I have been asked on occasion over the years what is the appeal of being a conductor or music director. The question would often go something like this: "If an ensemble doesn't play or sing to one's expectations, then everyone may look to you. Isn't it more rewarding then to just take responsibility for your own musical offerings as a soloist instead?" As rewarding as a solo performance can be in any context, my answer comes easy—no. The sense of community one discovers in a choir, a musical ensemble, and especially in congregational singing is vital to our collective musical and worship experience as a church. We are better together.
The pandemic has sent us as worship staff into surreal territories such as prerecording services into bite-size chunks to be reassembled again, livestreaming to empty pews, and on occasion broadcasting from multiple locations via Zoom. Needless to say, community worship required a strong helping of imagination to accompany our best intentions—as a congregation we all chipped in with that!
Music-making for myself became a private endeavor in large part. Plymouth's music ensembles, when they could safely meet, offered modest (yet spirit-filled!) selections as we observed social-distancing protocols and limited the number of participants who could gather at one time. And congregational singing, the heartbeat of the church's collective song, could only be imagined in viewer's homes on the other side of the sanctuary camera lens.
We came back. And we retreated for our own health and for our neighbors. And likely soon, we will return once again to worship— and yes, sing and play!—as a church family and congregation. Choir rehearsals will resume and ringers will reconvene on Wednesday evenings. The joy of preparing our offerings for worship, experiencing and deepening our understanding of the music and its intention, and being with each other as a merry band of music-makers once again will come rushing back in and be welcomed with wide open arms. And in the sanctuary, God's people singing hymns and songs of old and new together as one voice will make a glorious sound. One community in Christ.
I leave you with these uplifting words from the closing paragraph of A Song to Sing, A Life to Live, a fascinating book reflecting on music as spiritual practice by Don and Emily Saliers:
Listen, and sing.
Mark Heiskanen has been Plymouth's Director of Music since September 2017. Originally from Northeast Ohio, Mark has experience and great interest in a diverse range of musical styles including jazz, rock, musical theatre, and gospel. He is thrilled to serve a congregation and staff that values diversity and inclusion in all facets of life. Mark's Music Minute can be read here.