparative tag. For example, our church has a children’s choir aptly called, "Awesome Kids of God." This stands on its own, and is a great "handle." Variations on that theme might be "Sounds of Celebration," or "The Joyful Noisemakers." These examples are specific symbols, rather than generic descriptions containing words like "praise," "worship," or "music." We hope this helps.

Tip: At the throne of God, it’s not what you call it; it’s the quality and sincerity of worship that matter.

Q: I like the song you published, "We Give Thanks," and the price is right. How does the lifetime license work?

Suggestion: Our goal is to inexpensively make a worthy piece of new music available in most issues, across a range of styles, without hassles of copy-making. So, it’s as simple as it says on the music page. Just send a check for $5.00 to the identified publisher, and proceed to copy lyrics and music as often as you need or wish for the life of your church. This is on the honor system. If you wish to use the song, your canceled check becomes your lifetime license to use the song without restriction. We strive to have every such piece be worthy of use in a range of worship situations.