Sacred Music Concerts Can Boost Worship
Worship is the highest priority of every church. Believers offering the best of their intellect and the most vulnerable aspects of their emotions to God for God’s glory is our response to Jesus’ mandate that true worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth. As musicians, we have the opportunity to help the church worship with the beauty of sound in spirit coupled with the language of truth.
Worship for everyone is enriched when energy outside the structure of worship is used to focus on special aspects of worship. Our churches do this all the time: we pray more effectively in worship when we’ve spent time in a prayer ministry outside of worship; we are more attentive to scripture in worship when we’ve concentrated on scripture in small groups in classes; we attend retreats, lectures, and conferences all geared to help us be more engaged at doing what we do — worshipping the Lord in spirit and in truth.
Music for worship is no different. The extraordinary concentration, artistry, talent, and hard work necessary for interacting with God through music in worship requires lifelong dedication and relentless drive by every singer and player. Much as a prayer retreat makes helps us pray in worship, or a seminar helps us engage scripture more effectively in worship, concert performance helps us on Sundays. Experiencing great sacred music at the highest artistic level through concert performance is the catalyst for launching your musicians and congregation into a new level of musical engagement in worship.
Recently in my church, mention was made during each Sunday in Lent of one or most of the great seven last statements by Jesus from the cross. Subsequently, our Good Friday noon performance of Michael John Trotta’s Seven Last Words made for an emotional, deeply moving artistic experience informed by the weeks of centering our minds on the seven statements in worship during the season. The sense of revelation was palpable, as was the sense of fulfillment the following Easter Sunday morning.
Connection outside the context of worship creates greater engagement in worship. If a congregation spends a little time moonlighting as an audience for a sacred music concert, they will bring a renewed sense of understanding when they are back in congregation mode. Likewise, as your choir goes through the experience of preparing and performing a major work outside the weekly regimen of worship leadership, they will approach worship with an enhanced sense of vigor and focus.
Creating a sacred concert experience takes an extraordinary commitment of time and resources. Many general items should be considered even before selecting music:
- When could a performance date fit with our church’s calendar?
- What is the rehearsal schedule?
- Performance venue
- Should we perform in our sanctuary or large gathering space on campus?
- Is it more effective to perform in a local performance hall?
- Performing forces
- Are my choral forces adequate for a positive performing experience?
- Is this an opportunity to invite new singers to join for this performance?
- Scores, parts, hiring instrumentalists, venue rental, instrument/equipment rental, marketing, publicity, design/printing programs, transportation — all anticipated costs need to be addressed in advance
- Does funding come from the church’s budget, special contributions, dues, ticket sales, or a combination of these?
- Cooperation with the church’s overall vision
- Does the church leadership agree with you that this is the type of project that helps your church carry on it’s mission?
Discerning What to Perform
Then comes the fun work of deciding the perfect repertoire using the following considerations. These are questions that only you can answer and they reflect a sensitivity to the subjective feelings that you have as a music director:
- Language, seasonal liturgy, poetry, scripture
- Modern or historical; familiar or obscure
- What composer seems to have the organic voice of your ensemble? There should be an artistic connection where your ensemble feels a sense of intrinsic understanding of a composer’s output.
- Take a good, honest inventory of your conducting tools and make sure you have found a piece of music with which you will have artistic fulfillment.
- Think carefully about the orchestral balance, timbre, and tone; and their combination with your voices in your performance space. Every orchestrated sacred work sounds somewhat different in every space.
- What will feel complete? Not so long that it is burdensome, not so brief that you feel unfulfilled
- Musically/Artistically feasible
- Is your group set up and completely prepared to experience success as they encounter this music? The full experience from the first rehearsal to the end of the performance is a journey that should stretch — but not break — your ensemble as an artistic body.
To lift up the highest priority of the church, we need to place more energy in our musical artistry. Through experiencing concert performances of great sacred music, congregations, choirs, and all leaders in your church have the opportunity to focus their attention on the glorious gift of music. Performance outside the liturgical practice of the church helps us musically engage in worship more effectively.