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 ...

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