Chorus capers


"Thank heavens for some sanity" he said. "I was at a Baptism Service last month that lasted for two hours. It started at 9.30am and we were still singing at 11.30am. We had to put up with neck straining, blurred, vibrating overhead projections, of mindless, repetitive choruses." I didn't have the heart to ask him what church it was. I didn't want to know.

The musical formula of the moment is the chorus. Some years ago it migrated from Sunday School and Youth fellowship and invaded our church services. Of course, the chorus does have a place in worship, particularly as a throw-away piece of thematic music that has emerged from the life of the congregation. Especially if it is a local composition. Yet for many churches, the chorus has now replaced substantial church music.

The prime justification for the use of choruses is that it makes church music accessible to outsiders. So churches now adopting the church growth model (the pseudo church model) have all wheeled in their high-tech overhead projectors, automatic screens over the sanctuary and musically mundane choruses. Somehow they believe that there are millions of people out there just waiting to sing this stuff.

Now, I don't really want to make it too easy for my "Church Growth" mates, so we will keep this observation between ourselves. Those in the "accessing" business have assumed that people like to sing choruses. Two things have prompted this false assumption. First, young people, coming through Sunday School and fellowship, like to sing choruses. Yet, we need to remember that many years ago we took children out of the worshiping church community and taught them chorus singing. Just because they were enculturated into the chorus doesn't mean it is a generally accepted musical form. Second, in the Charismatic churches they certainly sing choruses, but they are designed, performed and sung, to lead into spiritual ecstasy - singing in the Spirit. Again, a Black revivalist musical form is not a generally accepted musical form.

In truth, the adoption of a "soft Charismatic" service style (lots of choruses) is not only inappropriate for a mainline (especially liturgical) church service, but is actually off-putting for unchurched people. Most people these days don't like to sing, they like to watch. For a service to be "accessible", the music needs to be performed by singers, a quartet, or a choir. People like to sit and watch through the keyhole and see the mystery unfold before them. They don't like participating in the drama, they don't like getting up on the stage. If they have to sing, there is one musical form they can easily handle, and it is the hymn.

So, the "accessers" have it wrong, but we'll let them stew in it for a while.