If you’ve read this blog at all, I’m sure you’ve noticed that I care deeply about choral singing, not merely because I enjoy making music, but because I wholeheartedly believe that singing together is foundational to human community and central to Christian communion.
Anthropologists suggest that singing is perhaps even more ancient than speech. Biblically, we see that man’s first recorded words in Genesis represent both creativity and community; from the first instatement of human community — when Adam first beheld Eve — there was poetry and, I believe, song.
We see such instances of song throughout Scripture as a whole, too, from the songs of the Exodus to the Psalms to Mary’s Magnificat and Simeon’s Nunc Dimmitus. Indeed, the end and recreation of all things will resonate with glorious cries of “Holy, Holy, Holy.” It seems clear that human beings are intended to be singing creatures, particularly when moved by the Spirit and engaged with one another. We are told in Ephesians to “address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” suggesting that music is a particular mode of manifesting and reinforcing our Spiritual communion. (See my paper “On Choral Communion” for a more detailed analysis/explanation.)
Despite the clarity with which human community and Christian communion compel singing together, church choirs are on the decline. Those who sing in church choirs are often more advanced in years and more used to a traditional style of worship that is rapidly fading. Younger generations, it seems, are increasingly distanced from choral engagement in the Church. I suggest that this decline is not because church choirs are no longer valuable, but because we have lost touch with why they are invaluable.
I’ve been thinking deeply and delightedly about choirs all my life and it is impossible to convey their importance in a single post. However, I believe it is worthwhile to share just four reasons why your church — whether contemporary or traditional — should incorporate some sort of choral program alongside bands and solo leaders.
- Participation in Worship: I recently observed a student stressing over whether she would be good enough to rejoin her church worship team. While I believe that musical excellence honors God, I struggle with the idea that those who want to actively assist in worship may not be permitted to do so due to limited places in the band. In a choir, however, there is space for the best and brightest singers to share their gifts, as well as for others to practice and grow in the Christian call to song with less chance of exclusion. I do not have the strongest voice, but I recognize that singing in choirs has helped me to actively participate in worship and to develop my own leadership capacities.
- Practice in Fellowship: Studies have shown that, even in secular choirs, members’ heartbeats begin to synchronize as they sing and breathe together. Singing, too, is vulnerable, and when we join together in song, we share a precious part of ourselves with one another. When Christians sing together, we not only express our shared faith and mission, but practice our shared breath and, through this, image and proclaim our shared Spirit. Regular rehearsals and services further strengthen the bond of choirs and thus, when a choir leads the worship in an organized service, it is not only modeling musical harmony but Christian harmonia.
- Perpetuation of Tradition: Beginning in Genesis and reinforced throughout scripture and history, singing has been integral to Christian community, formation, and life. Paul further emphasizes this in his letter to the Ephesians, and I believe that choral singing is perhaps the most effective mode of fulfilling this exhortation. Whereas worship bands may lead excellently and powerfully, choirs more easily lend themselves to singing “to one another” and encouraging one another in song. Further, choral music (such as hymns, anthems, and liturgical responses) perpetuate an artistic tradition gifted to us by Christians who came before us, and to value these in our worship is to continue in a communion that stretches through time.
- Proclamation of the Kingdom: This final point is a summary of the first three, rendering it by far the most significant. When Christians sing together in a choir, they have the beautiful potential to image the diverse unity — the harmonia and koinonia — of the Kingdom. Just consider the power of many distinct voices sharing and celebrating truth, encouraging one another in goodness, and combining in harmonized beauty! The Kingdom itself will be something of a celestial choir, for in it we will find the fullness of praise and the truest realization of communion as we sing together in antiphony: “Holy, Holy, Holy!”