Mrs. Chester has been asked to write her conviction about the soul-saving choir because both she and her choir exemplify the principles here set forth. Would that all pastors were so fortunate as to have such understanding and co-operative choirs and choir leaders! The Lord is sure to bless, and the church congregation and evangelistic audience is sure to be edified by such ministry of music. Mrs. Chester has been a Bible instructor and a teacher of voice and piano.—Editor.
What should be the purpose of the church choir? There is only one reason for its function, and that is to save souls. How should we go about organizing a choir that God can use to bring souls to Him?
First, there must be a director who is trained and skilled in musical knowledge, who understands the principles of choir directing, who has ability in organization and in "getting along" with people, and who above all this, is a consecrated, praying, God-fearing person. No matter how great one's musical ability may be, if he does not have a close walk with God, do not ask him to act as your choir director. The church board or nominating committee should give prayerful study to the qualifications of those who might be invited to act as choir director to be sure that the right choice is made.
Next, membership in the choir should not be hit and miss, but very definite study should be given to it. The choir director making the choice of members alone might make a serious mistake and do so innocently. I have learned from painful experience that I can make mistakes in this respect ; hence I am glad to consult with my music committee as to the wisdom of inviting various ones into the choir. A music committee of three or five (according to the size of the church), composed of consecrated individuals with good musical judgment, is the hest of help for a choir director. Together they should consider who ought to sing in the choir. The choir director may present the names of those he feels would be qualified to sing. They need not all be sotoists, but they should have musical ability, be able to read notes (or willing to learn), possess voices that blend pleasantly with other voices, and above this, be consecrated members of the church, living- up to all the standards that we as a people uphold. Endeavor to choose a balanced group of soprano, alto, tenor, and bass.
Choir members should be examples to the church. Any who attend the theater, dance hall, or other places of questionable amusement, who dress immodestly or in extreme, or whose deportment is in any way unchristian, should not be asked into the choir, no matter how fine their voices may be. Remember we are talking about a soul-saving choir, and a choir with unrepresentative members cannot be used to save souls. I would rather have a choir of ten earnest, consecrated, praying singers, than forty with half of them unconverted, or "on the fence." The choice of a skilled accompanist is also very important, and she (or he) too, should meet the test of consecration to God.
Definite Plans for Choir Rehearsal
Have a definite plan in mind for the rehearsal before your rehearsal begins. Jotted down notes will help you. Know the numbers well yourself, before you present them to the choir to. learn. Choose numbers that have a definite message and appeal. Ask God to help you in your choices. Be sure that the words of the anthems have a real message, and that they will be such as can be used to touch the hearts of those who listen. The simple, melodious type are usually the best.
Do not be afraid to have your choir sing a hymn occasionally. I often use a hymn, and how the listeners love it ! If you use a hymn, have a definite pattern of expression in your mind to teach to your choir. Humming a stanza, with a soloist singing the words, is a pleasant variation. In some hymns, the tenors and sopranos may exchange parts on a stanza or two with good effect. "Christ or Barabbas ?" is an example of a number that goes well this way. If your tenors are not strong enough to carry the melody alone, have the basses sing it with them, omitting the regular bass. The sopranos and altos sing very softly while the men sing the melody. Many other interesting effects can be worked out in hymns. As you study them through, ideas will occur to you.
Now we are ready for the rehearsal itself. Set a time for rehearsal to begin and begin on time ! No matter if only you, the accompanist, and one singer are present, begin. The others will soon learn that when you say, "Choir rehearsal begins at 7 :45 P. AL," you mean 7 :45, and they will respect you for it.
Begin every rehearsal with earnest prayer ! Every time I look into the faces of my choir members and know that they are looking to me for guidance, a sense of my need of God overwhelms me, and I am so glad that I can raise my heart to Him for wisdom, and that He will not fail me. Invite God's presence to attend the rehearsal, and guide in the singing of songs that will save souls for His kingdom. If you are not in the habit of doing this, begin at once, for how can you hope to have a soul-saving choir unless you take God into partnership ? Urge your singers to remember the work of the choir in their daily worship, and to pray for you, their director. They will respect you for your earnestness, and their prayers will ascend with yours.
Do not permit your choir to be noisy or inattentive during rehearsal. Demand attention. There must be order in the successful choir rehearsal. Say what you have to say with a smile, but say it earnestly. They will know whether you mean it or not. Never lose your temper, but do be firm. They will respect you for it. If any refuse to co-operate, you are better off without them.
I begin the choir year with a serious talk. I ask them to listen closely, for I do not want to repeat what I have to say. I then lay down some very definite rules. First, I remind them that the supreme purpose of our work is to save souls, and in order to do this, our rehearsals must be carried out in a way that will honor God. I tell them that I will not permit whispering, giggling, or gum chewing, either in rehearsal or when we sing publicly, and then I stick to what I say ! Choir rehearsals should be happy occasions, but when two or three here and there are permitted to whisper and giggle—and they will if you permit it—the rehearsal becomes a social gathering, and its true purpose is entirely lost. Do not be afraid to take a firm stand for right conduct.
Teach your choir to pronounce their words distinctly. When a word is held for two or three beats, teach them that it is the vowel sound in the word that is sustained. For instance, if they are singing the word "change," it is the "a" that is sustained. However teach them to add the "ng" clearly, just as they leave the word. Always sustain the vowel of the word, adding the final consonant clearly at the proper time. Sound the "m's" and "n's" in words plainly. Constantly remind your choir to pronounce their words so all can understand them. Let it never be said that the singing of your choir sounds like a "foreign language" ! Ask reliable friends in the audience if they understood the words, and if they did not, do something about it.
Remind your choir to sing words distinctly until it becomes a part of their nature. You will find that their singing will mean immeasurably more to the listeners when they understand the words clearly. Call the attention of the choir over and over to the meaning of the words in the numbers they sing. Tell them what the words mean to you. The words we sing must come with clear understanding from our hearts if they are to bless the hearts of our hearers. This is why it is so important that the director choose numbers with a definite message. Help the choir sing them with feeling and expression. How can God bless the songs we sing if our minds are wandering far away on other subjects?
Teach your choir to "start" and "stop" exactly together. They will have to watch you closely to do this. The meaning of the words is best emphasized with expression. Do not simply have "soft" and "loud." There are many degrees of "soft" and "loud," and much beauty will be brought into your numbers by careful shading. Especially is it hard for the average choir to sing "softly." But they can be taught to do so, and certain passages will thus be made much more beautiful and effective.
Music in Harmony With Message
Some ministers and others have a fear of the word "anthem," because to them it means only a display of musical talent, without much message or meaning. Repetition of the same phrases or words, over and over again, is not appreciated or understood by the majority of the common people, to whom we sing for the most part. There are many beautiful anthems that express sincere messages, but they must be chosen carefully. They are not in the majority. I have at times looked over as many as fifty anthems and found only a half dozen that I felt I could use. We as a people have a definite message to bring to a lost world. Let our music be in strict harmony with our message.
Occasional social gatherings for the choir, conducted in a wholesome way, are permissible and encouraging, but depending on social functions to "hold the choir together" is far from ideal. Vision and purpose have thus been lost.
Choir directors, pray much. I am convinced that we have been lax in this. It is so easy to depend on our own judgment, education, and talents. Not long ago, this simple statement of five words from Volume I of the "Testimonies" struck me with force : "Pray more than you sing !"—Page 513. Being a teacher of voice, I sing much, and I felt that this statement was meant for me. I asked myself, "Do I pray more than I sing ?" I resolved with God's help to pray much more, that my musical talents might be wholly consecrated to Him.
Music was ordained in heaven. A "special" being was created to lead the heavenly choir. This being fell into sin, and is now endeavoring with success to make music, both in the world and in the church, a stumbling block and a curse. He has been all too successful. Let us do nothing to help him !
Of course we like to have our listeners tell us how beautifully we sing, but this is not enough. Many choirs sing beautifully, but never win a soul to God. Never become satisfied with being told that you "sing beautifully." This is short of our goal. In my experience as a director of music, a few experiences stand out and encourage me in the knowledge that God answered my prayers to win souls to Him through song. Some time ago a man came to me and said, "I want to tell you that it was a song you sanc, that helped me to decide to be a Christian." Is-low happy his words made me feel ! The song that touched him was not a difficult solo by some great composer, but the simple gospel song, "I Want to See Jesus, Don't You?" by Bottorf.
Another time a woman came to me with tears in her eyes, saying, "Your song today made me want to live a better Christian life." These experiences may not come to us as commonly as being told that our song was beautifully sung, but be assured that if our music is consecrated to God, the results are sure, and the kingdom of heaven will reveal the full results. Many whom we help spiritually never tell us so personally, but the records are all kept in heaven.
Co-operation With Church Pastor
Happy is the choir director who can be associated with a minister who loves and understands good music. Co-operate with your pastor in every way. Consult him often concerning your plans for the choir. Whenever possible, sing numbers that harmonize with his sermons, whether evangelistic or in the church services. You will not have to burden him with the difficulties, if you follow the policy of prayer and consecration. However, there may be times when you will need his counsel, and do not hesitate to ask him. The difficulties will be overcome if you work together. Fortunate is the minister who is associated with a consecrated, co-operative choir director. When the two work together harmoniously for the salvation of souls, God will abundantly bless.
The minister with whom I am now associated is intensely interested in the ministry of the choir. He is a very successful soul winner and he is particular on every point that we as a people uphold. He stands firmly with me on the principles of consecrated membership. When I took the choir a year and a half ago, he met with us and impressed us with the importance of measuring up to the standards set for us by God. We must be firm on these principles or forfeit our place in the choir, he said. There is no middle ground. He talked to us kindly but firmly. He has often expressed his appreciation for our co-operation and loyalty since that time. It is a joy to work with such ministers.
Here in Milwaukee I have had more fine solo singers than I have ever had in any one group before. This could afford grounds for plenty of friction, jealousy, and temperament ; but never have I had so little of it to deal with. After all, these things are but the result of pride and selfishness, and if God be given His rightful place in our music, no one will be jealous of others, but all will work together for one common goal—the winning of souls to God's kingdom.