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My first Sunday in my new Director of Music position was January 29th.  To get started, the choir came early so we could talk about what we wanted to do together.

And it was the choir’s suggestion!

On February 5th, this past Sunday, the choir sang during the service.

We had a brief rehearsal, which included singing the hymns and choosing another to sing as an anthem.

During our anthem rehearsal, I asked the choir to sing sentences, honoring the punctuation in the text.  Sometimes there is a comma and sometimes there isn’t!  Sometimes the thought continues where people have automatically taken a breath for years, breaking up the thought and thus the understanding.

One choir member said, “It’s just a hymn.”

I then discussed that part of the function of the choir is to lead the hymns.  And when the text means something to the choir, the congregation tends to notice, too.  When the text is meaningless, why bother singing hymns at all?

The choir took what I said and went with it during rehearsal.  I want them to step up to their leadership role.  The ratio of success in rehearsal and during the service was rather low, but we started at a higher level than I had expected.

We especially rehearsed “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” which I wanted to do as a gospel number, even with an unaccustomed choir and congregation.

At first, someone commented, “It’s too slow!”  When I mentioned that this was written in the deepest grief, and when someone feels that devastated s/he can barely speak, we continued unchallenged.

What the choir member was actually saying was that she had to take a breath in the middle of a sentence.  When someone is sobbing, it’s going to be more like taking a breath in the middle of a word!

My goal was to remove all obstacles, experience the words, and express the emotion.  This is not a piece requiring great refinement.

When I asked the minister for a minute or two to introduce the hymn to the congregation, he was all for it.

Result:  Not only did everyone sing emotionally, they truly understood what they were singing and appreciated the introduction.  Many congregants approached me after the service to continue the conversation.

And when you’re building a music program, isn’t that the point?

The pastor and many in the congregation said the choir sounded better than ever!

Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

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August 2011 review by pianist Robert W. Oliver

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