One of the most exciting things for me, and I’m certain all ministers of music, is to welcome a new singer to the  choir.  I love to watch those who have been with me a while encourage the new singer, show them “around,” help them find music, introduce our guest to those who will be sitting around them, etc.  I will always make a formal introduction and give them there “Welcome Snicker Candy Bar” and we jump right into rehearsing.

The past couple of evenings, I  had the opportunity to work the the choir of the Union Baptist Church in Winder, Georgia.  Brian Faglier and his wife, Lynn,  have lead the music in that fine church for sixteen years.  This is  great choir and I had a blast.

Monday evening I worked with sopranos and altos and Tuesday with the tenors and basses.  We had a great time as we “woodshed” their individual parts preparing their music for the fall.  On Monday evening, after working a a couple of songs, a lady with a very good voice ask the question, “What do you mean, resolution?”  (I had been talking about the altos resolving a particular chord.)  This prompted other questions from others.  After a few explanations about resolution, where to find their parts, when to repeat, etc, “the light came on.”  Of course, as a guest, I had no way of knowing who were veterans to music and who were new to choir.  The lady who asked the question was brand new and  had she not been bold enough to ask the first question, she may have not only been “lost” the entire evening, but because I had not been sensitive to the needs of new singers, she might have simply not returned.  (Brian would probably have not asked me back to work with the men the next night or worse yet, would not have taken me for coffee….)

Gratefully, she DID ask the question, I was able to explain,  she had a great time, and no doubt will become an active member of the choir.  It has, however, caused me to do some “meditating” the past few hours. Those who know me, know that I have been at it for over fifty years and always have made it a point to consider that my choirs are made up of very experienced singers as well as people who are just beginning their musical experience.  However, in my zeal to teach notes, I forgot to consider who was in the room.  There is nothing wrong with not knowing, but there is something major wrong if the environment is not conducive to ask questions.  I wonder how many people have attended only one rehearsal…..

I have openly been critical of Christians who use “church language” around non-church people and of churches using “church talk” around people who have hardly ever been to church and then wonder why they are turned off.  Years ago  I remember going to the northern part of the USA,  commissioned by the Home Mission Board,  to work in “unchurched” areas.  I was singing in a struggling church attempting to organize not only S.S., but TU, WMU, BH, RA’s, GA’s, Pot Luck, offering EE and CWT when the people around the church weren’t even certain who Baptists were, much less, Southern Baptists, and as my friend Clyde Chiles would say, they  may have known Jesus only as a grotesque figure on a stained glass window.  The local folks weren’t dumb, but they didn’t need all of that, they simply needed Christ.  We don’t have to “dumb down the Gospel,” but we do need to speak the language of the people with whom we are attempting to communicate.

The previous paragraph is of major significance and maybe another time I might expand on that, but the point of this “essay” is to remind music ministers/leaders that 95% of our singers don’t have degrees  music, are not seeking degrees in music, don’t really care about secondary subdominants, nor the name of the composer’s pet.  Generally they are there because they love to sing and our job is always to affirm them, encourage them, and lead them with clear language.  We don’t need to talk down to them, we just need to make sense to them.  (This makes me think of another topic for another essay, I firmly believe non-Christians and non-church members should be welcomed and part of a local church choir.)

How many times have I asked my doctor to “hold on a minute, put this in words I understand.”  That is not be being a jerk nor does it mean I am stupid, but I’m not a doctor, I just want to make certain I know what is going on in or on my body.  I have been blessed with doctors who, for the most part, have been very accommodating.  I don’t know much about medicine, but generally, my doctors don’t know a great deal about music.  (There are some exceptions, however.)

We all have men and women in our choirs who are skilled in countless disciplines that I know nothing about.  If I ever am in the position that I need to know how set a broken leg, drive an over the road truck, assemble a drive train on a John Deer, make glass, etc,,  I would home my instructor will speak to me clearly, patiently, graciously, and eagerly.

With all this said, I’ve got to get ready for rehearsal.  I am sure looking forward to welcoming some new singers tonight…….  I am really enjoying partnering with Level Grove Baptist during this interim time.  Yes, I’m a working on Christmas Celebration 2014.

(I hope things are spelled correctly. I can’t find Spell-Check…)

Great Opportunities

This morning I am studying scores for a choir retreat at Union Baptist Church in Winder, Georgia.  My good friend, Brian Faglier, is minister of music. Brian is a fantastic musician with a great spirit and heart for ministry.  He is the “keyboard man” for the Sons of Jubal and has a great understanding of how to make the electronic keyboard amazingly effective in worship and accompanying.  I am truly honored to be asked to partner with him in this retreat.

As I study and prepare this music, I am taken with what I know to be so true, the Gospel is the Gospel in any spoken or musical “language.”  Some of these songs are brand new to me, yet I am experiencing the passion for Christ in the texts and in the musical scores.   Brian has taken the time to seriously consider each song and its place in worship.  Though these choral pieces are arranged for corporate worship, they are a great blessing to me personally as I sit at my desk alone.

Retirement is not quitting work, at least for me.  For me, retirement is simply allowing me to spend time doing what I do best, the part of ministry I love most, spending time with the Lord, with people, and leading choirs and orchestras without the responsibility and “busy work” of the full time minister of music.

I can “talk to a brick,” but so far God has given me  plenty of people to visit and get to know in our “new world.”  I have a great group of men that I drink coffee with each morning.  Men from all walks of life around the same table.  Some saints and some …..  This is exactly what the the church and from my perspective, the church choir  should be.

There are people everywhere that need a friend and many Christ.  I met a young 23 year old man in a local business this week.  As I often do, I ask, “Do you sing in a choir?”  If I hear, “No,” I follow with, “Should you?”  So often the answer is ….”Well, I did when I was  younger,” or “I guess I ought to.”  This was the case with this young man.  I found that his folks were gone and apparently he doesn’t have many folks around him.  I am praying and encouraging him to come sing with me.  As Captain York would say, “The woods if full of ’em.”  All we need to go is go get them and love them.




The role of the church choir and orchestra

This is the first of probably many posts concerning the role of the church choir and orchestra.  Many of my references will be choral, but most apply to the orchestra as well.    I don’t  know how many choirs I have led over the past fifty years, but I have served as staff minister of music in thirteen churches and directed  probably a couple of  hundred choirs over my “road” years and in other special programs.  I don’t know that I am an “authority,” but I think I have grasp some dynamics of the church choir.

There are countless silly insignificant and sometimes humorous stories about church choirs, but this discussion is the substantive role.  This monologue  barely scratches the surface of all the magnificant dynamics and ministry of church choirs, but it is at least a start.

I have no beef with  Praise Team worship leadership. I understand its role and  have seen it extremely effective; however, my calling and skills are more directed to the choir.  The church choir offers an avenue for great and even average singers to use their gifts to worship that is not afforded them in a Praise Team led church.  My daughter, obviously raised in the home of a minister of music, as an adult was once a member of a 17,000 member church and there was no place for her to sing and use her musical gifts.   (There is a separate discussion , even argument,  here whether the ability to sing or play an instrument is a spiritual gift, but for certain, it is a way to exercise spiritual gifts.)

I have seen first time singers of all ages blossom not only musically, but spiritually through the choir and orchestra. I have seen many people come to know Christ by singing and playing.  I understand the argument that only believers and even sometime only church members should sing or play, but I approach the music ministry as an “entry point” for seekers as well as a place for mature believers.

The following is the first of several discussions about the specifics of choirs and orchestras.

Perfection is not reality, but EXCELLENCE is.  Every choir can be “excellent” in their own context.  I get so irritated when I hear,  “This musical style is good while another is bad.”   GOOD MUSIC IS IN THE EAR OF THE LISTENER!!!!!   I certainly learned this while on the road.  I’ve experience glorious spiritual encounters in churches singing and play the classics and I’ve had equally powerful experiences when the style was Southern Gospel.  I’ve led choirs in spirituals where “God got all over us,” and I have lead choirs in oratorio where “the glory so filled the place…”

There are multiple verbal languages.  There is nothing inherently WRONG with any language.  Our missionaries study new language, not a new gospel, so they can communicate the love Christ.   When they return home to share at home, they speak English because we prefer our native tongue, but there is nothing wrong with Spanish, French, German, etc.  We simply “prefer” what we understand best.

The same is true with musical languages.  Of course, I have my preferences, but there is nothing “wrong” with Traditional Hymnody, Praise and Worship, Country, Southern Gospel, Classical, Metro, etc.  Each musical language/style/genre communicates and  can be done excellent within its own context.

Before I leave this discussion, a few  years back  I read from a prominent contemporary author of whom I have great respect, that a church “must decide who you are” and the musical style should be singular.  I understand what he was saying and that has proven true in some settings, HOWEVER, in the churches I have served through the years have been multi-generational and generally multi-cultural, multi-economic, and multi-educational, and multi-racial.  For me, I have never felt led to focus on one, as the Southern Baptists like to call, “people group.”  I want want to be able to communicate with my music to everyone who I encounter.  It takes work, study, constantly stretching, and learning, but it can be done.  Locking in to one style would be fairly easy and to be honest, there are times I want to retreat to that world.  I’m not that great a musician and it really takes work, but I know this is what God has called me to do.  (By the way, I have no beef with those who lock in to one style, if that is how God has led them.  Some of my closest friends are Southern Gospel Singers and other close friends are classical musicians.

THEREFORE, heart has been for my choirs, orchestras, and overall music ministries use a wide variety of music languages and my singers and players have reflected great diversity.  My last choir had eighteen year olds as well as folks in the eighties.  My approach really stretches my choirs, but I ask them to respect the musical languages and become “multi-lingual.” I don’t ever remember losing a choir member over the issue, though I did lose a trumpet player one time because he said it was too much work.

Our primary role as church musicians and church choirs is to “lift up Jesus,” to “exalt Almighty God,” to lead God’s people in worship and be a witness to unbelievers.   However, in the process of doing the above, we must strive to do our best, sing and play well, to blend, to balance, sing and play in tune;  my dear friend Jim Woodward so often would say, “God likes right notes.”

to be continued….




The day after the first…

Today is the day after my first Sunday at Level Grove.  We had a wonderful time and the folks were very gracious.  Now I find myself sitting in the office seeking the Lord’s leadership in planning the worship services for the remaining Sundays in July and into August.  Fifty years ago my role was to simply “fill in the blanks.”  Today, however, as I have grown in my understanding of my faith and ministry, it is a totally different thing.  I certainly don’t criticize the way we did it back then.  I may have not had the understanding of the focus and flow of a worship service, but  I did love Jesus and my heart was to encourage others to love Him too.  Yet, “in my old age,” I have learned there is so much more that can be done for services to be engaging and effective.

Taking the time to pray and seek what the Lord wants us to do when we gather is the key to it all.  Studying the scripture focus of the service followed by considering the fast amount of music available, determining who is available to sing and play,  and considering the crowd and the setting is vital.   Leading people in worship is a serious and often an awesome responsibility that I take quite seriously.  With the pressure to sing the “latest and greatest,” I never apologize for singing a great old hymn or gospel song that has a proven record of ministry.

Well, I’d better get back at it.

New Ministry at Level Grove

After a couple of months “off,” tomorrow morning, July 6, I will begin as interim music ministry at Level Grove Baptist Church in Cornelia, Georgia.  Level Grove is just about fifteen minutes from our new home in North Georgia.  This is a strong church with a great Christ-centered music ministry and a long musical heritage.

I have kept my  ears open the past month or so, ever since I knew I was going to Level Grove, and this church has a great reputation.  I am honored to partner with Pastor Brian James and the Level Grove family we “lift up Jesus” in this great community and as they seek their next full-time minister of music.

My heart is not to “maintain” the ministry during this interim time and it is obvious this is the same heart as the music leadership.  Our goal for the months ahead is to grow the ministry, reach out to gifted people, encouraging them to join with us, use their gifts, and sharpen their skills.  To seek out people who have a long history of music ministry as well as people who may have never been part of a church choir or orchestra.  Our desire is to encourage and engage the church in worship and be a witness of faith to unchurched and unbelievers.

All State

Today I visited seven of my former students from the music ministry of FBC Statesboro at the Georgia Baptist All-State Choir and Orchestra rehearsal in Toccoa. Saturday morning, these students with over one hundred of their peers will head for Baltimore and Washington DC for concerts and mission projects.

I am so honored to have been part of these students lives through the years as they have sung and played with the FBC Music Ministry while I was Minister of Music.

One of the greatest joys of retirement is that I am thrilled to connect with students, like these, who served with me as long a forty-five years ago. What a joy to connect with there dear friends, most of which are parents and some grandparents. I would love to know how many have sung and played with me these past fifty years, I know the number is in the thousands.

Thank you Father, for the marvelous joy of singing/playing and teaching others to sing/play in worship.