Plan, program, plan, program.
This endless road lies ever before us church musicians. It’s easy to get “stuck in a rut.” How many times have you planned that all too familiar choral anthem this year just because your choir knows it well? (Trust me, your congregation is catching on.) How often do you resort to the same two or three composers just because their music is accessible and readily prepared?
Now there’s nothing wrong with these scenarios, but it’s important that we music directors take a long hard look at our programming habits to see if we’re serving our musicians and congregants in the best way.
When was the last time you tackled an unknown piece or researched a new composer’s hymn arrangements? Introducing 2-3 new pieces to your musicians and congregants each quarter is a healthy habit.
I know you’re in love with that composer and that piece of music! Trust me, I have my favorites. But it’s important to branch out and program new music.
Here are 5 reasons why –
1.) Programming New Music points to God’s Everlasting Beauty and Endless Creativity.
Creatio ex nihlio, the Latin phrase meaning “creation out of nothing,” says a lot about the way in which God created the heavens and the earth.
Imagine an artist staring at her bright white canvas just before filling it with vibrant red, orange, and purple paint. Imagine the composer looking at his blank manuscript paper filled with textured staves just before layering small black music notes on every line. In a grander way, God filled the great black nothingness with dynamic, radiant light.
Programming new music is a testament to His creativity and the beauty of His creation.
2.) Programming New Music Energizes and Inspires Congregants and Musicians.
In his seven rules for congregational singing, John Wesley states,
Sing Lustily – and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half-dead or half-asleep; but lift up your voice with strength.
Have you ever participated in or led worship services seemingly filled with half-asleep congregants? I have. It’s a sad and somewhat awkward experience. Unfortunately, too many congregations suffer from this half-dead syndrome.
An artfully constructed and well-presented song, hymn, or instrumental piece can ignite passion and infuse a healthy dose of exuberance in a sleepy congregation.
3.) Programming New Music Challenges Musicians in a Healthy Way.
Your musicians are not going to grow if they’re always presenting the same music. But the strategically placed challenge of a new piece can help improve their musicianship.
Modern hymn arrangements often contain lush, colorful harmony and florid musical gestures. Elements like these can positively contribute to a chorister’s inner ear. Most contemporary praise and worship songs are infused with a sophisticated helping of syncopation, aiding musicians in their overall development.
4.) Programming New Music Strengthens and Serves the Worship Community.
Composers and arrangers are some of the kindest people on the planet. They approach their craft with a sincere heart, often dedicating their compositions to others. Partnering with living composers through commissioning and programming their music strengthens the bond between the church and composers.
Last Summer, Eastminster Presbyterian Church of Marietta (my church), invited Jeremiah Jones, a prolific singer-songwriter, to give a concert of original music. He also worked with the church musicians and led Sunday morning worship. It was inspiring to hear the stories behind his songs.
Our congregation and musicians walked away genuinely appreciating and understanding Jeremiah’s music. The worship community was strengthened and served in a meaningful way.
Sentiments on the act of singing new songs fill the book of Psalms. Psalm 96:1 reads,
Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Psalm 40:3 proclaims,
He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.
There are many new testament references to singing as well. Revelation 5:9 states,
And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.”
And Revelation 14:3,
They sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders.
We church musicians have a responsibility to program music that leads to passionate worship. Programming new music points to God’s beauty, and creativity inspires congregants and musicians, healthily challenges musicians, strengthens and serves the worship community, and is Biblical.
I’m not saying you should only program new music. But sprinkling a new piece here and there is a sign of good programming and will have a positive effect on your music and worship ministry.
Thanks for taking the time to read this post! Listen, I want to give you a couple of FREE resources.
I’ve curated a list of some of my favorite traditional and contemporary choral pieces crafted by wonderfully creative composers and arrangers. I’ve also uploaded the sheet music to my arrangement of Amazing Grace for flute and piano.
These resources are FREE to you! Scroll down for information on how to download the resources.
I look forward to getting to know you!