by Jim Killam | 5-minute read
In advance of the Community Choir Festival March 6-7 at First Free Rockford, we spoke via email with workshop leader Dr. Gary Bonner.
What should attendees expect from this workshop? What could change for them?
If we do our jobs well, the singers should be energized, encouraged, motivated and excited. We always hope they will become better music readers, be more understanding of what their role in the body is, and hopefully, understand their role in ministry better.
Would you say choral music is a style preference in churches … or is it more than that?
According to Gary Bonner Singers lead soprano Dr. Joni Prado (music faculty member at Vanguard University): “Choral music is a style preference. It is just a different medium to express ourselves in worship. In a time where the world is seemingly growing more self-centered and more ‘me-focused,’ I feel strongly that we need worship to be more communal, as it was originally intended. We are meant to worship TOGETHER, not individually hiding in the dark with only twinkle lights providing just enough light for us to see three feet in front of us. Choral music allows to connect with others as we worship, inviting them into a special time of connection with each and with the Lord.”
What role can choral music and community singing play in corporate worship?
Gary Bonner Singer Matt Woods (Music and Education Specialist, Salvation Army Western District) contends that, “Singing has been a part of humanity since the very beginning. Songs are believed to have been used even before the development of modern language. Singing has been used in worship since records began.” Here are a few examples for you:
Praise the LORD. Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise in the assembly of his faithful people. Psalm 149:1
Not only does this verse command us to sing, it even tells us where we should sing! As a fellowship, as a corporate body. Here are a few more:
Sing the praises of the LORD, enthroned in Zion; proclaim among the nations what he has done. Psalm 9:1
Therefore, I will praise you, LORD, among the nations; I will sing the praises of your name. (Psalm 18:49)
Be exalted in your strength, LORD; we will sing and praise your might. (Psalm 21:13)
These are all good examples of reasons for corporate singing. But it’s not just an Old Testament thing:
Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the LORD, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:18-21)
I think it’s pretty plain that we have a heavenly mandate to sing our praise and adoration to our creator. And it’s interesting to note that our creator sings over us, too:
The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love, he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)
What do you say to the perception that choral music is mostly for the older generations?
I disagree. It can easily be observed that many elementary and junior high schools as well as most high schools, community colleges and universities have thriving choral programs composed of children, young people and young and older adults. We have also observed an increase in multigenerational community choral groups, such as The Gary Bonner Singers, in recent decades. In addition, all branches of the military have choirs.
Intergenerational corporate singing is an integral part of most, if not all, cultures. Human beings inherently by nature celebrate, mourn, honor and commemorate by combining their voices in song. This pervasive phenomenon contradicts the suggestion that corporate singing, specifically choir singing, is limited to older generations.
A couple of generations ago, more people sang together in more places (not just churches). What are we missing today?
According to Matt Woods, “When we sing as a part of a choir, we are taking our communal sing to the next level. There is something very unique to singing in a choir. No longer are you an individual, you are now singing in a team, all focused on the same goal and intentions. It’s a communal experience. In any choir, you can have people from all walks of life, all generations, all socio-economic backgrounds. Isn’t that great? And there aren’t too many things in life you can say that about.”
Do you think the pendulum could swing back?
Our task in the church is to engage, invite, motivate, recruit and welcome this vast body of people into choral programs that can be glorious and life changing.
To sing like this, in the company of other souls, and to make those consonants slip out so easily and in unison, and to make those chords so rich they bring tears to your eyes – this is transcendence. This is the power that choral singing has that other music can only dream of.
— Garrison Keillor