Joyfully, merrily, lustily?

Author: Ashley Groat

Published on: 29 December 2017

The Psalms are filled with exhortations for us to sing: most of these references are accompanied by adverbs such as ‘joyfully’, ‘merrily’, ‘lustily’.

Singing should be a happy and joyous activity, whether in church or otherwise. Articles in the weekend supplements, television talent shows, scientific studies and social media all constantly convey the message that singing is good for us, both as individuals and as communities – so we should surely be doing all we can to encourage it in our churches.

Setting up a choir may not be easy, and to pretend otherwise would be to overlook the very real challenges that many of our smaller church communities face in providing any kind of music for their worship week by week.

For all singers, but for volunteers especially, singing has to be about enjoyment. People have to want to be in a choir, and have to enjoy it when they get there. They don’t want it to be another chore in their already full week. Think, therefore, about when the best time is for a choir to meet. How can it be a social occasion, as well as a musical gathering? Why not make coffee and cake part of your weekly rehearsal? A handful of people gathered to sing in someone’s living room with a glass of wine in hand is a much more attractive prospect than a chilly and damp chancel on a Friday night! Children like to feel ‘special’ – so for them, if being in the choir means they enjoy a snack & drink at rehearsal, get to play games with friends before or after the singing, or go on the occasional outing – so much the better. Whoever is leading needs to realise that their singers are there first and foremost for their enjoyment: nothing is more likely to put them off than an over-ambitious choir master or mistress barking at them.

Think about the core aims of any singing group. Where and when is the group going to sing, and how often? What time commitment is reasonable and sustainable? What kind of music is the group going to sing? If in church, a well-rehearsed piece once a month is surely preferable to struggling through a communion anthem. Failure to judge any of these things correctly can spell disaster from the outset. Choose the kind of music that your singers want to sing, not what you or anyone else think they should be singing. And, as with anything a worshipping church community does, the focus should be on striving for excellence. Working with children, I am constantly reminded of their thirst to be challenged and their innate desire to succeed – so don’t underestimate what they are capable of, or their appreciation of doing something well. Delivering simple music, sung well, is overwhelmingly more satisfying than the opposite, both for those performing and those listening, and builds a more solid foundation from which a choir can progress.

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Ashley Groat

Master of Music Norwich Cathedral

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