A Mystery, the Holiday Care and Feeding of Church Musician’s

Chris Titko is a musician par excellence whether he is accompanying, directing, or editing the latest choral releases for the world’s largest music distributor. This classically trained church musician brings an impressive skill set to his daily enterprise that uniquely qualifies him for service to the modern church. An industry insider, he knows how to interpret the market trends of the music and balance that with a heart for ministry and service. Chris provides a some valuable “food for thought” as our guest blogger for this edition of WorshipSongOnline.

This amazing season of the year redefines the word busy. Is it possible that time moves faster from the week of Thanksgiving through the day after Christmas? It often feels like it. Family, friends, parties, community events, and at times, service after service and performance after performance. And those were the planned events, what about all of the inevitable surprises? So, what are we to do with this flurry of activity? Our gifts call us to help others experience something that is a great mystery, and yet the greatest of joys! How do we encourage others to sing and play that they might experience the miracle of Jesus, the child that changed the world? How can our work be more than just getting music ready? Do we accept the fact that we have been granted to responsibility of other’s experiencing the true meaning of Christmas?

Physical Self-care – Eating, sleeping and exercising are all a part of being healthy. When one or more of these elements is out of balance, and we have to be “on,” then it’s difficult us to be at our best. None of this is new news. The adage, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” only ignites the possibility that we will die an early death. In other words, taking care of ourselves matters not only to our friends and family, it matters to those we work with too. It is NOT a selfish activity. “Junk in, junk out.” This saying is true when it comes to eating at the holidays. At a time when we are “on,” can we allow ourselves to minimize the junk in our diets? We are experts at comforting ourselves with holiday fair. We work hard, so we deserve the indulgence. A suggestion, a smaller plate and smaller portions.
It’s easier for us to avoid physical activity due to cold temperatures. For many, walking in a mall is an option if you don’t have a gym membership. Many trainers will tell you that walking may not be enough. In this day and age there are so many options for staying active. It’s proven over and over how much this affects our physical and emotional well-being. Give yourself time to be at your best by exercising a few times a week. Need encouragement? Get a work-out buddy! You CAN do it!

Spiritual Self-care – Now many of you are saying “Chris, why didn’t you put this area first, it is the most important?” This issue is of upmost importance and defines our work from those who merely perform vs. those who offer their gifts to God. Prayer, bible study, studying the text of carols or the anthems you are sharing can help during this busy season. If we aren’t connected to the story in an intimate way, the story can often get put in the background, ignored, mistreated, and possibly abused. You know that we are not merely leaders of music. We bring our belief system to our work. No matter where we are in our spiritual journeys we have influence over all those who cross our paths. If our journey is suffering, so is our ability to help and uplift others. We’d like to believe that people don’t notice, the truth is, they do.

Gig vs. Ministry – For some who are employed by churches, a church job can be just another gig. An activity where they collect money for years of training, knowledge, and experience. They see their role as musically focused. Many follow the basics of their job description and provide a needed service to a congregation. These musicians attempt to do no harm. For what it’s worth, avoidance can be very damaging to those we are called to serve. Maybe you’re an introvert and sharing your faith literally frightens you. Maybe you bring spiritual baggage to the task of ministry from years of being taught bad philosophies about religion. This isn’t about judgement. I’m simply here to ask a question. What if you give those who are comfortable with spiritual leadership in your group a moment to pray, to offer a devotion at rehearsals? When we remember WHY we do something, and to whom we are offering our gifts, the mystery of faith can and will work miracles.

Flexibility and change – Our world is in a constant state of flux. For many, security and stability is only felt when things are NOT changing. If we accept the fact that things will happen that will not allow everyone to be there on Christmas Eve, we will be less disappointed. Of course, we occasionally pick pieces where we really need everyone. But those pieces should be saved for seasons where there is less conflict and less going on. If we complain to those present that our life is difficult when everyone isn’t there or our plan has to be adjusted because they have to live their lives and choir is not their top priority, we are being arrogant. As I stated before, none of what we do is really about us! We can easily get in the way of a healthy choir and ministry, but our role is to obtain a level of self-care that allows God to speak louder and more consistently than we do. When someone gives us a compliment, do we thank God or do we publicly take the credit? Are we able to say out loud “Thank you, Lord” rather than thank you to the giver of the compliment?

“When in our music God is glorified and adoration leaves no room for pride, it is as though the whole creation cried; Alleluia!”

What do we leave them with? What do you leave with your choir at the end of a rehearsal or right before a service?

Sopranos, blend, modify the vowel shape so that we can sound like one voice!
Tenors, that note in measure 54 is still fuzzy, be aware of it and do your best to fix it!
Basses, it’s TOO LOUD!!! Be sensitive to the rest of the group.
Altos, you’re perfect.

If these lines are what your choir hears right before a service, it will be tough for them to not concentrate on the music. This is where we have to put ourselves in their shoes and continue to wrestle with what makes what we do different than what happens in a recital or concert hall. What is the balance between musical and technical integrity and a heart filled with emotion in offering everything in worship? This is why we have to take care of ourselves. The sound of our choirs is a direct reflection on what we show them in our gestures and face and what we ask of them verbally. I dare say it’s a direct reflection on our priorities and how we live our lives. The combination of these activities helps to mold the sound. We either invite them to be fully engaged and dig deeply or we invite them to attempt musical perfection.

“I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection.
Excellence, I can reach for; perfection is God’s business.”
Michael J. Fox

Coda – Our instruments are in our bodies. How we feel is directly reflected in the sound we are able to produce. What if you talk to your groups about how the message of the piece directly relates to the focus of the day, or how it relates spiritually to things going on in the world? You may be surprised how these spiritual disciplines will affect everything in your ministry. It’s not about us, it’s not about the church, it’s not about our style of worship, or if we’re the best choir in town. It’s about the unique mystery of a child sent in human form that we might worship God.

“What shall I give Him, poor as I am, if I were a Shepherd, I would bring a lamb. If I were a wiseman, I would do my part. Yet what I can, I give Him, give my heart.“

The views expressed in this article are those of the writer. They do not necessarily represent the opinions of the J. W. Pepper company.


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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