Because music in the church is so visible—or audible—and because every person in the pew knows what he or she likes, it is difficult to get a balanced, thorough, and well-planned program going without causing controversy in some comer of the congregation. One person likes gospel music, another likes Buxtehude or Brahms or contemporary cantatas. Some people like loud electronic organ music and other people like loud pipe organ music (it seems to me that organ music is loud any way you look at it).
It’s also difficult to get any degree of professionalism in a church music program, even in larger congregations. People will pay for an organist or music director but they balk at paying other musicians even a minimal honorarium for their services. Yet it costs a great deal of money and dedication to become a good musician. If a musician wants to work in the church the chances of earning even a marginal living are slight. But there are congregations that strive to combine sound theology, musicality, and professionals with amateurs in their music programs, and they do so with a good balance of classical and contemporary music.
Thirty-two-hundred-member Christ Church in Oak Brook, Illinois (a suburb of Chicago), has such a music program. It starts at the primary grades and goes through to the adult chancel choir. In all, the church has seven choirs: primary choir for grades one and two; boys choir for grades three to eight; carol choir for grades six to eight; New Life choir for high school and college-age young people; madrigal singers, which is a choir under the auspices of the church open to non-members by audition only; and the chancel choir, made up of volunteers from the congregation plus a few strategically used professional singers. Christ Church also has a brass ensemble and a hand bell choir. Many large city churches with completely professional choirs spend two to three times as much for their music without as sophisticated a program.
The music styles range from Bach and the Baroque to Ralph Vaughan Williams and Randall Thompson in this century to contemporary gospel music. During the formal Sunday morning worship service the musical style tends to be classical; the evening service is less formal and more contemporary. The church recently installed a magnificent new Austin pipe organ, which richly supports the choir and promotes vigorous congregational singing. At its dedication the various stops and unique features of the organ were explained to the congregation—a healthy and welcome effort to educate the church about a pivotal part of its music.
The chancel choir performs several special concerts during the year: Messiah, by Handel, The Elijah, by Mendelssohn, and Amahl and the Night Visitors, by Menotti, for example. The church also sponsors a fine arts festival and this year initiated a concert series, which featured among other people Norma Zimmer and Metropolitan Opera bass Jerome Hines.
Devon Hollingsworth, the church’s fine organist and music director, and dynamic Arthur DeKruyter, the minister, work together to develop unified and biblical worship services. DeKruyter, like Bruce Leafblad in “What Sound Church Music?” in this issue (see p. 18), is concerned with excellence. Hollingsworth understands some of the frustrations that Leafblad mentions—how to please as many people as possible and still be biblical and musical, and how to get more people involved in this important part of the church’s life. Hollingsworth thinks that one of the keys is to strengthen the music program in the early grades. Grade school children will one day become adult choir members. And the more the children get interested in the musical life of the congregation, the more the parents will.
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