Although I truly love every aspect of my music-filled week, every Sunday I have the opportunity to lead the body of Christ in worship. There’s nothing else that brings me greater joy than when I have opportunities that directly intertwine faith and music. Growing up within church, worship is also a large part of my musical “roots” -- church was the place I learned how to read music, sing with a choir, play the piano in front of a congregation, accompany instrumentalists and vocalists, and more.
Recently Rachel and I returned from the beautiful Gaylord Convention Center in Nashville, TN, where we attended “Sing!” Conference for Pastors, Leaders, and Musicians on Encouraging and Reforming Congregational Worship.
I have attended this conference for the past three years and each year I have grown in both my faith and musicality. It’s hard to put an experience into words, however, I want to share some of the opportunities this unique conference provides and hope you too may attend in the future!
Each year I eagerly look forward to worshipping with other believers. I have always enjoyed the intimacy of being a part of a small congregation, however, it simply feels like a glorious preview of Heaven to sing alongside 10,000 attendees from more than 50 countries. It is also an opportunity for worship leaders, like myself, to be fully present without thinking about responsibilities that accompany typical Sunday mornings.
Additionally, I am always amazed by the variety of music that is included in worship conference sessions -- acapella choral singing, orchestral arrangements of sacred and classical works, traditional hymns, contemporary hymns, and more. I always am exposed to new music where the lyrics are theologically sound and the music is written and presented in a way that a group can easily join in singing. The beauty and creativity that is shared is a direct reflection of God.
Finally, each evening of conference there are concerts and this year included a Hymn Sing at the Grand Ole Opry, The Messiah, An Irish Christmas, and Sing! Nashville, where 13,000 people celebrated in song at the Bridgestone Arena.
The concerts included a variety of artists, including Keith & Kristyn Getty, Joni Eareckson Tada, Andrew Peterson, Shane & Shane, Sandra McCracken, David Kim, and more. Rachel and I especially enjoyed An Irish Christmas, which happen to take place on the hottest day of the year! The concert was filmed and will be featured on Trinity Broadcasting Network. One of my favorite moments was the closing of the concert with an acapella singing of O Come All Ye Faithful. ♫
Shared from Facebook, Video Credit: Bob Lepine
Each year there is an overarching theme for the conference and this year was The Life of Christ and focused on the Incarnation, Passion, Resurrection, and The Great Commission. The music, keynote speakers, and panel discussions were all centered around the Gospel story. (Bill & Tammy Pence’s reflection found here includes a great summary on the keynote speakers.)
John Piper’s keynote on Paul and Silas impacted me. These two friends were persecuted for their faith and wrongly put in jail. Even in the midst of suffering they sang praises and they ministered to the jailer. Because of the hope of the resurrection, our lives should be different -- “Grumbling is not the power of the resurrection.” All of the keynotes gave much to reflect on.
In addition to keynotes there are “breakout sessions” where each attendee can choose topics most applicable to their current work. Below I've shared a few of the sessions I attended and my personal "take-aways."
Language, Creativity, and the Imagination - Sandra McCracken
I love listening to Sandra McCracken as she weaves storytelling and scripture into beautiful folk-like melodies. She shared how "we are made to be creators by The Creator God, Himself." Creativity is part of being made in the image of God.
As someone who continually struggles with life-balance, I also connected with her watering jar analogy: "Your watering jar needs to match what it can serve. Maybe it can't adequately serve a whole field, however, it could serve an herb garden where you could see growth." I was reminded that even with good things, you must prioritize to have optimal growth.
And of course, it was simply wonderful to all sing together "we will feast in the house of Zion and weep no more..." ♫
Is Choir Worth It? - Dan Forrest
I'm sure we all know the answer is "yes," however, Dan Forrest shared great ways for how we can do better by highlight pitfalls choirs face in the 21st century.
Pitfall #1: Choir has become an end in itself.
Instead choir should be a means to a bigger purpose.
Pitfall #2: Congregational singing and choir have become unbalanced in focus.
Instead churches should equally invest in congregational and choral singing.
Pitfall #3: Choir got 'tied to' being 'old-fashioned'
This is false thinking. Choir does not have to be!
* Pitfall #4: Choir has become predictable (same placement and time).
Instead choir should be used to enhance the service. Consider placement -- perhaps the message of the choir anthem would be best suited as an opening of praise, a confession itself, a response to a confession, during communion, after communion, in response to a sermon's message, etc.) It should be varied based on where the message best fits into the service.
Additionally, we were introduced to a few new choir anthems. My favorite was Dan Forrest's arrangement of Andrew Peterson's song, "Is He Worthy?" -- listen to the recording here.
Building Vibrant Children’s Choirs - Katie Sutton & Kellie Cunningham
Last year I had the privilege to begin children's choir at Peace Church in Goose Creek. It has been one of the highlights of my week. Katie & Kellie's conversational presentation was so helpful as a new choir director! ♫
Peacemakers Children's Choir, Father's Day 2019
Characteristics of a Vibrant Choir:
#1. Growth in Depth (Relationally with one another and in theology)
#2. Growth in Community (Encourage teamwork and give children leadership opportunities)
#3. Growth in Development (Provide scaffolding - give then reduce supports to encourage growth)
#4. Growth in Artistry ("Young children can also be little artists!" Give tools to increase children's understanding of rhythm, diction, vowel production, and more. Use visuals and engage in movement!)
#5. Growth in Joy and Fun! (Choir should be enjoyable! Make time for fun and building relationships.)
Additionally, there are a few social media groups where conference attendees share resources, encouragement, ideas, and more!
The exhibit hall at the Sing! Conferences are truly extraordinary. There are booths for sheet music, books, CD's, sound equipment, technological programs, instruments, colleges, Christian non-profit organizations, and more. Rachel and I enjoyed 'tickling the ivories' on a few beautiful Steinway pianos :)
For me, it was especially helpful to be able to talk with knowledgable musicians and share the specifics of our church children's choir (e.g., size, costumes, musical abilities) and be pointed to a handful of appropriate resources for Christmas pageants!
There are also many giveaways throughout the conference during sessions, breakouts, and in the exhibit hall. I always come home with great resources -- books, CD's, and DVD's plus a few fun items, t-shirts, pop-sockets, etc.
Finally, click below to access a few online resources that have been shared during conferences:
Spotify Playlist, Sing! 2019, The Life of Christ
Getty Music Plus (Online education for individuals and groups)
10 Christmas Carols Everyone Should Know Article
The Sing! Book Sermon Outline
I highly recommend this conference and am personally already looking forward to 2020.
The description from the Getty's website states: “This event is for anyone who wants to grow in their understanding of how Gospel-centered worship will transform your life, your family and your church!
We will have special seminars for pastors, parents, worship leaders, songwriters, musicians (classical and modern), audio/visual directors and anyone involved in church life. Plus, we are doing a pre-conference event exclusively for children’s ministry leaders and music educators!”
You can learn more and register at: gettymusicworshipconference.com
Did you attend worship conference this year? If so, what was your favorite aspect? Comment below!
Owner Lowcountry Pianist & Company