How to Use Choral Service Music in Worship: A Few FAQs

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There’s something to be said about the power of music in worship: the ability to imbue an experience with meaning, inspire the hearts and minds of those listening, create space for personal reflection, and offer an opportunity for transcendence.

Yes, it’s functional and it provides a nice contrast to the spoken word, but music has an inherent ability to create meaningful, shared experiences, as well.

This is why service music is such a powerful tool in worship planning.

Today, I’m delving into a few FAQs about choral service music, specifically: what it is, why it’s important, how to use it, and where to find it.

I’ll also share 21 music collections and some practical suggestions for incorporating service music into your choir’s repertoire this year.

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How to Use Choral Service Music in Worship: A Few FAQs

What is service music?

Service music is a collection of short musical responses, choral or instrumental—a call to worship or prayer, an invitation to listen, a reflection on a reading or blessing or prayer. These snippets of music woven throughout the service are functional: they help tie the liturgical elements of the service together and signal theological insights to those listening.

In these moments, the choir represents the collective voice of the congregation. After all, "The role of . . . choirs and musicians is to aid the whole people of God in their worship.” (source)


Why is service music important in worship?

There are numerous benefits to incorporating service music into your worship service each week. Here are a few worth noting:

1. Service music is a great way to incorporate or echo the Psalm text from the lectionary.

Many introits and responses are based on texts from the Psalms, so this is a helpful way to incorporate the lectionary Psalm of the day and make connections between the other Scripture passages used in the service.

Related post: Singing the Psalms: A Guide for Modern Worship

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2. Service music builds in moments of reflection.

Positioning the choir as the voice for a moment gives congregation members the opportunity to listen and reflect before being invited to participate and respond themselves. Even using a simple Amen (which means “may it be so”) after a prayer allows those listening to reflect on the words just spoken and apply them to their own lives in a personally meaningful way.

Music in worship is meant to invite the congregation to participate in ways that inspire and nurture. This happens when we listen to preludes played on an organ, anthems sung by a choir, offertories rung by handbells, or musical works played by instrumentalists of all varieties and configurations who offer their praise and worship on our behalf.
— Michael Waschevski

(source)

3. Service music can be used to accompany movement and link parts of the service together.

This is a practical benefit, but an important one nonetheless. Look for places in your worship service where there is dead time—people moving from one side of the sanctuary to another, the baptismal family moving back to their pew, children leaving for Sunday School, a lay reader moving into place. These might be good places for a small piece of service music sung by the choir—a way to connect what just happened with what’s about to occur.

Related post: 3 Small Ways to Create Better Flow in Worship


How can I use service music in worship?

So far, we’ve talked about what service music is and why it’s important to worship (plus a few practical benefits for using it). Now, let’s talk about how you can use it in your worship services. Here are a few ideas:

  • Introit (before the spoken Call to Worship)

  • Scripture response

  • Advent wreath lighting response

  • Baptismal response

  • Commissioning response

  • New member response

  • Call to Prayer

  • Prayer Response

  • Offertory prayer

  • Communion music

  • Benediction response (after the spoken benediction)

Service music may also be used at other special worship services: wedding or vow renewal ceremonies, healing services, Tenebrae service, Lessons and Carols, Hanging of the Greens, Ash Wednesday, or Holy Week services.


The end goal for music of the church is, in fact, theological rather than musical.
— Dan Zager (1988) paraphrased

Where can I find service music?

The first place I recommend is looking through your hymnal. Pull a few hymns that could be used as introits (one verse), things you could use for quieter moments like responses in the middle of worship, and Amens or dismissal hymns that could be used as benediction responses.

For something a little more unique, here are 21 service music resources to consider:

Service Music From Salisbury (Mark Patterson)
SATB Choir with Keyboard + opt. Handbells

A set of three pieces of service music: an introit, a Kyrie (prayer response), and a benediction response.

Four Sacred Rounds (Timothy G. Bushong)
Unison/2-Part/3-Part Choir, a cappella

Each round in this collection includes three standalone (unison) parts for use as introits, hymn introductions, or prayer responses. The parts may also be sung in 2- or 3-part canon as an anthem or offertory piece. Hymn pairing recommendations are included. Titles include: Sing a Joyful Song, Love Each Other, Give Thanks to God, and I Am Loved.

>> Listen to a recording here.

Choral Responses for Worship (Emma Lou Diemer)
SATB Choir, a cappella

Over 30 creative, original responses for worship, including: 12 Amens, 7 introits (opening sentences), 4 invitations to prayer, 3 prayer responses, 3 responses to Scripture, and 4 benediction responses (dismissal sentences).

Three A Cappella Blessings (Marvin Gaspard)
SATB Choir, a cappella

Beautiful harmonies and traditional texts make these benediction responses appropriate all throughout the year.

Advent Introits and Benedictions (Anna Laura Page)
SATB Choir + opt. Handbells

Two festive introits and two more reflective benedictions feature simple choral part-writing and accompanying handbell parts (6 bells).

Songs for the Sanctuary I (Ashley Danyew)
SATB Choir, a cappella

A digital* collection of three original pieces of service music for use as introits or responses.

*Unlimited print license so you can print as many copies as you need for your choir.

Songs for the Sanctuary II (Ashley Danyew)
SATB Choir, a cappella

A digital* collection of three original pieces of service music for use as introits or responses.

*Unlimited print license so you can print as many copies as you need for your choir.


The Lord Bless You and Keep You (P.C. Lutkin)
SATB Choir + opt. Organ

This anthem is beautiful as a blessing, anthem, or benediction response. The sevenfold Amen at the end works well as a standalone piece of service music.

Service Music with Bells (Hal Hopson)
SATB Choir with Handbells

Music for the church year, accompanied by simple handbell ostinato patterns.

Sunday Rounds (Alice Parker)
Unison/2-Part/3-Part Choir, a cappella

A set of simple rounds for worship - great for children, youth, or adult choirs, or a combined intergenerational experience.

The Lord Bless You and Keep You (John Rutter)
SATB Choir with Organ

A delicate setting of Numbers 6:24, followed by a lovely sevenfold Amen (useful as a standalone piece of service music).

Four Short Pieces for Treble Voices (Rob Landes)
2-3 Part Mixed Choir with Keyboard + opt. Handbells

These canons are highly versatile, working as introits, processionals, or prayer or benediction responses.

Taizé: Songs for Prayer (Jacques Berthier and Taizé Community)
SATB Choir with Keyboard (Instrumental book available separately)

A comprehensive collection of music from Taizé with 59 ostinati and responses, canons, acclamations, and psalms.

Benediction (Steve & Ashley Danyew)
SATB Choir, a cappella

With text by John Newton, this prayerful choral benediction with rich harmonies and sweeping lines is a perfect blessing for the end of a worship service, wedding ceremony, or renewal of vows.

Songs for the Sanctuary: Alleluias & Amens (Ashley & Steve Danyew)
SATB Choir, a cappella

A digital* collection of three Alleluias and three Amens for use as introits, responses, or other service music.

*Unlimited print license so you can print as many copies as you need for your choir.


The Tallis Psalter Psalms and Anthems (David Skinner)
SATB Choir, a cappella

A collection of tunes and service music by Thomas Tallis made accessible for today’s church choirs by David Skinner.

Three Lenten Benedictions (Barbara Furman)
SATB Choir, a cappella

A set of three simple pieces to be used as benediction responses. Particularly appropriate during the season of Lent.

This is the Day! (Hal Hopson)
2-Part, SATB Choir with Keyboard and opt. Handbells

A set of six introits (or general service music) with a mix of elements: 2-part equal voices, 2-part mixed choir, SATB choir, accompanied, a cappella, and some with optional handbell parts.

Seven Choral Amens (Timothy Shaw)
2-Part and SAB with Keyboard

A new collection featuring seven accompanied choral Amens for use throughout worship.

Choral Responses (Morgan Simmons)
SATB Choir with Organ

Modern settings of existing hymn and Scriptural texts featuring a variety of different types of responses, all with fresh harmonies and interesting part-writing.

Go Forth for God: Seven Choral Benedictions (Kenneth Dake)
SATB Choir divisi, a cappella

Choral service music for the moderately advanced choir featuring seven well-crafted benediction responses with rich harmonies and expressive text settings.


Summary

In summary, service music is a great way to create shared experiences, speak to the emotions present in the liturgy, and impart a sense of deeper theological understanding.

What are your favorite service music resources? I’d love to hear!


Source:

Zager, D. (1988). "On the Value of Organ Music in the Worship Service," The Diapason: 18-19.