Do your choirs take a break over the summer months? I know of several churches in which the choirs continue to sing all year round, but more frequently I hear of choirs being “off” for the summer. If this is the case for you, rather than viewing it as a loss, consider it an opportunity to branch out and incorporate a variety of other vocal and instrumental ensembles. Tap the home-grown musical talent in your church and community.
In addition to providing a different sound, offering a men’s or a women’s choir for one of the summer Sundays can serve as a recruitment tool for your mixed choir that sings during the rest of the year. Schedule one or two rehearsals, choose a psalm setting and/or a choral anthem, perhaps arrange a verse of one of the hymns for the day, and see what happens! Hopefully, you will get a mix of regular choir singers plus some new people who might like to give it a try and for whom the short-term commitment is very appealing. Be welcoming to new singers; keep the rehearsal positive and encouraging. You are planting seeds which may or may not take root and grow for the long term. That’s okay! You are providing a path for the Holy Spirit to move through your church in a new way.
Intergenerational music ensembles are another area for exploration. Maybe your women’s choir could instead be a treble choir (women, girls, and boys with unchanged voices).
Do you have any brass players? Think beyond the regulars that you tap for Easter Sunday—are there teenagers who play in their school band? Could you organize a group to play one Sunday, with the more experienced adult players mentoring the youth? Train these younger musicians to play hymns, leading the assembly’s song. It’s a win-win situation. Your congregation gets to have festive music on an ordinary green Sunday, and the instrumentalists get valuable experience playing for worship. Let the more experienced players do a bang-up prelude—line up some percussionists and do Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man.
Likewise, are there string or woodwind players available? Even the youngest Suzuki learner has appropriate music to offer. For more proficient players, could you pull together a string trio or quartet, a woodwind quintet, or even possibly a small chamber orchestra? If you have a few players, ask if they have musician friends who might like to commit to one summer Sunday. Music is an excellent entry point for people who are new to the church. Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Rhosymedre is a wonderful piece to do with strings; if you only have a couple of players, the organist could play the piece with the strings doubling on their parts.
Percussionists are often overlooked as soloists, but if you have a decent high school player, chances are he/she could borrow the school’s marimba and offer a fabulous prelude piece. You could also include the marimba on one or more hymns. This can be especially effective with Hispanic music.
If your church has handbells, gather a few people and have them play a quartet. There are plenty of arrangements available that do not require a full handbell choir. Include a pentatonic hymn and have the ringers do a random ring as accompaniment, or chant the psalm that Sunday with handbell chords as punctuation.
Summer is a good time to encourage duets, trios, and other small ensembles. Are there particular families with multiple musicians? Or groups within the congregation, such as a middle school or high school social group? Of course, there may also be people who would like to sing or play a solo. For instrumentalists, in addition to a solo, encourage them to play melody and/or descants along with the hymns. Your congregation will appreciate the enhancement to their song.
Summer will be here before you know it, so begin thinking, recruiting, and planning now!