Thank you all for you interest in the life of our music ministry!
Here is the long answer to the question “Where’s the choir?”
The first thing I see from my perspective working in both church and secular contexts is that our choir is made up entirely of volunteers. Although most of them have little or no musical background, they are enthusiastic, they love to sing, and they work very hard together. They have earned a reputation for a high level of quality choral music here in Camarillo.
However, this does not mean that we can put the kind of expectations on them that we would for paid professionals, especially in terms of rehearsals and performances. Our volunteers are not committed to a whole year or season, and each one has a life outside of church. Many times we lose singers due to family emergencies, travel, or sickness, and we adjust to those situations.
Now, some would say that many other choirs in churches around us sing every week and all year long. This is partly true, but in my experience with other church choirs and their directors, I’ve noticed the following:
- If the choir has a healthy mix of hired professionals and volunteers with a strong musical background, the choir is able to lead worship at the highest level every week of the year.
- If the choir has only some volunteers with a strong musical background and no hired professionals, the job is much harder, but it is possible to sustain an acceptable performance level with extra work and extra rehearsal time. I feel that our Chancel Choir is in this category.
- If the choir has neither strong volunteers or hired professionals, the choir will not be able to lead worship on a weekly basis at an acceptable level. Unfortunately, due to loss of membership in most traditional churches, many church choirs fall in this category, trying to perform every single week and not having the means to deliver music at the desired level. I know many of us have seen this too often as well.
But perhaps the greater question should be: “Should we have choral music every week?”
Let me answer first from my own my heart and with my own preferences in mind: Yes! Every week, every holiday, and even every Sunday night for the monastic office of Compline (which I used to perform back in my younger days).
But if I answer from my professional role and I look to the future and the survival and success of church music, then I must look for options, variety, and collaboration. We cannot present the same “worship menu” every week. Instead, we must change, we must improvise, we must cast a wide net for fish in a vast sea where many will not like what we personally like, and most will carry cell phones with many other options at hand!
By way of example, my friend and colleague Dr. Christopher Gravis is Music Director at St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral in downtown LA. Dr. Gravis has a generous music budget that pays for hired professionals every week, and for extra singers and instrumentalists for all high holidays. Dr. Gravis produces choral music of the highest possible caliber in Southern California. You can follow their musical activities at www.stjohnsla.org and watch their latest videos through their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/StJohnsLA/
It’s important to note that St. John’s Cathedral is located just blocks away from USC in the heart of LA, so it has the potential for the substantial attendance of both young and old people. But even with the best sacred choral music in town and a very progressive theology, their attendance is rather moderate. There, well-funded, high quality choral music and a good message are not necessarily filling up the church with people.
But now let me answer from the heart of the Church: we shouldn’t worship to gain new members or to please old members. Instead, our worship should spring out of the most genuine gratitude and joy from our hearts. It is my desire that we worship with authenticity from our soul and with loving kindness and understanding for our neighbors, and that every so often we break the patterns and boldly reach in a different direction, a different approach may perhaps reach different people once in a while. We must at least try!
I look forward to doing so with your support—including your voice singing gladly from wherever you are in worship each Sunday.
Feel free to send us an email or drop a note for us in the office. We read all correspondence and take your feedback seriously.
And on behalf of Kristi Vankeersbilck and myself, we are always recruiting! Let us know if interested in Vocal or Bell Choirs, you’ll be in great company with a bunch of fun people.