Thursday, March 07, 2013

Ward Choir Woes

Our ward choir is pathetic. I've seen a broad spectrum of ward choirs over my lifetime, just within the wards of which I have been a member.

During my teen and young adult years, the ward in which I grew up had a fine choir directed by a professional music teacher. They practiced for an hour every Sunday prior to Sacrament meeting (back in the old split schedule days). At age 14 my mom nagged me into joining the choir, although, I had no vocal training.

I have tried to sing in ward choirs ever since those days. My vocal talents have developed over time, but I am still no grand singer. We had a decent sized choir when we moved into our current ward many years ago. My wife did a seven-year stint as the choir director as we were starting our family. She was thankfully released from that calling as our young family expanded.

Choir practice used to be on Sunday mornings. As our family expanded, I hit a point where I rarely sang with the choir for a few years, opting instead to stay home and get the kids ready for church while my wife attended practices. This provided her a needed respite before spending three hours wrangling young children while trying to worship.

One of the biggest challenges our choir faces is finding a convenient time to practice. There just isn't one. People generally don't come to weeknight or Saturday practices. It is horrendously difficult to get people to the church before the block meetings start nowadays. Many that would do so are busy with morning leadership meetings anyway. It's easier to get people to stay after the three-hour block. It's much more difficult to get them to return to the church later on.

The trouble with practicing after meetings is that every room in the church with a piano is generally busy except for the chapel, where we get about 30-35 minutes before the next ward comes in. Depending on how promptly meetings end and choir members make their way to practice, we are lucky to get 20-25 minutes of decent practice time on any given Sunday.

Every ward has its own culture. The choir in my old home ward regularly practiced and performed demanding numbers. When we moved into our current ward I could tell that the choir, while fairly well attended, wasn't nearly as loyal or willing to prepare such numbers. It has remained that way ever since. Directors have occasionally tried to get members to practice more or to sing more challenging numbers, but that has never worked out. People just vote with their feet.

Over the years I have watched our ward choir slowly dwindle in membership. Practicing after block meetings takes its toll because every other organization in the ward wants to catch people at that same time for 'brief' meetings. Some people with young families feel that they need to go home with their kids, who need to be fed, etc. But if we try to hold practices at another time, even fewer people come.

Right now our regular practices fail to draw even a mixed double quartet. (That would be eight people: 2xSATB.) We once had young adults sing with us, but they now mostly attend a young adult ward. I am now the lone tenor, although, I am really a baritone. My wife is often the lone soprano. We sometimes get a couple of the several bass section members out to practice. One of them is usually my high school son (who is a basso profundo and can sing as low as the lowest note on the piano keyboard). We have three or four altos that show up consistently.

We actually have a number of musically talented people in our ward, including many piano players. Some that used to sing with the choir feel that their voice is no longer capable of choir quality singing. Few younger people—even among those that can sing well—are willing to fill those vacancies.

Our choir director occasionally has a 'flash choir' sing in Sacrament meeting. She invites anyone who is willing to come up to the stand to sing a slightly modified version of a well known hymn. This has worked to a certain extent, even if musical execution isn't the best. At least we get a few more people on the stand to bolster our flagging numbers.

Although the church handbook calls for the ward choir to perform at least monthly in Sacrament meeting, our director has the choir take each summer off. It's a relief to have one less meeting to attend each Sunday throughout the summer. I'm not sure that anyone really misses our singing.

I can't nail down all of the reasons that our ward choir is dying. I've seen other ward choirs in our stake that seem to be thriving; although, they deal with the same issues as our ward. It is disheartening to be one of a tiny number of people that show up to choir practice. It is even more depressing to feel more like a member of a quartet than a ward choir when performing in Sacrament meeting, especially given the size of the congregation.

I am not presently serving in a leadership responsibility that could do something about our choir. But when I was, the choir wasn't a top priority. We had so many other things on our plate. So I can't blame current leadership for the situation.

I enjoy singing praises to the Lord. But doing so as a member of our ward choir is kind of a grim experience at present.

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