Music Planning Is Like...

by Mark Stahura

Music planning, I like to tell people, is like playing 3-D chess. Most people, including pastors/ministers/priests, don’t really understand all the factors that we have to take into account when planning music:

  • Lectionary day (or chosen Bible passages, or theme): can I find something that will fit with the texts of the service?
  • Style of music: does this fit with what we can pull off, and what works in my setting?
  • Musical forces: who’s here that Sunday? Do I need anyone extra to do this piece?
  • Difficulty level: not only how difficult is this work, but how hard have we been working lately?
  • Placement in the service: am I looking for something rousing, contemplative, stirring, or …?
  • Familiarity: do I, or does my ensemble already know this piece? Do they know something else in the style or by the same composer?
  • Available: do we already own this, or how can I get copies (for what cost)?

Taking all of these factors into account, simultaneously, is the puzzle we have to sort through every time we sit down to do music planning. And we all know how much it matters, because I, the musicians involved, and the whole congregation will be nourished or bored or frustrated or excited by the choices I make. No wonder we get paid the big bucks, eh?

I even use Prelude just for ideas. I might not be able to use exactly what’s in Prelude’s Library every time, but the titles or composers that appear in search results almost always trigger ideas of other works. What a time-saver.

That’s why we built Prelude the way we built it. Between the search and the filters you can get focused really quickly on just the works that might fit the bill, in the 3-D world we live in. Sure, Prelude can’t monitor and display whether your choir is getting burned out, or if unexpected events will derail your practice time, but it can sure help you balance all of these factors better than any site or store out there.

Try this: estimate the hours you spend doing music planning each year. Multiply that by a professional (and yes, realistic – sigh) rate of pay. Take ¼ of that figure, to represent the time you’d save with Prelude. I bet the result is a lot more than $79, which is the annual cost for Prelude. I bet $79 is a very small fraction of the value of the time you “spend” doing music planning. Imagine using that extra time for practice and music prep – the fun stuff. Your time is worth it.


Mark Stahura is Director of Music at St. Clement's Episcopal Church, St. Paul, MN, in addition to working as Director of Digital Resources and Publishing Systems at Augsburg Fortress. He is looking forward to leading the St. Clement's Choir to sing a week of Evensongs at Durham Cathedral in the fall of 2014.




Posted on Apr 1, 2014 3:09:18 PM
Filed Under: Planning,

Mark Stahura

Written by Mark Stahura

Mark Stahura is the Director of Music at St. Clement's. His academic background includes a Bachelor's degree from Carleton College, a Master's in Choral Conducting from Indiana University, followed by a Doctorate in Music History and Theory from The University of Chicago. An academic career was not to be, so Mark has held day jobs in retail, marketing, fulfillment, strategy, and now web development. His current (and very happily long-term) day job is as Senior Director of Digital Resources and Business Intelligence at Augsburg Fortress, the publishing house of the ELCA, where he oversees both the building and ongoing life of web software for churches, web stores, blogging sites, marketing sites, and digital publishing tools, and also market research and sales analysis for the company.