The topic of music in the church is considered a “hot button” issue. In writing this, I am not trying to spark a controversy; rather, I would like to share with you my own evolution where music is concerned. Some people will be able to identify with me while others won’t have a clue as to what I’m talking about.
When I was a small child, my first introduction to music was the music of Ron Hamilton. The Adult Choir of the church I attended always sang songs from Majesty Music. The Children’s choirs always sang Patch the Pirate songs. The congregational singing was always hymns. The only instrumentation that was used were the piano and organ. I began singing in church when I was very small. I was so small, that I can remember that a special stool was put behind the pulpit whenever I was supposed to sing, so the congregation could see me better. I usually sang hymns or songs from Patch the Pirate. I always loved music and singing!
As I was growing older and reaching my teenage years, my family started going to an IFB church that used Southern Gospel (SG) music. That church was considered to be “liberal” because of their choice of music. I liked the music. It was upbeat and lively. The organ and piano were still the only instruments that were used, but they were played in a fast-paced way. I continued singing in church. I had started taking piano lessons a few years before, so I was able to play for some offertories at church.
When I reached college-age, we moved our membership to another IFB church. In addition to the piano and organ, this church used guitars. I had never heard guitars used during the worship service before, but I quickly grew to like it. It added an interesting dimension to the congregational singing. We sang hymns, SG and also some songs from Patch the Pirate.
Upon leaving the IFB denomination, I started attending a large Southern Baptist Church. It was a bit of a culture shock in the area of music! The church used SG and Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) for the special music. People used tracks that had all manner of instruments accompanying their singing. They also had background vocals. I had been used to all music being “live.” Hearing people use sound tracks was very new to me. The congregational singing was also different. We sang hymns, some CCM and some choruses. The instrumentation was piano, organ and guitars, but they also added flute and violin.
Because I love to sing, I joined the Adult Choir as soon as possible. I was also able to sing some special music. The choir used sound tracks. Never before had I sung with a sound track, but I did not mind. I was singing with a group and if that’s what the choir director and the rest of the group wanted to use, who was I to say anything about it? When I sang special music though, I played the piano and sang most of the time. On occasion, one of the church’s piano players would accompany me.
After I had been to this new church for a few months, they brought in a drum set to be used during the congregational singing. To be honest, I was very uncomfortable with that. As I worked it out in my own mind, I realized that the SG artists use pianos, guitars, drums, etc. They also traveled around to different concert venues (some of them churches) to perform their music. If they could do it and SG music was something that was sanctioned by some sectors of the IFB, then what was so wrong with using drums during a church service?
After I had been going to this church for a few months, I started seeing notices in the church’s bulletin for a new Choir Director for one of the Children’s Choirs. I thought about it for a few weeks. I had been a member of Children’s Choirs when I was a child. I had helped in a Children’s Choir when I was in college. I had a musical background. I kept getting the feeling that I was supposed to volunteer for the job. When I talked to the church’s Music Minister, he agreed to let me be the new Children’s Choir Director. (I have jokingly told him before that since I was the only one who came to him, he probably knew he would have to take what he could get. He has assured me that as soon as I talked to him, he knew I would be the right person for the job.) As we talked about my music preferences I told him that I was familiar with Patch the Pirate and SG. I was surprised to learn that he was also familiar with Patch the Pirate and even had some of their books in his office. I wanted to start out teaching the kids from something that I was familiar with. He wisely counseled me to start out with something the kids would be familiar with, which was CCM. I was still learning the songs and choruses. I was hesitant, but took his advice and started learning more about that type of music, so I could teach the kids. We used sound tracks exclusively, for that first year. It helped that I had been singing along to sound tracks with the Adult Choir.
By the time the second year rolled around, I knew a bit more about what I was doing. I incorporated some hymns into the music that we did in class. Some of the kids did not like it as much at first, but as we kept going through hymns and CCM, they learned to like them a little bit more. I also incorporated more “live” music into the program that year. Some of the ladies who played the piano for the services, played for some of the Children’s Choir Specials. Most of those types of specials were done with Patch the Pirate materials. I still have many of the books and cassette tapes from when I was growing up. So, I was able to teach the kids a wide variety of Christian music for the six years that I directed Children’s Choir.
Something that I was completely appalled about was choreography. I had always associated choreography with dancing. The church wanted the Children’s Choirs to put on two musicals each year–one at Christmas and another in May for the end of the year. (We took a break from the Choir during the summer.) Each musical used choreography. I am not a dancer. I have never danced and definitely never seen anyone dance in a church musical. I was literally scared that I would have to teach the kids how to dance. Thankfully, my assistant for that first year, offered to be the choreographer. I was very glad because I could then focus on the music and drama portions, both of which I was familiar with. As I watched my friend work with the kids and teach them the choreography moves, I was again faced with the fact that what they were doing was not wrong. Most of the choreography was just different hand-motions. I could remember singing songs with hand-motions in my Children’s Church when I was younger and also when I worked in Children’s Church. We sang songs like “Deep and Wide,” “Zaccheus,” “Father Abraham,” etc. This was basically the same thing. Once in a while, a particular song called for a little more foot movement, but for the most part, it was just hand-motions. I had to ask myself, if choreography was so wrong, then why did I do it as a child in my IFB church? Why is it okay to teach kids some hand-motions to use while singing in Children’s Church, but it’s not okay to use in front of the Adults?
After my first year, my assistant became the Director of the other Grade School age Children’s Choir. (The church had three choirs. There were two for the 1-6 grades and a preschool choir.) We still worked together on every musical. I directed the drama and music portions of the program and she directed the choreography. Some of the songs that we did were greatly enhanced by the choreography. I can remember one musical in particular where the kids were getting in a “time machine” and they took the audience to different decades…the 40’s, 50’s, 70’s, 80’s, etc. Each time period had a song that went with that time period and some choreography to go along with it. That was definitely one of the best musicals that I have ever directed!
Since November of last year, I have been going to a much smaller SBC church. They mainly sing hymns; however, they are starting to sing more CCM as well. The only instrumentation that is used is piano, organ and guitar. But, the church has acquired a set of drums, and will most likely start having drums be used on a regular basis. I have no problem with that.
When I sing special music at my new church, I nearly always play the piano to accompany myself. A few weeks ago, I volunteered on a Sunday morning, to sing that Sunday night. (The group that was supposed to sing that night, was not going to be able to.) I practiced many different songs at my piano that afternoon. Nothing seemed to work. I have a few sound tracks that I keep on hand in case I should ever need them. After listening to one of them, I instantly knew the song I was supposed to sing. I had never sung a solo with a sound track until that night. It was a little awkward for me, but I enjoyed it. I will probably give myself a break once in a while and let a sound track be my accompaniment. I still love to play the piano, so I won’t give that up entirely.
My musical journey has been long. My eyes have been opened to many things that I never thought I would experience. I have confronted things that I was taught were “just not done” in church. To my knowledge, no Scriptures exist that tell us exactly how music should be played in a church setting. I know that most of the time, it is the pastor’s own preferences that set the precedent. For myself, I enjoy listening to SG, CCM, and every once in a while, a Patch the Pirate tape.