Again and again we find ourselves here - a hurting, broken people - fighting to break the silence, tear down the walls that divide us, preach the Gospel of love over and over.
This is part of our ministry in church music, I believe. We are the messengers, the ambassadors, the peace-makers and the hope-bringers. We are God's instruments of peace. What a privilege - what a responsibility.
Now, more than ever, we need to come together. We need to unite - our hearts and hands and voices - in proclaiming God's message of love and light and doing His work in the world.
"For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" - Esther 4:14
One powerful way we can come together in worship is by combining choirs and raising our voices together in song. Not only is this a fun, enriching musical experience for all involved, it's a powerful picture of unity, coming together, and walking in love.
Here are three models:
The Combined Choir
In the combined choir model, two or more choirs come together to present an anthem. This might be a youth choir and adult choir, a children's choir and youth choir, or a combination of all three groups. Alternatively, this might be an opportunity for choral and instrumental ensembles to collaborate. Consider bringing in your handbell choir, a praise team/band, or an instrumental group.
Of course, another option is to combine with a choir from a neighboring church. We used to do this with our choir in Westminster, MA (UCC). Every year, we combined choirs with the church down the street (Catholic) for an ecumenical Thanksgiving Eve service. Recently, a friend of mine here in Rochester helped organize a combined choir concert, featuring Presbyterian and CME choirs. Plan a special evening prayer service, or combine your summer services one week, or put together a short program for a Sunday afternoon event.
If you're combining adult and youth and/or children's choirs, you might consider doing a partner song (see "Gather By the River to Pray" in the list below), medley, or something with a verse-chorus structure where each group sings alone at the beginning and all together later in the piece. If you're combining two adult choirs (and focusing on the unity aspect), choose an SATB anthem that will be a meaningful addition to the service.
The Intergenerational Choir
In this model, all participants mix together, grouped according to voice part:
Tenors and basses from the youth choir stand next to tenors and basses in the adult choir. Children (or at least Part I of your children's choir) and sopranos from the youth choir stand with the sopranos in the adult choir. Altos from the youth choir and Part II of your children's choir (if the range permits) stand with the altos in the adult choir.
Obviously, there will be some height considerations, but try to have each section as mixed as possible.
"Many faces, the young and the old, gathered as one in our God..." - "Gathered As One"
In addition to current choir members, this is a great opportunity to extend an invitation to those in the church you know can sing but, for whatever reasons, aren't currently in choir. Invite families to join and sing together. This is a wonderful (and somewhat rare) opportunity for an intergenerational singing experience and what a beautiful image for the congregation to see in worship.
The Flash Mob
We've all seen the videos - perhaps most notably, Handel's Messiah. I know what you're thinking - a flash mob in church? Hear me out.
Imagine the power of singing an anthem like "Draw the Circle Wide" or "Come Just As You Are" and having choir members come up front and join in singing as you go. Text like "Draw the circle, draw the circle wide, no one stands alone, we'll stand side by side, draw the circle, draw the circle wide" comes to life in a new, vivid, visible way. We actually did this yesterday in worship with a group of seventeen singers of all ages. What a powerful moment.
Last month at Music and Worship Arts Week, I sat in on a seminar led by Dan Stokes. Listening to him talk about being unconventional, taking risks, doing a flash mob on Easter Sunday (gasp!), and "drawing the circle wide" in his church and the community was so encouraging. He reminded me that sometimes it's good for us to shake things up a bit. We can get so comfortable in our routines, our structure, the way we "do" church that maybe sometimes it's easy to miss the point. Maybe it's easy to miss the surprise, the mystery, the encounter, the ways God comes to us and works in the world.
There are a couple of ways to do a flash mob anthem: Have one choir begin with others joining in on each chorus. Or, divide all participants into three or so mixed groups (different ages) and have group 1 begin with groups 2 and 3 joining in at designated times. For the full effect, have those who are joining in later in the piece sit out in the congregation or stand just outside the doors to the sanctuary.
Ready to begin planning? Here are 12 anthems that work really well for combined choirs:
1. I Believe (SATB) (Miller)
2. You Are Mine (2-Part Mixed, SATB) (Haas)
3. Tell the Story of Jesus (SAB) (arr. Larson)*
4. Rise Up, O Church of God (TTBB) (Hall)*
5. Draw the Circle Wide (SATB) (Miller)
6. Gathered As One (SAB) (Light/Tate)
7. Blest Are They (SAB) (Haas)
8. Gather By the River to Pray (2-Part Mixed, SAB, SATB) (arr. Choplin)*
9. Inscription of Hope (2-Part, 3-Part Mixed, SSA, TTB, SATB) (Stroope)
10. Christ Has Broken Down the Wall (SATB) (Miller)*
11. We Are Called (SAB, SATB) (arr. Hayes)
12. Come Just As You Are (SATB) (arr. Harlan)
*2016 reading session pick
Have you ever done a combined choir at your church? What are your favorite anthems?