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Look at it this way.

as encouraged by Timothy Shepard

On the Ministry of the Choir Director

Have you ever had one of those moments when you knew that what you were seeing would significantly shape your thinking? I had one of those moments when I was a freshman at Westminster Choir College. The Westminster Choir was singing "And a mighty wind" from Mendelssohn's Elijah. Joseph Flummerfelt, Artistic Director at WCC was conducting. What impressed me so much was the way he was conducting the choir. Not only could you see the tempo and the dynamics of the music, but you could also see the turbulence of the music in the gestures of his hand. At that point I realized that choral conducting was more than a four pattern. It is the endeavor of the choir director to bring to light the soul of the music.

As long as there have been groups of singers, there have been music leaders. When Moses organized the people of Israel, he made a place for choir leaders. Early choir leaders had the job of training musicians and of keeping the ensemble together when they performed. In the last 200 years, though, the role of the conductor has changed considerably. As music became more diverse with larger groups, the conductor's role then expanded from keeping time to also interpreting the music and inspiring it with life and authenticity. Today, the Minister of Music must not only be a good musician, but also a Christian with a strong faith and a keen grounding in theology.

A Church musician must foremost be a teacher. It's a fact that a choir is only as good as its director can train, motivate the group towards excellence, and communicate the message of the music. Therefore, teaching is one of the most important functions of the choir director. It all begins in the rehearsal. A choir that doesn't rehearse isn't a choir, it's something else. The choir director's effectiveness begins when s/he understands and celebrates where the choir members are in their lives, their musical backgrounds, and their spiritual path. It is the essence of what Bishop Edmund Salmon calls "servant ministry". Through this ministry, a group of people come together in the evening after busy days and work very hard to make a piece of paper covered with dots come alive as a testament to the healing power of God.

And then comes the time to offer the fruit of this labor to God in worship. At that point, the choir director is literally speechless and songless. Through gestures of the arm and hand, and through body language, the conductor acts as a reminder of what was brought out in the rehearsal time. A performance can do no more than culminate the process. These gestures drive the tempo and at the same time congeal the choir. The act of conducting is a liturgy of becoming the music. The goal is a unity of choir and conductor participating in a shadow of eternity. It's great fun when it happens. I know what King David experienced when he danced before the Lord -- an act of worship and praise, an at-one-ness with Yahweh.




"The goal is a unity of choir and conductor participating in a shadow of eternity."