The Worship Quote of the Week for (01/19/2010):

The Choir in Worship: Part 3
There is a health update at the end of this message.
HAITI RELIEF: Please consult your trusted friends to figure out where to send a generous contribution for Haiti's earthquake relief. If your church or denomination can't help you, I would be glad to offer a suggestion.
Registration is still open for the 2010 CALVIN SYMPOSIUM ON WORSHIP,
January 28-30, 2010, in Grand Rapids. Presenters include Jeremy Begbie, Marva Dawn, Keith and Kristyn Getty, Lester Ruth, John Witvliet, and many others.

Does your church's corporate worship service make use of the choral musicians the Lord has placed in your congregation, or is the trained choir viewed as a relic? In the vast and varied landscape of Christian worship practices today, many churches are searching for a strategic, God-focused, gospel-centered use of the choir ministry. Today’s WORSHIP QUOTE is from Donald Hustad's TRUE WORSHIP: RECLAIMING THE WONDER AND MAJESTY.

For almost sixty years I have enjoyed and participated in the church's art of choral singing. . . . Choir music can offer a listening but still participating congregation an unusual and significant experience of the presence of our transcendent-immanent God. At the same, choral music may have more potential to be a COGNITIVE worship experience than congregational singing. It is not easy to sing a hymn, especially a new one, and immediately comprehend the text. It is usually easier to understand words in a performed piece, especially if they may be read simultaneously in the bulletin.

Today it seems that this historic and meaningful aesthetic worship experience is in jeopardy. Baby Boomer adults often say that they enjoy choirs least of all the music offered in church. Charismatic groups tend to reject choir music as being "priestly," elitist, and noncongregational. Even when there is no objection to the sound or the "philosophy" of choir performance, a good singing group is difficult to recruit nowadays because of the lack of training and of interest in the age-group that normally would be expected to respond. Some churches have eliminated choirs completely, and others struggle along with a small roster of less-talented singers. Some develop choir music for only a few Sundays a year, or perhaps for the Protestant "high holidays" of Christmas and Easter.

We must also question the response of many music publishers to this dilemma. First of all, instead of giving us less difficult (unison and two-part) settings of worthy words and tunes, they have released a barrage of questionable works. Some of the most common forms are the bloated choral arrangements of hymns, the medleys of familiar hymn stanzas, and—would you believe it?—the "choralized praised chorus." Evidently, they are produced in response to the current generation's stated standard of NONCREATIVITY. "The only music I like is something I've heard before." To which we must reply: "How then will you ever learn anything new?" Second, we must wonder why publishers cannot provide new and different poetic-musical experiences for the choir to offer, and leave the hymns to the congregation. Finally, creating medleys of a long list of only single stanzas from hymns is an indictment of the thinking capacity of the worshiper and a disservice to the hardworking hymn writer. This practice seems to be a little like eating a meal of appetizers only or reading the first chapter of several books without finishing any of them.

Having said all of this, I must add another development that has helped to create a "strange land of aesthetic relativism" in our day: THE TRIUMPH OF THE ARRANGER OVER THE COMPOSER. I do so with a large dose of self-consciousness because my own limited composing gifts are better suited to arranging that to original composing. I can remember when the smallest church choirs performed annual Christmas and Easter cantatas, with ORIGINAL texts and music. Whatever our judgment about the quality of those original works, I believe the current practice of singing mostly arrangements says something negative about today's church music aesthetic.

Of course choral PERFORMANCES are also suffering, both from poor publishing and poor training. In a day when forte-fortissimo is the normal dynamic range of church music, when did you last hear an anthem that began and ended quietly because that musical treatment was essential to the message of an important text (for instance, words like "O Rest in the Lord," from Mendelssohn's ELIJAH, based on Psalm 37)? When did you last hear a church choir demonstrate uniform vowel color, flawless diction, and musical phrasing in singing a simple piece? Or, when did you last hear a selection that achieved unity, variety, and climax without modulating to a higher key perhaps several times?

—Donald P. Hustad, TRUE WORSHIP: RECLAIMING THE WONDER AND MAJESTY, from chapter 7, "Worshiping God in Artistic Truth in a Strange Land of Aesthetic Relativism." Wheaton: Harold Shaw/Hope, 1998, pp. 203-05. ISBN 0-87788-838-8


Blessings to all!

Chip Stam
Director, Institute for Christian Worship
School of Church Ministries
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Louisville, Kentucky


Dear Praying Friends,

Thanks again for praying for my cancer treatment.

Detailed journal entries and new photos about my cancer treatment are available at (click on "journal" or "photos").

No chemotherapy treatments again this week! I went to the cancer clinic on Monday morning for lab work. All my blood levels are still strong—the crucial numbers have not dropped. This is very good. Because I am scheduled for more chemotherapy on Monday, January 25, they have decided that I will have a PET scan today, January 19, to make sure that these new drugs (CYTARABINE and BENDAMUSTINE) are actually reducing the Lymphoma. I will have a follow-up visit on Friday morning (Jan. 22). We'll know then if next Monday's treatments are appropriate.

As far as the stem cell match is concerned, the three donors that were being studied have been eliminated (at level "C," whatever that means), and the donor match office has moved on to request detailed analysis of three more. We pray that this will be successful.

Please continue to remember us before the throne of grace; and don't forget to care for the cancer patients in your families, churches, neighborhoods, and places of employment.

In the loving care of the Savior,

Chip Stam

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