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Volume 14, Issue 1: Musica

Sons of Asaph

Duck Schuler

In the last issue of Credenda Agenda, I discussed the general duties of the priesthood of believers in guarding the sanctuary with regard to music. All Christians have an obligation to bring glory to the Lord in the music they employ when worshiping Him. However, those Christians who are called to be musicians have an even greater responsibility in guarding the music of the sanctuary. This would include any musician who exercises leadership in choosing or leading music, in worship_composers, music directors, choir directors, organists, and some pastors. These positions are most often included under the heading of music director or as is popular in many churches today, the chief musician, and it is to those who hold this position that I will be directing my comments.

The music director is responsible for overseeing the music education of the people of the congregation. The levitical musicians at the temple were divided into twenty-four courses according to 1 Chronicles 25. These courses were established in order that all the musicians would not be at the temple at any one time. Thus they were on duty in the temple two weeks of the year. Surely the rest of Israel would not be willing to pay a tithe to men who would not work most of the year. What were they doing the rest of the year? Most likely the same things that all musicians do when they are not performing—they are practicing and teaching. The Israelites were (and still are) famous for their music skills all over the world (see Psalm 137). Music skills are not something that develop on their own. They must be taught. So the Levite musician would be at the temple two weeks while the rest of the time he was back in his home town where he taught others how to sing and play instruments. Even in the synagogues, the "reading" of the Scriptures was not actually a reading but a chanting of the Word. The professional, the levitical musician, would be expected to teach these skills.
Music is a glory cloud we put around the words that God gives to us for our edification and around the words we offer back to Him as a spiritual sacrifice in congregational worship. Therefore, the modern-day church music director must see to it that the congregation enters worship with the necessary skills and understanding required for the musical worship that is brought before the Lord. The glory should be true glory which pleases the Lord and which is performed "skillfully" (Psalm 33:3).
The music director should not be satisfied until the entire congregation is able to read music. Teaching people how to read music is extremely difficult. There are no "five easy minutes to reading music" courses that work. The music director must be ready to plan a course of teaching that will include years of training for the congregation. He must also be willing to lead an unwilling congregation into this daunting task. Almost everyone wants to be able to read music, but very few people are willing to make the sacrifice necessary to acquire the skill with some degree of proficiency. You can teach people in several hours all that is essential for reading music, but training the ear to use that knowledge takes years of
painstaking practice. This is best done by teaching children to read music. It is much easier to do with children than with adults, however adults need to learn as well.
Children's choirs are a great way to implement a music reading program in your church, but you must make it clear that the primary purpose of the choir is not performance but learning music skills. If the choir is performance oriented, the music will most often be learned only by rote because the exigencies of time require the children to learn the music in the fastest way possible. I have found that some sort of solfeggio training is the best way to train the ear and the eye to read music. It has the advantage of developing sound relationships in the ear that correspond with the notes on the page.
Ideally, music reading should be taught and practiced on a daily basis. This is not always possible for the church music director. He may want to urge the local Christian school or home school parents to provide for daily instruction in reading music.
As well as teaching the congregation to read music, the music director should also teach them about music. This might include music history—especially hymnology and psalmody—and appreciation of various music styles and forms. The discipline of music is a vast field, the depths of which would take many years for anyone to even begin to exhaust.
The church music director should give the congregation at least a small understanding of the background of the hymns and psalms that they sing. It is also helpful for the congregation to know the formal structure of music so that they can learn with understanding and also appreciate the beauty of the music they are singing. Teaching form and structure in music is a great way to help people understand the form and structure of creation as God has given it to us. Form in music is a microcosm of how God knit together the creation. When people understand the structure of the music, they begin to understand what it means to bear the image of God.
There are other responsibilities that a music director has, such as decisions about what music to use and what sort of theological training he should have. I will save these as subjects for subsequent articles. If the music director diligently teaches his congregation well, the other duties will be made clear by necessity.

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