The Renaissance We Need

by Mark Patterson

Church music today is in need of a renaissance--a rebirth, a renewal, a fresh beginning. On too many Sunday mornings congregations hear our choirs survive the anthem of the day. While we should be beautifully expressing a worshipful text and leading God’s people to prayer, we’re busy praying that we simply get through the piece!

Why does this happen? So many reasons: we run out of time, the music is too hard, our singers are amateurs, our lead chorister didn’t show up--the list goes on. When this happens over and over, congregations begin to tune us out. Rather than preparing their own hearts for worship, they’re busy adding us to the prayer list for the week and counting the minutes until we get through whatever choral challenge we’ve placed before our group.

How do we change this? We must choose to refocus our efforts on beautiful, meaningful choral singing. Quite simply, when the musical offering we give is of the highest possible quality our choirs can begin to give new life to worship and once again deliver the texts that enliven our Sunday services.

Now, this may be surprising, but I believe that children’s choir is the best place for this kind of renaissance to occur. Why? Children learn the fastest. They are the best at trying new things. (Ever tried to teach a foreign language piece to your adult choir?) And, the results we gain with our children’s choirs will last the longest. They can carry the lessons of good musicianship we give them all the way through adulthood.

So, how do we ignite this musical revolution in our choir room? First, consider what type of renaissance you may need as the director. Attend a workshop, read a new book on choral techniques, listen to an excellent children’s choir concert or go spend a day observing a choral director that you respect. Once you are revitalized, that enthusiasm can spill over into your choir.

Next, find a piece that will allow your group to sing beautifully. A piece that is easily learned and doesn’t have too many words for your choristers to stumble over. A piece that allows children to sing in their upper register where they can make a uniquely beautiful sound. Let this be your ‘tone’ piece for the fall. Spend your time unifying vowel sounds and aligning consonants so the tone is clear. Teach your children to make a phrase and sing with the syllabic stress that the piece demands.

When we sing at “survival level” we never get to these important concepts. We’re too busy trying to remember all the words and when to come in and are just glad when its over so we can move on. Sadly, we miss a great opportunity to train young musicians. We settle instead for just teaching them a bunch of songs.

Now, at the beginning of a new choir year, simplify your program a bit. Give your choir two more weeks than you think they need to get a piece ready. Let them listen and learn and experiment with making their tone more beautiful. The future of church music is yours to inspire--help lead a renaissance of beautiful singing.

Posted on Sep 13, 2011 10:54:26 AM
Filed Under: Choral Techniques and Repertoire,

Mark Patterson

Written by Mark Patterson

Dr. Mark Patterson is a nationally acclaimed composer, conductor and teacher. He is the Director of Music at Salisbury Presbyterian Church in Midlothian, Virginia, where he leads a comprehensive music program for adults, youth and children. Mark received his PhD in Music Education with an emphasis in Choral Conducting from Texas Tech University and Master of Music and Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of Texas at Austin. He is frequently invited to conduct honor choirs and choral festivals across the United States and is often asked to lead workshops for choral directors. Dr. Patterson’s compositions comprise a rich variety of styles for the sanctuary and the concert hall. Currently he has over 200 choral works in print as well as a solo piano collection, various musicals and choral compilations, and several volumes of vocal solos. Mark has been a consistent winner of the ASCAP Award in Composition for over ten years.