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    Church Musician or Magician? A Choral Planning Guide

    It’s that time of year! Whether you started planning two years ago or you will wait until the first week of rehearsals (don’t worry, this is a no judgment zone), planning a choir season can be difficult. There are so many balls to juggle, so many plates in the air.

    So, how do you come up with a season that is meaningful and effective yet won’t overtax you, your accompanist, or your choir? The fact that most of us offer choral music over forty Sundays a year reminds me of a saying we coined in college: Are we musicians or magicians?

    In case you’re not familiar with our free tools to help you tackle these challenges, here’s a quick overview of our Scripture Search and Liturgical Calendar. Below that are some questions to consider as you plan.

    Upcoming Special Sundays
    This season offers some unique planning challenges – are all of these on your radar?

    World Communion (October 1)

    The 500th Anniversary of the Reformation (October 29)

    All Saints (November 5)

    Thanksgiving (November 19)

    Christ the King (November 26)

    Advent (December 3, 10, 17 & 24)

    Christmas Eve (December 24) – A Sunday this year!

    Christmastide (December 31) – New Year’s Eve!


    Become a know-it-all – This is one time when it’s okay!

    Know Your Pastor

    What’s on your pastor’s mind: lectionary preaching, a sermon series, themes? Knowing where the focus will be is essential to your success, the cohesiveness of worship, and your relationship with your choir.

    TIP: Eke out time to meet one on one with your pastor. Continue to develop your working relationship as you journey towards the ministry goals of your congregation.

    Know Your Choir

    Balancing all of the factors that help to make your choir successful can be a challenge. Play to your group’s strengths, and consider widening the palette of what you have traditionally done.

    How many members do you have in each section that regularly attend rehearsals and services?

    What are the collective vocal ranges of each section? What are their comfortable limits?

    How difficult can the music be? If you do a challenging anthem one week, should you pick something more familiar and less difficult the next week?

    Can each anthem be done if everyone isn’t there? If not, should you choose another anthem? What’s plan B? Is there a way to have a few easier back-up pieces in your arsenal? Don’t forget additional service music like introits, prayer responses, and benedictions.

    Do you have to prepare a musical or special concert? How can you use some of that repertoire on the Sundays surrounding the special event?

    Are you covering more than a few styles of music? Consider spirituals, world music, classical, traditional, hymn-based anthems, older worship songs, contemporary, jazz, a cappella, Iona, and Taizé.

    Are you considering tempo week to week? Do you want to avoid four Sundays in a row of slower or moderate tempos?

    TIP: Introduce your toughest pieces early in the season. If it typically takes your group 4 to 6 weeks to prepare an anthem, then start 7 to 9 weeks out. Learn it in bits and pieces and remain positive.

    Also, consider rehearsing your most challenging music about 20 minutes into the rehearsal when everyone is fresher, in the groove, and not vocally exhausted.

    NOTE: Later this fall, J.W. Pepper will begin creating Large Print Editions of selected anthems. These new versions will be easier to read than traditional editions for some choir members as well as being useful for conductors and accompanists.

    Know Your Congregation

    What music speaks to the largest part of your congregation? How do you expand the number of people your ministry reaches?

    TIP: The fact is, every person in your congregation has a preference for a different style of music. It’s not about providing every style to please the congregation –  the challenge is to balance theologically sound texts and quality music that speaks to the largest group of people while honoring God.

    Know Yourself

    What helps you be at your best? What allows you to be the most relaxed so that you can help your group succeed?

    How do you best organize your choices so that you can see how the season will evolve?

    Do you provide your group with a schedule that lets them know what your basic plan is? Does it include service music like introits, responses, and benedictions?

    What skills do you want to help your group with? Vowels, blend, diction, phrasing, voice building – all affect how your group offers their music on Sunday mornings. Pick one element and reinforce it at each rehearsal.

    How do you keep the focus on worship preparation and not on your group? This is a tough issue to balance some days. Your personal devotional life is important to this mix. Consistent prayer at rehearsals and reminding the group that they are making an offering and not performing will surely help.

    Doing everything on this checklist will not guarantee you a perfect season. Week in and week out, all of us must offer our best to God and those we serve. That’s all we can do – be faithful. At the end of the day, know that your efforts are meaningful and have the ability, with God’s help, to transform lives. We at J.W. Pepper stand ready to assist you on this important journey.





















    Chris Titko
    Chris Titko is the Church Editor for J.W. Pepper. Prior to working at Pepper, Chris spent 35 years serving various churches across the US. He has a degree in sacred music from Westminster Choir College and a degree in choral conducting from Indiana University Bloomington, with further graduate studies at the University of Oklahoma. He also serves as the organist at First Presbyterian Church in Ambler, Pennsylvania.


    1. What a great summary of all the important elements in the church musician’s planning process! Thank you, Chris! Would you be open to having this post reprinted in THE JOURNAL, the publication of the National Association of Church Musicians? Please email me to discuss! Dan Korneychuk, NACM President.

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