Yes, of course they do! Sadly, though, when I ask many Christian band and orchestra students if they have ever played in church the answer is most often “no.” I see this as a huge missed opportunity for connecting what our kids do outside of church with what happens on Sunday morning. Plus, student instrumentalists can add so much musical variety to our gathered worship. This series offers some practical ideas for getting them involved while addressing the unique challenges that often discourage both worship leaders and students.
Beginning to Engage Young Instrumentalists in Worship
It is challenging and time consuming to find a place for amateur musicians to actually serve congregational worship. Students’ skills are modest, and worship leaders may not be comfortable navigating the complexities of various instruments. We want the best quality music in our services. Yet, if we genuinely want to nurture an intergenerational community that uses their gifts to serve one another, it is important to find ways to engage with these young musicians. Here are some great places to start and a few guiding principles:
- Start with ensembles. Young players are not likely to be ready to play a solo in church. Find others like them and create a group to make music at their level. It doesn’t need to be a full symphony orchestra. Perhaps it is just a brass ensemble or a string ensemble or a balanced variety of instruments. Strive to make sure there is more than one player on each part, especially for the newest players.
- Pair them up with adults. My wife and I grew up sitting next to adult musicians (both professionals and amateurs) in church ensembles. Occasionally in the ensembles I have led, parents and their own kids have even played together. What an amazing intergenerational opportunity!
- Be mindful of their literacy. By literacy, I mean not only how well they can read music, but how well they can play by ear or improvise (“aural literacy”). A young Suzuki-trained string player, for example, might come with amazing technique and ear playing skills, but has not yet developed their reading skills. On the other hand, a student from school band may have strong note-reading skills, but has never learned by listening to a recording and may never have seen a leadsheet. Being attentive to this will help guide you to the right tools for success (more on this later).
- Don’t start too early. Players within the first two years or so of playing an instrument are probably not ready to play in a church ensemble. This doesn’t have to be a point of discouragement. In fact, when older students lead the way, the younger ones can look forward to the time when they are ready to begin playing in church.
- Make it positive. The biggest reason not to start too early is that it is absolutely essential that kids have a positive first experience doing this. In the next post, we’ll look at a few ways to begin plugging instrumental students into the gathered worship service.