This year I am blessed to work with a small choir of 18 junior high school students in our day school. They are a talented group of treble singers, who do a nice job of singing SSA repertoire - both accompanied and a cappella. They are the smaller of our two junior high choirs (the other has 22 voices singing 2-part mixed), yet forms the backbone of the group when we combine the two choirs to sing SAB/SAC repertoire. As an example of this group's talent, they are having little trouble taking on René Clausen's Psalm 100 - a piece usually sung by high school and college choirs.
The music is all fine and good, but I especially enjoy working with these kids because of their spiritual maturity. I've worked with hundreds of children their age over their years, but have yet to have a group that would come up with the following list for their "reasons to sing":
*To raise spirits.
*Bring people together.
*Sustain them on their journey.
*Have an impact on their lives.
These are pretty good goals for any Lutheran church choir to have. The raising of spirits evokes the Sursum Corda of the liturgy: "Lift up your hearts!" As the choir assists the Office of the Holy Ministry, how wonderful it is for them to have the attitude of this holy exhortation.
Sustaining culture shows how much these kids love their church. They know that their church is something special, and that they have received an authentic tradition of worship in the music of our Lutheran family. Whether they are singing a chorale, Bach, Bouman, or a contemporary psalm setting from Liturgy Solutions, they are part of a living heritage - and love it.
"Bringing People Together" might be the goal of any choral organization, but in this context we are talking about something more than "building community". The Lutheran Church choir "builds communion" by magnifying God's Word. Through this Word we proclaim, the choir becomes a tool of the Holy Spirit, as He calls, gathers, and enlightens the Church, the "ecclesia", the "called out ones". This happened today as we sang "Listen! God is Calling", and proclaimed the Lord's forgiveness, comfort, and joy.
This Word we sing "sustains people on their journey" as the Word we sing stays with them throughout the week. The Psalm antiphons we sing often stay in people's minds and hearts, as often do words from hymn stanzas or motets or preludes we sing. Working with pastors who cherish the lectionary and coordinate themes with the cantor, the choir is often able to reinforce the preaching, that people may gladly hear and learn it.
And then there is the "impact" we have on people's lives. At first I chaffed at little at that one, because "impact" is a word often used by entertainment evangelists and can reflect a consumerist attitude on the part of the hearers. But we understand that we are delivering the real "impact" that God has for our lives: the forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus. The Gospel makes all the difference in our lives, and so we rejoice that we can use the gift of music to proclaim that same Gospel, that those who hear our song may know the comfort, hope, and cheer Christ freely gives to us from the cross.
And so this is what happens when we sing of Jesus, the Christ, whose Word is our very song: the faithful are gathered, spirits are raised, our communion is nurtured, faith is increased, and lives are changed, all through the power of the Gospel.
No wonder we want to sing!