Nothing puts a smile on my face quicker than watching the classic episode of Andy Griffith where Barney joins the choir and somehow ends up singing the solo. “Welcome sweet springtime, we greet you in song.” The look on the directors face is priceless, and one I have seen on many ministers of music in my life.

Church directors are often confronted with choir members who are at varying levels of ability and training. Navigating the waters between ministry and artistry can be wrought with many dangers. How does a thoughtful director cultivate a spirit of inclusivity while honoring the important role of maintaining the quality and authenticity of the worship event ?

I am reminded of the saying, “It would be a quiet forest if only the best bird sang.” Scripture encourages us to be people of praise. Church choir is one of the few places where people can find a safe place to explore their musical gifts. Finding the right space for our amateur musicians to thrive is an important part of a successful church music program. Here are a few ideas to help build excellence in your choir without building walls of elitism around your loft.

• ​Set proper expectations for your group. Challenge the choir, but don’t overwhelm them with terminology or techniques beyond their capabilities. Create a spirit of excellence and begin working toward musical and spiritual growth.

• ​Choose music that is sensitive to the proper pedagogy for your group.

• Consider establishing a music reading class for those non-reading members. (See Heather Sorenson’s BLOG)

• Provide learning aids for people to use outside of practice. Take advantage of websites and rehearsal products that empower your members to learn on their own. (See our Hal Leonard/Shawnee Press Church YOUTUBE channel for looking and listening to music from our recent sacred releases. Many choirs use this site as a rehearsal resource).

• Spend some time in sight-singing at the start of each rehearsal.

• Always connect the dots between musical and the spiritual. Giving one’s best to the Master is the greatest of all motivators and should be the heart of every sacred choir.

Try a few of these suggestions and perhaps even your own “Barney Fifes” will start sounding like Gomer Pyle in no time.

Happy scales to you,


Joseph Martin, a native of North Carolina, earned his Bachelor of Music degree in Piano Performance at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina. Subsequently he earned a Master of Music degree in Piano Performance at the University of Texas, Austin. Joseph taught for five years in the Piano Pedagogy Department of the University of Texas. His piano teachers include Jimmy Woodle, David Gibson, Amanda Vick Lethco, Martha Hilley and Danielle Martin. While at Furman University, he was accompanist for choral director and composer Milburn Price and, inspired by his teaching, Martin began to compose.
He is a member of the staff at the Hal Leonard Corporation and Shawnee Press, Inc. as Director of Sacred Publications, with responsibilities for overseeing the editorial and creative direction of the company and also coordinating the recording and production aspects of future sacred publishing efforts.
Joseph has performed solo piano recitals and has been the featured artist with symphony orchestras in the United States and Mexico. As winner of the Nina Plant Wideman Competition, he performed with the Guadalajara Symphony Orchestra. His solo recital in Ex-convento del Carmen was broadcast nationally throughout the country.
Joseph is Artist in Residence at Concordia University in Austin, Texas where he lives with his wife Sue, and his children Jonathan and Aubrey.

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