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The State of the Church Choir: Evolving Gospel Adult Choirs (Part 3)

Updated: Jun 8, 2020

by Dr. Barry Johnson

This will be an ongoing set of observations in a series that will examine the church choir. We will present several installments, in which I will examine categories or specific choirs, such as the youth choir, mass or adult choir, and male chorus. I will also explore the types of devotional services and the components of the choir’s contribution to the worship service.

There exists a continued need for the Gospel Choir, which is the most dominant choir in most churches.In many cases, however, it is difficult to find a choir still called the “Gospel Choir.”As Contemporary Gospel has emerged from the period of Edwin and Walter Hawkins and Andrae Crouch, through Kirk Franklin, to J.J. Hairston and other current musicians, the term gospel harkens back to the days of the James Clevelands, who represent a past period of gospel music.More contemporary or rakish titles are the Temple Choir, Sanctuary Choir, Chapel Choir, or Mass(ed) Choir.These names may seem more current; however, the aforementioned are simply modern-day gospel choirs.The persons naming these groups probably do not realize the history of a temple or chapel choir because, for the most part, these choirs perform during regular church services.Regardless of their trendier names, they remain gospel choirs.

In many churches, this form of choir (regardless of name) is the dominant choir, or only choir in the church.The age group that in the past would have constituted the senior choir is now part of this choir because of the overall lack of people participating in the church and subsequently, church choirs.As members of the once-Gospel Choir have become older, their voices have changed and are not capable of replicating the contemporary music created by younger artists with more fluid voices.Recall, the structure of church choirs was based on a graduated age and social system.Older members would move into the venerated senior choir, which would perform music that was traditional, not as difficult, and socially bound by members who were peers in age and position in the church.Newer choirs that are generally young adult groups are populated by members around twenty years and above, who do not want to sing with senior members of the church.There are older singers that do perform with these groups; but they are those that have retained a good deal of power in their voices and can still ‘stand out,’ holding their own in a sea of youthful members.

This situation creates a challenge for music directors because a chosen selection of music may divide the membership of the groups.For example, many older members would rather perform older songs of the past, or new songs based on the style of previous periods (which was ‘their’ music, reflecting the days when they were younger).The younger members of the Chancel Choir may not want to perform the ‘older’ music because they favor newer sounds and styles that represent their image.There are situations in which a director creates a senior choir by a different name, in order to perform these older songs.This energizes a group of older members that would not sing with the youth groups but find a reemergence of their talent in this scenario.What is comical is that these groups refuse to be called the Senior Choir but use contemporary names, such as the Golden Singers or Blessed Ones, because they do not wish to be considered old!How things have changed; remember, the gospel choir evolved from the senior choir, and now we see examples of senior choirs, albeit the name, evolving from the contemporary gospel choir.Nonetheless, it is in this dilemma that a savvy choir director should know how to create a balance of styles that satisfies the majority of the choir, remembering that the goal is to create a good choir, regardless of style of music.

One thing to avoid when a music director or pastor is found with an adult age-related problem is to allow the formation of similar choirs.I cannot stress the danger this will create: competing choirs that are usually formed for the wrong reasons.Each choir will be comprised of family members and cliques with opposing views and perspectives.This would be akin to a divided deacons’ ministry or two divergent pastors trying to lead the church.This arrangement of similar choirs will eventually cause tension, with the desire to perform the same type and style of music, leading to comparisons of which group has the best vocalists and a periscope of unhealthy hard feelings and jealousy.In a situation such as this. division is inevitable!Pastors and music directors should avoid this at all costs by insisting that the groups remember that Jesus is the reason for our singing and praise! The role of any choir is to minister to the congregation, and that will not occur if we are divided in our mission to praise the Lord!

Next month, we will examine Choir Festivals and Special Concerts and the need for special collaborations.

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