The Music and Ministry of Pepper Choplin

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From his first piece with Purifoy Publishing, Within These Walls, to his latest “fresh off the press” anthem with The Lorenz Corporation, Pepper Choplin has ministered through music to choirs, musicians and congregations his entire adult life. His music reflects a journey that began with his beginning piano lessons and continued to the world-class concert stages of New York City. Choplin’s great breadth of writing, his affection for numerous styles of music, and his personal journey as a Christian leader have all contributed to making him one of the most diverse and engaging church musicians and composers of our time.

Continue reading below…

A Self-Motivated Start

As fate would have it, Choplin’s brother decided to give up piano lessons as Pepper was about to turn five years old. This change became an opportunity for Choplin that he would make good use of. It helped to spark his dreams of becoming a musician. Equally, his family’s commitment to their Baptist church highly influenced Choplin’s passion for church music and worship. Always fueled by a need to create, Choplin went on to play the trumpet in middle school and high school along with making music with his friends in pick-up bands and small groups.

His years at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro immersed him in classical music and helped him hone his craft. Throughout this time, he played keyboards with his colleagues in bands. He remained interested in a variety of styles and was determined not to hem himself in, but to appreciate the widest palette of music.

“I love to write in different styles because I think we have defined ourselves too tightly on what styles of music are appropriate for worship. There’s more than one way to do it.”

-Composer Pepper Choplin

An Appreciation for Musical Styles

Choplin says, “I love to write in different styles because I think we have defined ourselves too tightly on what styles of music are appropriate for worship. There’s more than one way to do it.” Choplin’s diverse compositional output reflects this perspective. From bluegrass to classical styles, he has mastered the art of crafting achievable compositions that speak in many different musical languages.

Choplin’s flexibility as a composer allows him to create music that represents the broader interests of most congregations while insisting that the musical and theological integrity of the message remains intact. He believes that music is a functional art within the context of worship and is there to be a part of the congregation’s worship of God.

The Choir in Ministry

Pepper Choplin shares with choirs his belief that they can create something greater and more beautiful together than they can create on their own. This gives them ways of expressing themselves so that others can have a closer journey with God. This helps to support the goal of music being a functional part of the worship offering.

As a conductor himself, Choplin also believes that achieving the right notes, rhythms, and texts are not quite enough to prepare us for leading worship. He realizes that concern about the investment of time often gets in our way as we attempt to prepare new music week after week. He fears that our acceptance of this level of preparedness makes choirs boring and not supportive of vital worship. He encourages choirs to make their music energetic and engaging – to dive deeper and get more involved. He says he hopes we can avoid the congregation thinking “Oh, they’re doing their best, bless their hearts” and offer up an anthem that speaks from a deeper place.

Mentoring and Self-Doubt

Mentoring is a big part of what Choplin believes in. He says that church musicians will feel more empowered to bring their ministry to another level with the help of mentors. Choplin has personally benefited from many people who have mentored and worked with him, like Joseph Martin and John Purifoy.

Mentoring can also help in those moments of self-doubt. Choplin speaks openly about moments where he wasn’t sure “if I should keep writing or go mow the lawn.” Using his great sense of humor, Choplin makes the point that there are times when one has to just keep working at it – that composition is not easy or lucrative, yet it provides composers an opportunity to express themselves in an important way.

Coda

Pepper Choplin’s superb musicianship and skill set allow his positive and inspirational energy to shine through in his music and his work as a clinician. Helping people move beyond the notes inspires and uplifts. It is evident that Choplin cares about people, ministry and music and has achieved a balance that allows him to have a unique voice in the world of modern church music. We are all better for it.

View Pepper Choplin’s compositions here.


Pepper ChoplinThe Inside Voice Interview Time Stamps:

0:21 Growing up immersed in music
2:46 Writing worship music in different styles
3:59 Pepper Choplin’s first piece, Within These Walls
5:32 Choplin’s thoughts on church music
7:28 Bringing the music to life
9:12 Projects at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center
11:32 Choplin’s message to his younger self
13:15 Choplin’s message to fellow educators and church musicians


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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.

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