Recently, two articles have been circulating on Facebook:
One bemoans the “death of church choirs” (see it here: http://www.religionnews.com/2014/09/17/many-church-choirs-dying-heres/).
Another counter-article states “9 reasons to keep the church choir alive” (see it here: http://www.theologyinworship.com/2014/09/23/9-reasons-to-keep-the-church-choir-alive/).
Singing with other people, whether at a ballgame, or in worship, or in the local community choir, is something that has declined in the last fifty years. I use fifty because, well, I’m in that age group now, and I’ve seen it decline over my lifetime. A friend and I went to a Yankees game a few months ago. When the National Anthem was played, I heard a few folks around me, but not many. It was sad. But, when the 7th inning stretch came, more folks were singing. Was it because the song was a more upbeat song, or that it was written less than fifty years ago? In any case, it was encouraging to hear more voices singing “Sweet Caroline.” At least they sang!
Societal trends are the primary reasons our musical education has diminished in recent decades. More iPods, mp3, CD, DVD, satellite radio, and any other source of music you can think of, have broadened our musical horizons, exposing us to sounds we probably never thought we’d hear unless we traveled to China, the inner reaches of Africa, frigid Russia, or sunny Hawaii.
Musical education has changed, too. In many places, the arts have been eliminated completely from public and private school classrooms. Where do people of all ages go for exposure to the arts? Where do they learn to sing? Who will teach them?
The church has, for centuries, been the epicenter for arts in community throughout the world. In some large churches, choir schools were created for the musical and academic instruction of their boy choirs. It’s only logical that choirs have survived for hundreds of years in these places. Closest to home, St. Thomas Church on 5th Avenue has a choir school that is nearing its 100th anniversary. Begun in 1919, they have been the foundation for worship life in this historic space. And if you haven’t heard them before, go. I give you permission (just not all of you at the same time!) to attend a worship service on Sunday morning, or at one of their Evensong services on Sunday afternoons.
For the most part, churches throughout the world have choirs that gather weekly for a rehearsal, and share their talents on Sunday mornings. Those who are part of a choir often remark “I was looking forward to staying home because I was exhausted. Realizing that others were relying on me, I came to rehearsal anyway. After it was over, it dawned on me I was energized and feeling great that I made the decision to go to choir.”
Imagine what worship would be like without a choir. Think back to the days when you were younger and heard a great choir in worship; how did you feel? Was it inspiring? Depending on our upbringing, it might not have been the best choir (or perhaps the worst choir you’ve heard!), but the passion and dedication from those singers have probably been passed on to you. How did you learn those new hymns? The choir was helping the congregation learn new hymns and supported the voices around you in the pews.
A 2009 survey by Chorus America found that a staggering 42.6 MILLION people participate in one of more than 270,000 choirs in America. And that’s just the number of those who actually responded to this survey — it could be higher than that. Here’s more on that study: https://www.chorusamerica.org/publications/research-reports/chorus-impact-study
I won’t comment on either article above, but I will say this: we are a singing congregation. In last week’s article I stated that “The choir is not the leader of worship; they are enablers. And that hymns belong to the people….the congregation, and not to the choir.” Choirs will continue to exist. Some will thrive, some will fail. In church, and in the community. But a church with a vision and a focus on quality worship will have a choir, if they chose to do so.
Not every church has to have a choir. But we do; five choirs, in fact, and we are blessed to be part of an amazing history of music in this little corner of Connecticut at First Congregational Church in Greenwich. And it is because of your dedication and love of singing that we have outstanding music each Sunday.