The old adage is, “To have a friend, you must be one.” The same goes for respect... Read More
No matter how the congregation is accompanied, nothing should detract from their offering of praise... Read More
by Vern Sanders
Even though the church choir has been under attack for a generation, Creator publisher Vern Sanders explores 4 reasons why choirs are still a critical part of worship ministry...
14890 Views 14 Comments 5 Shocking Truths About Director-Accompanists
Unexpected discoveries about the role of a director-accompanist...
12289 Views 20 Comments Funny How Time Slips Away
Vern Sanders examines the state of worship wars, and finds that while the battlefield is very bloody, there is hope for the future.
11124 Views 43 Comments Lessons from 40+ Years as a Choir Director
10 Important Lessons Learned from 40+ years as a Choir Director
8471 Views 0 Comments Think like a television producer
If you think like a TV producer you can make any worship service flow more smoothly
8076 Views 7 Comments Focus on the Ministry You are Really In
3 Ideas to improve the effectiveness of a ministry
7497 Views 1 Comments Conductors as Educators
Good teachers know this: Don’t lecture; offer experiences. We learn best by doing and while having fun. The choir rehearsal is just the place for this...
6908 Views 0 Comments Lessons from 40+ Years of Working with Pastors
7 Important Lessons Learned in 40+ years of working with Pastors
6748 Views 2 Comments Music-Ministry-Equal Pay: Pick Two?
Is a leader's service a simple choice of ministry versus equitable pay? This article contains tools to help a church and its leadership understand the implications of the choices.
6478 Views 0 Comments A Call for Better Music
Creator magazine publisher Vern Sanders issues a call to music publishers to provide better music for the church.
6015 Views 41 Comments 8 Questions to Answer as a Ministry Position Applicant
8 Important Questions to ask and answer as part of your application materials for a position in music/worship ministry.
5958 Views 0 Comments What Do You Do First with a New Choir?
"What do you work on first?" is mostly choir-specific, but many of the same principles apply to a worship team, handbell ensemble, or church orchestra. I'm sure that my system is not the only way, but it has worked (many times!) for me
5825 Views 6 Comments 4 Things to Transform an Underperforming Team
Vern Sanders explains the 4 things that need to be in place to transform an underperforming team
5787 Views 2 Comments Readers Respond: Should There Be a Written Test?
A follow up to the article 8 Questions to Answer as a Ministry Position Applicant
5783 Views 0 Comments 20 Lenten Ideas
A list of 20 ideas of things that a church musician and/or worship leader might do for others by giving something extra during Lent or at any time
5751 Views 0 Comments An Invitation to Silence
There comes a point where a healthy dose of silence is not just therapeutic, it is absolutely necessary to refocus...
5678 Views 1 Comments Revisiting the Church Musician's Salary Scale
For a variety of reasons, few church music or worship professionals are paid what they are worth. This article provides context, help, and resources for those professionals...
5618 Views 0 Comments Dramatizing Mendelssohn's Elijah
A report on a project taking a work like Elijah and without distracting from the definition of the masterful music, creating a production that has renewed meaning to every listener...
5610 Views 0 Comments Lessons from 25+ Years of Being a Music Publisher
5 Important Lessons learned from 25+ years of being a music publisher
5237 Views 0 Comments We Are Family
Creator magazine publisher provides words of encouragement to those serving in church music and worship ministry...
5094 Views 2 Comments A Service of Lessons and Music for Easter
A service of lessons and music (including specific titles) that would serve any church well during the Easter season
5026 Views 0 Comments Marking and Navigating the Musical Score
Details on a 7 step process for conductors to mark musical scores
4921 Views 0 Comments It is just a Piece of Paper
Vern Sanders presents the case for why degrees matter and degrees don't matter for today's church musician and worship leader, and why the church needs to find a way to evaluate the competency of those who serve in these ministries.
4763 Views 17 Comments Lessons from 40+ Years of Being a Worship Leader
8 Important Lessons learned from 40+ Years as a Worship Leader
4749 Views 2 Comments Tenebrae - Using a Large Work in a Worship Service
A Tenebrae service which includes a large work (the Rutter Requiem) that you might use, either in whole, or modified, as fits your local situation
4720 Views 0 Comments Holy Week in the Early Church
An in-depth description of Holy Week in the early church written by noted worship scholar Robert Webber
4602 Views 0 Comments Practical Lessons from an Easter Season
A number of practical musical lessons learned by members of a music ministry over one particular Easter season
4499 Views 1 Comments Blessing+Texting=Blexting
Bless + texting = Blexting. Blexting is the act of texting someone a blessing. The question becomes one of practicality: “Are both texting and blessing topics for worship renewal or is it merely secularized spiritual gimmickry?”
4178 Views 0 Comments Coming Out of the Dark
Creator magazine's publisher Vern Sanders considers the question: how do you recruit new members for your church choir from the community without stepping on the toes of other church music programs?
3770 Views 18 Comments End of the Decade Update
A look back at popular and useful examples of Monday Morning Email
3451 Views 0 Comments Choir as a Team Sport
Vern Sanders explains how you can apply some of the same "best practices" of sports teams to your choir program
3396 Views 0 Comments The Day After Christmas
A short poem written on behalf of all those who serve in the music/arts ministry of local churches
3289 Views 0 Comments Longevity, Adaptability, and Continuing Education
Vern Sanders explains why longevity, adaptability, and continuing education are of paramount importance to today's church musicians and worship leaders
3233 Views 2 Comments Creating Margins
Creating some space between yourself and your limits is a good thing
3141 Views 0 Comments Lead By Getting Out of the Way
These days, worship leaders are in front of a congregation so often that it can easily become matter-of-fact...routine. But in that moment as you wait to enter that holy space, whether for the first time or the thousandth time, you realize that you are expected to lead, and there is nothing more that you can do except get out of the way.
3031 Views 0 Comments When You Wish Upon a Star
Wanting to be a "star" and being one is not just about wishing and hoping, or settling for a passing grade. Talent is one thing, but week after week you need to show up, and show you are a leader...
2775 Views 3 Comments Stand Up and Lift Up Your Heads
Vern Sanders reflects that there is something amazing about the power of corporate singing
2718 Views 14 Comments Revisiting Mission Statements
Vern Sanders wonders when you last looked at your mission statement, and whether you have a leadership plan
2534 Views 0 Comments Finish Like A Pro
Vern Sanders points out that finishing well -- in music and in leadership -- is as important as starting well
2437 Views 5 Comments 22 Practical Music Ministry Tips
Fred Bock and Vern Sanders provide helpful information that every church musician and worship leader needs. These are practical things that aren't generally taught in schools...
2086 Views 8 Comments Cantate Domino Rehearsal Markings
Rehearsal markings for the choral piece Cantate Domino by Hans Leo Hassler
1938 Views 0 Comments What Are You Packing Around?
Vern Sanders talks about parachutes, memory, and imagination, and how all three have an impact on everyone's leadership style...
1627 Views 2 Comments 3 Reasons to Stop Buying Mediocre Music
Vern Sanders explains why the new performance practice repertoire is probably not being written for your church group
1530 Views 5 Comments Theology Can Be Reduced to 3 Songs
Vern Sanders talks about theology, the power of music, and the trinity of hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs
1250 Views 4 Comments Choir in Modern Worship: Flexibility, Poise & Passion - Q & A
Vern Sanders answers questions that were submitted before and during the July 10, 2012 Choir in Modern Worship MasterClass event
888 Views 0 Comments Top 10 Leadership Tips from a Worship Wars Survivor - Q & A
Vern Sanders answers questions that were submitted before and during the June 12, 2012, MasterClass Top 10 Leadership Tips from a Worship Wars Survivor
799 Views 0 Comments Creator Update
an update on the state of Creator
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Starting at the Beginning...what do you do first?
We've established elsewhere that church musicians move more often than is ideal for the development of continunity and a mature program. It is a familiar theme, and there is no need to further address it here.
Except that moving means starting over. I've been asked so many times, "What do you work on first?" that I decided it would be a good topic for this article. What follows is mostly choir-specific, but many of the same principles apply to a worship team, handbell ensemble, or church orchestra. I'm sure that my system is not the only way, and it may not be the best way to begin with a new group. It has worked (many times!) for me.
Ensemble is 80% of the battle
Whether you direct a choir, a worship team, or a liturgical dance ensemble, a group of people attempting the same task have more impact if they work together. It seems so simple, but if the dancers' feet don't come down at the same time, or the worship team players can't sync with the drummer there is an ensemble problem. The most common result of an ensemble problem is messy sound. Fixing ensemble problems cleans up the sound, and, by extension, the communication. When working with a new group, the director must evaluate and fix ensemble problems quickly, or all the attention to tone, "sound," style, and almost anything else you can think of, is lost in the sound mess.
Fixing ensemble problems - Starting and Stopping
Again, this will sound so simple, but fixing ensemble problems comes down to getting everyone to play and/or sing together. That involves, at the macro level, starting and stopping together. At the micro level, it means starting and stopping any particular musical event (like an attack, or a rest, or a phrase, or a word, or a syllable) together. There is more to it than that, obviously, but just getting an ensemble to start and stop together fixes a whole lot of the problems.
How do you do that? Let's take the worship team. If the rhythm section (bass and drums, plus keyboard and/or guitar) is not together, the rest of the players have no hope of being together. Geographical proximity helps enormously. Put the bass player and the drummer close to each other, and position them so that they can make eye contact (in fact...position the whole group so that they all can maintain eye contact). Put the keyboard right there, and the rhythm guitar too. Teach everybody to listen, and start with something simple: playing whole notes, or a straight quarter note pattern. Once they can do that consistently, then add more instruments, and/or more rhythmic variety.
Singers present more complexity, because they deal with words.
Again...it is simple, but words are made up of vowels and consonants. The cardinal rule is that vowels sustain tone, and consonants interrupt tone to articulate text. Starting and stopping a group of singers together is critical to making the text intelligible. Teach the singers to work together by establishing general rules. One of those rules might be that all initial consonants come before the beat, and all final consonants are placed on the following beat. For instance, applying this rule to a word like "beat" gives this picture: b|ea|t. The "b" comes before the beat, the "ea" sustains during the duration of the note, and the "t" is placed on the next beat.
Of course it is more complicated than that, depending upon whether or not our test word "beat" is followed by another word, or a rest, the speed at which the music is moving, and other considerations. We'll talk about the vowels in a bit, but the first step is to get the consonants together. That can be a challenge for many singers in a group situation. Try taking the vowel out of the equation at the beginning, and just practice putting our test "b" and/or "t" together. A simple exercise of alternating "b"s and "t"s at regular quarter note intervals will give ample opportunity for practice of this general rule.
Fixing ensemble problems - Sustaining
Once your ensemble can start and stop together, the next step is to be able to make music in the space in between those events. For a handbell group, the attacks and damping are, in a sense, the hard parts...the easy part is letting the bell ring. It is similarly true with singers. There is just one problem with vocal groups, however: if the vowels are not all the same, the lack of uniformity will cause pitch, color, and other problems.
So while you are teaching your singers to start and stop together, work with them to sustain the same vowels together. I have my own system for that, which I'd be happy to share with you, but it doesn't translate easily to prose. I do demonstrate this at various clinics, choir retreats, and workshops around the country. Email me at the link below to ask for my schedule, or plan for me to visit your church to work with your groups.
The system is not as important as the consistency and uniformity, however. No matter how you choose to have your choir pronounce their vowels (the IPA is a great guide for pronunciation), you will need to work on the singers' ability to consistenly arrive at the same vowel at the same time...and hold it for the same amount of time.
The F Major Solution
My undergraduate choral director hated F major. His reasons were understandable: for a choir to sing in F major, all the singers in all the sections regularly have to navigate across a typical voice's break. That means regular shifts in color, and a multiplicity of vocal production issues. Combine that with the fact that most editions of early (renaissance) music (and "simpler" music for less accomplished choirs) are "conveniently" place in F major in order to print the least number of ledger lines, and you have a recurring vocal nightmare of sorts. It was his contention that most choirs simply could not sing a piece in F major in tune over a long period of time.
During the course of my conducting career, I have had ample opportunity to prove the vailidity of his theory. And I've spent a lot of time thinking about whether or not it could be solved, and if so, how to do it. I eventually turned to what I'll call the "Tary Nixon" phenomena. Tary was a fraternity brother of mine at Northwestern University. He was not a music student. But he had played the string bass in his high school orchestra. And Tary could sing an A440 at will and upon command. He claimed it was from listening to the oboe player during the tuning process every time the orchestra rehearsed. So I decided that if a choir couldn't sing F major in tune, we might be able to solve that problem by "tuning" to F major at every rehearsal.
So...for many years now, I've used a simple closed-position F major chord in my choir warm ups. Basses sing the F below middle C, tenors on middle C, altos an octave above the basses, and sopranos a third above the altos on an A. I use this chord for double duty: the primary, but never stated, purpose, is to get F major in the choir's ears. The second purpose is to sustain vowels and teach the singers to listen and match each other's vowels.
I generally start with an "oo" simply because it is easy to sing quietly, which assists in teaching listening skills. Starting from the "oo" is a decision based upon years of trial and error, though. For years, I started with "ah" because it is an open vowel, and the easiest for most singers (well...depending upon the geography of your singers' origins, of course...). During this exercise, I try to spend most of my time (after centering everyone on the "oo") on the vowel that is most prevalent in the first piece I'm going to rehearse. The "ee" vowel is frequently visited, because I've found that the "ee" is the hardest for an amateur singer to control, chorally speaking.
Over the course of a few weeks or months, every choir I've worked with can "find" that F major chord without having it played for them on the piano. This is very helpful in the course of rehearsing any amount of a cappella music, because if things go wrong, you can train the choir (by using the F major reference chord) to reposition by relating what they are singing to their F major touchstone. In fairness, you may want to use a different chord. Fine. No problem...it is the principle that I'm trying to share with you.
So that's what I start with: an F major chord to work on vowels, and some basic rules to establish the placement of consonants. It has been my experience that no matter the state of a choir's discipline in these two areas, there can always be improvement, and the improvement happens very quickly. In a church choir, I can generally demonstrate discernable improvement in a choir's communication, intonation, and clarity in less than a month...and I mean discernable to the average congregant. It is a useful "quick start" or "quick fix" that can set the tone for a director's acceptance by choir, congregation, and pastor, and pay dividends--in many other areas of music--long after the disciplines are established.
ry it and see. Then leave a comment below and let me know how it works for you. For more help in the area of choir development, I encourage you to go here
Vern has served in some form of church music and worship leadership for 40 years in a variety of denominations both in the US and in Canada. He is currently Director of Music at First Presbyterian Church, Templeton, California. He regularly consults with churches and church leaders. Click on his name above to email him.
© 2011 Creator Magazine All Rights Reserved
122 days ago
I realize this article was posted a long time ago, but I just found it. Here's a topic suggestion: What do you do with a choir with 8 members, all untrained, that averages 6 people a week and NONE of the 6 people are the same 6 people each week?
122 days ago
What do you do? You realize that you are in the majority of church choir directors around the country... Seriously though, I've found that you do your best to allow your singers - whoever they are in the room at the moment - do their best. Oh...and know a lot of repertoire, which you can find by checking out our Select20 Anthem reviews at: http://cmag.ws/2m
1 years 269 days ago
Great reminders as we prepare to launch a new season next week! Thank you for your insight! I've frequently used the hymn "My Jesus, I Love Thee" (F) for this very reason.
1 years 269 days ago
Wow! This MME will help all smaller church choir directors who are facing the enormous task of beginning a church choir! Great work.
Lessons from 25+ Years of Being a Music Publisher
by Vern Sanders
November 22, 2010
Yet More Important Things...
apologize. I made a promise to stop after last month's MME
about things I've learned from working with pastors
, because I thought it would get me in trouble. Actually quite the opposite happened. Combined with the response to August's list of things I've learned from being a choir director
, and September's list of things I've learned from being a worship leader
, there seems to be a real appreciation of these lists, so I've decided to continue to write about stuff I've learned. If you arrived here in the middle of this series of things and are not sure about my motives, I am trying to relate practical things here, not just rant, althought the temptation to do the latter is powerful at times.
In the process, of course, I am revealing something of my history, experience, and, most of all, my opinions about things. I have been blessed to be involved in church music and worship leadership in a wide variety of settings and with a similar variety of roles.
Lessons from 40+ Years of Working with Pastors
by Vern Sanders
October 25, 2010
Even More Important Things...
OK. I promise to stop after this one, because it will probably get me in trouble. People seemed to like August's list of things I've learned from being a choir director, and last month's list of things I've learned from being a worship leader, so I thought I'd tell a bit more stuff I've learned. If you've heard me speak at a conference, you know that, by and large, I like pastors. But sometimes I have had to grit my teeth.
Before this particular MME went to print, as I often do, I asked some people I trust to read it and give me their reactions. In most cases the responses went something like this: "I agree with everything you are saying, but I'm not sure you should say it." So I let it sit for a while and came back to it, intending to change what needed to be changed. And instead of changing anything, I decided to write this paragraph. The most important thing that you need to know about this week's MME is this: If you actually read this, you will realize that I am not pastor bashing here. In fact, in most of my items, I am saying let anyone who is without sin throw the first stone...and I don't expect to see any flying projectiles, and I'm definitely not throwing any. I have been blessed to work with some amazing (and some not so amazing) pastors. Pastors, like musicians, have their idiosyncracies. I would not want to be one, because the job description is overwhelming, awesome, and, at times, crushing. What follows below are compilations from (look above) 40+ years of experience, observation, and listening to both pastors and musicians complain about each other.
Lessons from 40+ Years of Being a Worship Leader
by Vern Sanders
September 27, 2010
More Important Things...
People seemed to like last month's list of things I've learned from being a choir director, so I thought I'd tell you some more stuff I've learned. Many of these things are not original...but over a lot of years they have repeated themselves often enough to be important. They have stood the test of time, so to speak, and, if you are starting out in ministry, you might want to print this list and put it somewhere that you can find it in 25 years. This is not a "ranked" list. It is just a list.
People Feel Strongly About What is Familiar to Them
Love it or hate it, people are comfortable with the familiar. There is a peace about knowing "what comes next." In these days of economic unease, life is more unsettled than it has been in recent memory, and studies are showing that the stress level of the typical human is markedly elevated.
Lessons from 40+ Years as a Choir Director
by Vern Sanders
August 23, 2010
Ten Important Things...
You will notice I didn't say that these are the Top 10 things I've learned. If there is another thing I've learned in my life, it's that the "Top" 10 things can change. So let's just say that when I sat down to write this month's MME, these were the 10 things I thought were most important to communicate to you today. Many of these things are not original. Some were told to me by older directors when I was just an angry young conductor. But these have stood the test of time, so to speak, and if you are an angry young conductor, you might want to print this list and put it somewhere that you can find it in 25 years. This is not a "ranked" list. It is just a list.
They should sing more than you talk
Most conductors are drawn to the profession, at least in part, because they think they know more than other people. They enjoy the power of leading people. And they are not afraid to share their expertise and views.
But there are only two reasons why the singers could be listening to the conductor more than they are singing:
Attitudes of the