Music in Worship
Stories from the four churches
St Ann's has a music planning group which
consists of the organist and representative members of the choir,
the music group, the worship group, and the clergy.They meet
regularly to look at themes for services, special occasions etc.,
to plan the music three months in advance.
Representatives of this group go to youth events and to diocesan
music events so that they keep abreast of new music resources. A
training day was recently held in the parish when a tutor from the
RSCM came to introduce them to some new music for the Common
Worship services, and new ways of singing psalms, as they felt
that their eucharistic worship was in danger of being stuck in a
rut musically. The organist and a member of the congregation who is
a music teacher are working together to write some music for the
Eucharist which will suit their congregation and musical
The choir and music group have practised a new song, and some of
the congregation have learnt it in their home groups.Today the
music group is teaching the new song before the service starts, so
that it is familiar before it is sung in the service later.
St Bartholomew's organist is very willing and
enthusiastic, but only has limited time, as she also plays for the
Methodist church down the road. She chooses the music for two
Sundays a month, using the RSCM's guide, Sunday by
The music group (two or three adults and a group of enthusiastic
children) have been playing simple music together for a while.
Because of their limited resources, they have been accompanying
songs in the usual 'hymn slots' in the services, but have also been
experimenting with using music in other ways.They have used Taizé
chants as responses to the prayers. These chants work well as the
music can be adapted to the number and skill of the
instrumentalists available.Today they are playing a piece after the
readings, when the congregation can have space to reflect on what
they have heard. The music is simple enough for the children to
join in, yet the skills of the adult musicians are also used in
playing and singing the harmonies.
When the music group learn new songs, they are very keen to
share them with the congregation.They have made a few mistakes
along the way by using too much new material without giving people
a chance to learn it, but, by and large, the congregation are
pleased at the enthusiasm and commitment of the music group, and
are happy to learn new music alongside using the traditional hymns
which they know.
St Christopher's have an organ, but no one who
can play it. Their large robed choir is now reduced in numbers and
its members are all growing old; several can no longer get to
There are no other musicians in the congregation, so the church
decided to send one of their younger members, who can sing, to have
guitar lessons. He is getting more proficient at basic chords and
will soon be able to lead and accompany some simple songs for the
congregation to sing.
Meanwhile, as they felt that using music adds something special
to a service, the congregation have been trying unaccompanied
singing.Today the songs are 'The Lord's my shepherd' and 'Amazing
grace', which people feel they know well enough to sing
confidently.They find singing hymns with a number of long verses
difficult to sustain, so they are using music which is simple and
short. The response to the prayers today is a sung one from Iona,
'Through our lives and by our prayers, your kingdom come'.
For the Eucharist, they have been contemplating using a simple
cantor-led setting for the acclamations, which can be sung
The organist at St Dodo's chooses all the music
- without consultation with anyone. He tries to fit in with the
theme or season, using the index in Hymns Ancient and
Modern. He also directs the choir, who are a group of
enthusiastic singers, many of whom don't read music.They lead the
congregational singing and persevere with Anglican chant, but don't
manage many anthems. Sometimes they're tempted to try pieces they
hear on CDs made by their cathedral choir - like Schubert's Mass in
G.When they tried part of it, it proved far too difficult for them
and they faltered and then completely stopped halfway through.
The youth group would like to sing more up-to-date music, so for
today's all-age service, the organist has agreed to play 'Sing
Hosanna' and 'Shine, Jesus, Shine'. The vicar announces the number
of the song, and reads out the first line, but his words are
drowned out as the organist, keen to get the modern songs over,
starts to play. There is a retired schoolteacher who has offered to
involve some of the children who play recorders, and she has taught
them to play a song from the Iona community, 'Will you come and
follow me'.They haven't had much time to practise, and haven't
checked how many verses there are.When they stop playing, the vicar
says, 'There's another verse yet,' and there is a long pause while
they all get ready to play again.
Teaching the congregation new
* Be positive: 'We are going to learn a
song which fits with today's theme …',not 'I know you don't like
learning new music but…'
* Know the music well enough to sing it
in the bath yourself.
* Pitch the music at a sensible level
to suit everyone - if possible, get somebody to give you a note
* If at all possible, use your voice to
teach the melody - or at least, an instrument which plays the
melody line, not full harmony.
* It may help to sing the whole of a
verse to the congregation, so that they get the gist.
* Then learn the music line by line,
unaccompanied.You sing a line, and let them sing it straight back
to you.Warn them of any tricky bits, or point out where the tune
repeats. If they make a mistake, put it right straight away. But
always be encouraging.
* Using your hand to show where the
notes go up and down can be a helpful guide - both when singing
each line to demonstrate, and when encouraging the congregation to
sing it back.
* Think about when you're going to
teach the new song. Don't do it immediately before it's sung in the
service - it breaks the flow of the worship.You could teach it
before the service. Ideally, it could be taught the week
beforehand, and then rehearsed briefly before the service in the
week it is to be sung. If your church has a choir or music group,
they can sing the song one week (if it is appropriate to the
service), to help people to become more familiar with it.
Believe in the voice God has given you. It is the voice of an
apprentice angel. Believe in the voices God has given other
John Bell, Iona Community, in Heaven Shall not
Why use music in
* To make the text special, 'different'
from everyday speech.
* It is corporate, something we can all
join in with, and encourages participation.
* It is memorable, and helps us to
remember the words.
* It expresses feelings and emotions in
a deeper way than words alone.
How to use music in
* To 'break up' a section of a service or
a whole service.
It may be useful as a response after a period of listening, or to
allow a change of posture after a period of sitting or
* To complement action.
It is often used to 'cover up' an action, e.g. taking the
collection, but is better used in its own right or complementing an
action, e.g. singing a meditative prayer while giving people space
to light candles or use some other symbolic action.
* To heighten our awareness.
Music makes us more aware of shape. Its use can make sound and
silence more meaningful, and can give shape to the time we spend in
prayer and praise.
Where to use music in
* Gathering. This is not just music for
the entry of the ministers, but music which will help the people of
God to gather for worship.Thought needs to be given to the exact
position for the music in the opening section of the service.
* Praise. The obvious places are the
Gloria, Gospel Acclamation and Eucharistic Prayer in a communion
service, but praise as a response to God may come at various points
and be expressed in different styles of music.
* Response, e.g. after the readings and
the sermon.How do we use psalms as a response to the readings, and
is there a balance of word and song in that part of the liturgy?
Music does not always have to have words in order for us to use it
to respond to God - just as words do not always need to have a
* Proclamation of the Gospel. Do sung
Gospel Acclamations heighten the expectation of listening to God's
word? If they do, should we use music in a similar way around other
readings from Scripture, or the sermon?
* Affirming our belief. One of the
authorized Affirmations of Faith is a hymn. Are there other ways in
which we could affirm in song the underlying principles of our
* Prayer. Often sung responses are
used. What other music would enable us to deepen our collective
* Offering. We offer ourselves and our
gifts to God. How do we express the joy of our offering in
* Contemplation. There should be space
for both silence and reflection in our worship. What kinds of music
can contribute to that contemplation? Or is this a time for the
music of silence?
* Sending. We are sent out to the
mission of the Church in the world. What kind of music enables and
strengthens us for this task?
Questions to ask when choosing
* How does this fit into the overall theme
of the service, or the readings?
* How does it fit into the shape of the
service, e.g. is it suitable for the gathering, or the offertory,
or a prayerful response?
* How does the music fit with the
overall style of the service, e.g. is it a celebratory Eucharist or
a meditative Evening Prayer?
* Is the music well known to the
congregation, or does it need to be introduced to them first?
* What resources do we have? What is
achievable by our musicians and congregation?