For as far back as I can recall, I have sung in choirs; more specifically, church choirs. From childhood to today, I have many distinct and pleasant memories of my participation in these structured musical communities organized around some form of transcendent purpose within the framework of Christian corporate worship or community enlightenment. I would go as far as to say that in many ways, it was through these experiences with choirs and church choirs that I formed my paradigm of worship, ministry, and choral conductorship today.
As a child attending Bolivia Baptist Church, I clearly remember standing before a gathering of adults, singing with other children and pantomiming the words, “If I were a fuzzy wuzzy bear, I’d thank You, Lord, for my fuzzy wuzzy hair. But I just thank You, Father, for making me…me!”. I loved it! Thank you, Mrs. Sandra Johnson, for teaching and directing us so that we could have that opportunity! It is one of the few memories that I have from my days at Bolivia Baptist.
As a youth attending Faith Baptist Church, a split from Bolivia Baptist (gotta love my Baptist roots!), I remember enjoying a variety of musical styles and relationships while singing in both the youth and adult choirs. Thankfully, I had received an exception from the adult choir director, Rev. L.V. Walton, that allowed me to participate in the adult choir in spite of my age. (I was about 14 years of age and most members in that choir were probably 40+ years old. To this day, I will occasionally make the very same exception for other young singers simply because of the exception that I received.) After being granted the exception, I began attending Wednesday evening service at Faith Baptist simply for the pleasure of attending the adult choir rehearsal that followed it each evening at 8PM. Thank you, L.V., for providing light to a dark season of my life! I can still remember singing on the back row between Mr. Willetts and Henry Crisco. I also still remember Mrs. Margaret pulling me to the side in one of the small rooms just off the stage (that always smelled like old sheet music and hymnals) to share with me her secret for singing when sick: suck on a lemon wedge. She had one with her that morning, already cut, and wrapped in a paper towel.
When visiting my grandparents’ church, Town Creek Christian Church, I was allowed to sing in their choir on the rare occasion that they would have one. The church was Pentecostal and their visible and verbal expressions of worship were always so exhilarating. I loved singing the song, “Get all excited, go tell everybody that, “Jesus Christ is King!””, while seeing and feeling the congregation’s and choir’s combined excitement. And when the tambourine came off the shelf inside the pulpit where the preacher, my Uncle, stored it…watch out! That was a sure sign that we were on the cusp of a Holy Spirit inspired frenzy! 🙂
Throughout my days in college, and serving at Howard’s Creek Baptist, Christ Community Church, Hickory Grove Baptist Church, and Lee Park Church, I have participated in, developed, and maintained strong choral ensembles. They transcended style and/or demographic and always enriched any non-church event or corporate worship experience.
So, where have all the church choirs gone? Why do they seem to be disappearing from our church culture, a culture that once found them plentiful and prominent? As in most searches for answers to problems, there is probably not a singular reason. In fact, the disappearance of church choirs may not even be the actual problem or, for some of you reading this, an actual problem at all. What if this shift is simply a symptom of the problem rather than the problem.
What if the question is posed this way:
What has occurred within our understanding and practice of corporate worship services that has contributed to a general diminishing or absence of a once prominent element of participative congregational worship?
What!?! You’d rather answer “Where have all the choirs gone?” 🙂 Stay tuned for “Where Have All the Choirs Gone? (Part II)”.