The Challenge of a Blended Music Worship Service

What is a “Minister for Classical Music”? This was the big question that faced me when I moved to North London last summer and took on a new job in a new culture.

My church is a medium-large parish church set in a particularly artsy area of London with a well-established Worship Minister who excels in the contemporary style. Believing, as we do, that the distinction between contemporary and classical music need not define how we participate in worship together, we’ve set out to combine all useful aspects of Christian music in our services.

This is, of course, a great challenge, as those who have spent many years doing “blended” music know. We’ve asked, and are continuing to ask, these questions: Who is the congregation? Are they mature Christians? Seekers? Christmas and Easter attenders? Which styles do they immediately connect with? Which styles will draw them to a deeper understanding of God? What will spur them on to deeper worship and praise? Who are the musicians? What are their talents and gifting? Are they willing to try something they haven’t been educated in or have experience with? What music/style can we accomplish authentically? How can we love each other while doing it? And lastly, but probably the most important question: What makes Jesus most clear?

On Easter Sunday, after much planning and work, we enjoyed a rich musical feast together, which included:

  • Jesus Christ is Risen Today (organ with trumpet descent, 3rd verse re- orchestrated in a jazz style)
  • Come People of the Risen King, by Keith Getty
  • Crown Him with Many Crowns (worship band with choir, drum kit and organ accompaniment)
  • The Gospel Song, by Sovereign Grace Music (with hand motions led by children)
  • Come, See the Song, by Joel Payne (worship band)
  • Choir during Communion: Ave Verum Corpus, Mozart (with organ), O Happy Day (gospel arrangement with solo, band & congregation joining in)
  • Thine Be the Glory (organ with trumpet)
  • Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee (organ postlude)

Did each component speak to each member of the congregation? Probably not.  Did the choir struggle singing Mozart and then switching styles to sing gospel? Yes. Were there practical challenges of where to stand, how and when to use microphones, and what to put on the powerpoint? Yes. Was it worth the effort? Most certainly.

The congregation, little by little, is learning to sing louder, to engage further, and to love those around them with different tastes. The musicians are learning to expand their musical gifts and to trust that when the gospel soloist is willing to join the choir and sing Mozart, they can make the same effort to sing in her style. Most importantly, our congregation is learning to see Jesus more clearly. Those who have little experience with Jesus can participate more easily in the hymns. Those who love a more “free” experience of the Spirit love to sing the contemporary songs. We are all nourished by the great theology of the hymns and participatory language of the choruses.

We are, after all, just one part of the living body of Christ here on earth. If we can, even a little bit, taste the great musical riches of heaven, we are spurred on to greater worship of the God who gave everything for us.

Amber Salladin is Minister of Classical Music at St James Church in London. With a background in music education and conducting, she most recently worked in Vancouver, Canada as the Assistant Conductor of the Vancouver Bach Choir and Choir & Voice Teacher at the Sarah McLachlan Music Outreach.
Image used with permission of the author.

3 Comments

  • Matthew Linder says:

    The church I attend had a very mixed bag of musical choices for Easter Sunday, which was very similar to the approach that you took. While I experienced the music of that day as one of the performers (I play bass guitar), I really enjoyed the mixture of the worship band with the church choir and orchestra. However, my musical tastes range from Bach to hip-hop and everything in-between so I am very open about worship music compared to most people, except maybe for the kitschy worship music of the 1990s. I did afterwards hear feedback from those who attended the contemporary service who said that having the choir as part of the musical mix made the music ‘stuffy’ and ‘old’ but the orchestra was a welcome addition. I thought it was interesting in the people that I spoke with thought that the orchestra enhanced worship while they felt that the choir took away from their worship. One person did tell me though that they thought a more contemporary choir (i.e. a group of younger singers singing in a less operatic/hymn-like style) would have been more appropriate for Easter Sunday than the choir that was presented.

  • Amber Salladin says:

    Interesting comments, Matthew. I wonder if it’s harder for a congregation member to “get past” the idea that choirs are stuffy because they have so often been used *instead* of the congregation for the musical worship. Or possibly, because they can range from sweet old folks without a rhythmic bone, to non-Christian ringers, to just tradition for the sake of tradition. Does your congregation have singers who could be used in this way?
    Thanks for your thoughts.

    • Matthew Linder says:

      I think at least with the people in our contemporary services they probably view the choir more as a performance group rather than a group of people leading worship. I also think there is a bit of age bias too since I feel that many people tend not to think of old people having much to say about anything so when it comes to a choir of older members leading worship it is hard for people to get past that bias. I really feel for you with what you are trying to do at your church and I pray that you do well in that position.

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