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 Wind Instruments in Church
Author: allencole 
Date:   2007-08-30 17:29

I recently took a job as interim music director at a fairly small Baptist church. The folks here are pretty open to different things, and have enjoyed even some jazz-oriented stuff.

There is also a strong faction in favor of country gospel, and I've been able to accommodate that.

As a private teacher, I've always tried to encourage my students to play in church, and to develop material that's appropriate for a worship service both in song selection and in the character of the arrangement.

A new thing to me (I'm new to choir directing) is praise music which is primarily an acoustic guitarist acting as 'Praise Leader' either solo or in front of a band. The church's new pastor is very keen on this (he's a fine singer/guitarist himself), but a bit skeptical of having instruments being played in the services.

I am opposed to excluding anyone from playing unless the music is inappropriate, they perform in an inappropriate way or they actually sound bad. I also oppose using instrumentals in the "Special Music" (i.e. Choir Anthem) slot. But it seems to me that preludes, postludes, offertories, etc. are a good place for a tasteful instrumentalist to contribute.

We have very few instrumentalists in our congregation (i.e. no chance of an ensemble), but I would like to let some students come and play on occasion (both solo and in small groups), so that they can learn to do this kind of thing with my help. (being employed at my church, I can hardly visit at theirs)

One problem that I know occurs is that instrumental performances can look ostentatious, as players feel an obligation to demonstrate a certain level of ability. Another common one is that some players just bring in repertoire, and it's either too showy, too disconnected from the service, or too lengthy to be of use.

I'd like to hear from folks who run into these sorts if issues playing in church, and from folks to have issues with some stuff that they have to endure listening to in church.

I'd also like to hear from folks who have experiences in 'Praise Music' as something other than a rock saxophonist.

I think that things can be integrated, but need to show the pastor the it can be done unobtrusively and not as a big show. I'd hoped for some things on YouTube, but haven't found much thus far.

Allen Cole

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 Re: Wind Instruments in Church
Author: Jhall 
Date:   2007-08-30 18:09


You might have instrumentalists play from a hymnal. If a soloist needs an accompaniment, then you run into having to transpose.

I play several solos from a series of Bach pieces with keyboard accompaniment. I don't have the music here in my office. They are part of a series I found at the local music store.

Check with various publishers for collections of music for a praise ensemble. I know of one Lutheran school that used such a book in their services.

Good luck,

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 Re: Wind Instruments in Church
Author: DavidBlumberg 
Date:   2007-08-30 19:25

Hey, I was flipping through the TV channels and came across a Violinist playing the Sarasate Gypsy Airs for Violin

for a large scale televangelist church service .........

It's all fair game


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 Re: Wind Instruments in Church
Author: jimk 
Date:   2007-08-30 19:36

I play in my own church several times a year and have played in a few others. Most of the time it has been solo clarinet with piano accompaniment, but sometimes alto sax with piano. My latest project has been a clarinet trio - all three of us are adult amateurs from three different churches. On one occasion I was the visiting soloist at a church and played a duet with one of their high school students.

When I first started playing in church I agreed with your statements about when in the service to play, though music directors have coaxed me into playing in place of choir anthems, too. This has especially been the case when I've been the replacement special music so the choir could have a Sunday off. Depending upon the church tradition, it might be appropriate to play softly during Communion.

Consider the arrangements published by www.washingtonmusic.org. I have bought quite a few pieces from their library. One of the most unexpected challenges of playing in churches has been the lack of a common tradition of Christian music - some of the popular music in a traditional Southern Baptist church would be unknown to a United Methodist congregation and vice versa. I always review music with the music director well before the service where I will be performing. I am confident at least some of the people at a church service are expecting to hear something they recognize as church music (though my own music director keeps telling me to be less strict on this).

Consider extra long preludes before special services such as Christmas Eve. Our youth bring in their non-churchgoing friends to do brass quartets and such during an hour long prelude featuring five or six different groups. Some of the groups are instrumental, some are vocal. Yes, people actually come to church an hour early on Christmas Eve just to listen to the music.

I think it is important for the music director to specify early on in the preparation how much is wanted. I think of music interms of duration, mood (I'll play a jazzy piece as an offertory, but not a prelude), and complexity of performance (both complexity of the piece and the number of people to be involved)(sometimes an a capella soloist is exactly what is needed). I wish the music directors would ask for "3-5 minutes of upbeat music during the offering that can begin seconds after the pastor finishes the sermon" rather than just leave it up to me to guess what is wanted.

Post Edited (2007-08-30 19:41)

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 Re: Wind Instruments in Church
Author: Bob Phillips 
Date:   2007-08-30 20:00

We have frequently set-up small ensembles of instrumentalists to perform "special" music at church services. Our only restriction is on the length of the performance.

We do rehearse and expect to offer a presentable performance. Recent stuff includes:

Beethoven Op. 16 (ww4 + piano) One movement
Mozart K498 (Clarinet, Viola, piano) First two movements
Brahms 115 (Clarinet, cello, piano)

Bob Phillips

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 Re: Wind Instruments in Church
Author: William 
Date:   2007-08-30 21:01

I have been involved in playing "jazz" services, twice a year, for a local Lutheran church. The church service is normal, the only difference is that when it is time for the congregation to sing, instead of the usual piano/organ accompaniment, our little jazz group plays. The band consists of the pastor on trumpet, me on clarinet with others on trombone, bass, drums and keyboard and we play from the regular hymnal, but in jazz style. If we play a special tune from a lead sheet, the words projected on the wall for the congregation to follow and sing. We always play the tune first, so the congregation gets used to it and then they are invited to sing along with us for all of the versus. During those versus, we all do get to play a jazz solo and show off a bit, and everyone seems to enjoy our enthusiasum. And--you probably guessed it--at the end, it's "When the Saints Go Marching In" as the congregation is leaving. One rehearsal and two Sunday morning "shows". Lots of fun and relatively easy to do.

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 Re: Wind Instruments in Church
Author: ohsuzan 
Date:   2007-08-30 21:47

Hi Allen --

Been where you are -- for many years -- as a music minister.

I believe you are on the right track as to the use of instrumental soloists in the context of a worship service. But I'd also like to suggest something else that might allow you to more fully integrate instruments of whatever sort into the service proper, and that is, to begin to create a little "orchestra" (loosely defined) to accompany hymns and such.

Numerous publishers -- both "evangelical" and "mainline" -- now publish accessible, fully-arranged instrumental versions of their hymnals. The praise & worship folks were the first to do this, but now even the Lutherans are doing it. My last contact with this as a professional was something like eight years ago, but at that time, there were instrumental versions of "The Celebration Hymnal" and "Songs for Praise and Worship" (from Word Publishing) readily available in looseleaf binder format. They were invaluable to me, and enabled me to encourage all manner of wind players to participate in worship NOT just as occasional soloists, but as integral members of the worship team.

You might also check out what the music ministry folks at Saddleback (in Orange County, CA) are doing.

Even though you don't have an ensemble now, you might be surprised at what comes out of the woodwork when you start (small) doing something like this.


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 Re: Wind Instruments in Church
Author: johng 2017
Date:   2007-08-31 14:14

I have about 5 years experience playing on a Lutheran Church worship team for a regular Sunday morning praise service. We used drums, keyboard, and guitars to back up the singers, and I usually played alto sax. Playing the only wind instrument with such a group is a bit awkward, so I settled in on the philosophy that I would generally stay away from the melody and simply play lead in's and fills to assist the singers and congregation to find their next pitches and entrances. I also didn't play every tune since they didn't always work with sax being a part of it. I felt that my role was as a helper, not a performer and this seemed to work. Also, since I am not that great improvising and transposing to the Eb alto, I would often write my own parts. Most of our music was mellow and not especially rock-oriented.

John Gibson, Founder of JB Linear Music, www.music4woodwinds.com

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 Re: Wind Instruments in Church
Author: clarinetwife 
Date:   2007-08-31 16:24

johng wrote< Playing the only wind instrument with
> such a group is a bit awkward, so I settled in on the
> philosophy that I would generally stay away from the melody and
> simply play lead in's and fills to assist the singers and
> congregation to find their next pitches and entrances.

I play clarinet on Sundays and piano on Friday mornings with the children. Especially with the children we have picked up some songs from Christian radio. Although I usually play piano without any other musicians, I actually think one melody instrument works real well as John described, intros fills and interludes. Sometimes melody support is actually helpful as well, although I agree that an instrumentalist should use melody sparingly in this situation.

I have enjoyed those occasions when I have had an instrumentalist sit in (typically flute). A bass player is sure nice as well even though I try to beef up the bass in the wimpy piano accompaniments I am given. In addition, our hymnal accompaniment book has lots of obbligatos in it that work quite well over the singers after they have sung a couple of verses.

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 Re: Wind Instruments in Church
Author: Lelia Loban 2017
Date:   2007-08-31 17:45

If people "have issues" with playing a wind instrument in a house of worship, one might point out to them that, if they've got a pipe organ, they've already been using several thousand wind instruments at a time in there....

To hear the audio, click on the "Scorch Plug-In" box above the score.

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 Re: Wind Instruments in Church
Author: bmcgar 2017
Date:   2007-08-31 21:18

Didn't read any of the responses to this, so it may have been covered, but using wind instruments in church has a long history. I'll leave it to you to research.

(BTW, the trombone is the "sacred" instrument of the Moravians.)

Not that history is going to make any difference to the stiffer people in the congregation.


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 Re: Wind Instruments in Church
Author: beejay 
Date:   2007-09-01 08:54

As a minor point of interest, it was common in French churches until the 19th century to accompany the choir with a bass serpent.

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 Re: Wind Instruments in Church
Author: Hank Lehrer 
Date:   2007-09-01 12:27


I have several years experience at 4 different denominations in the Toledo area and have found church playing a very fine way to perform to appreciative listeners. Some are pay gigs and some are pro bono.

For the Lutherans, my church, I am part of a 6 piece group (rhythm plus me on sax or clarinet with a trumpet and trombone); this group is used for several weeks during the year. The keyboard player, in addition to being a fine organist, is one of the top jazz keyboard players in the area. As a soloist, I play either sax or clarinet and perform music for preludes, the offering, communion, and postludes.

At an Episcopal church, the century old organ is played by an Eastman grad and we do a lot things for the same parts of the service. This church is a little more liturgically correct for the music we select. The only problem there is that the pitch of the organ is really low. The Steinway piano is much better.

The Baptists have a praise group band with rhythm plus all sorts of instruments playing prepared charts (heavy doubling). I have been a soloist for the same parts of the service and with the main choir on special arrangements. I've even done some backing of country religious songs improvising with a sound track and a vocalist.

For the United Church of Christ, I get invited each summer to work with one of my former standmates. We do a lot of two clarinet plus keyboard items. A clarinet trio was performed this summer with the organist just doing the bass clarinet part; it was very cool.

The arrangements I use are some that I have transcribed from a keyboard or choral part for use with clarinet or sax plus keyboard (Bach, Vaughn Williams, some folk songs, etc.); although I have a degree in music ed., it's pretty easy to do. I try to use only things that are in the public domain but could be skirting the edge of legality at times.

There is a lovely book of French clarinet pieces as well as some nice alto sax things available. I use some of the oboe literature and just transpose at sight or work with Finale a little.


Post Edited (2007-09-01 12:35)

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 Re: Wind Instruments in Church
Author: larryb 
Date:   2007-09-01 12:41

Oh man, Brother Gabriel must be having a good laugh over this!

But he's probably too busy busy jammin with Brother Louis - and lookie here, there comes Brother Higgenbotham down the aisle blowin' on his trombone... Yes, I'd like to be in that number!

Try blowing shofar at the next service.

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 Re: Wind Instruments in Church
Author: beejay 
Date:   2007-09-01 15:46

Anyone interested in music in churches might be very interested in a current BBC (radio 4) program called "Songs of Praise. The Rise and Fall of the West Gallery." The link is ... http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/progs/radioplayer_holding.shtml
... and look it up on the index.

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 Re: Wind Instruments in Church
Author: Don Berger 
Date:   2007-09-01 21:23

Fine comments, friends, have been a bit busy [for a retiree], and lurking here. I regard my ch playing as "ecumenical", anyone who will have me play ! In my "home" church, have played a sop cl or so solo, a bass cl "rhythmic" to a gospel, and several Baptist orchs, mainly bass cl, playing some of their hymn-etc re[dis]arrangements in a "praise" performance. I do enjoy it all. We [Pres.] have a flute/oboe soloist often, playing as described above, descant etc character, NICE. Don

Thanx, Mark, Don

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 Re: Wind Instruments in Church
Author: marcia 
Date:   2007-09-01 21:33

Have played on a few occasions, mostly cl. with either piano or organ, once played alto sax with piano. Have french horn playing friend there and she has played with piano, and a couple of times we have played trio with hn. cl. piano, and hn. cl. and organ. Have also had bsn. cl. fl. trio as well as cl. quartet. The congregation has always been very appreciative.


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 Re: Wind Instruments in Church
Author: Pam H. 
Date:   2007-09-02 21:04

I go to a large church and play in the orchestra there. Currently our orchestra plays for two of the morning services with the other two services playing more upbeat music with a small band which includes keyboards, percussion, guitars. That will be changing soon to one choir/orchestra led service and two band-lead services in the morning. The evening music pretty much pulls out all the stops. A bit wild for my taste but it is well attended so it certainly has it's place. I would encourage you to visit the church website and get in touch with our music minister - Jim Mitchell. He's a full minister and a musician. A brass man himself. He has extensive experience with all the things that you have questions about. I believe that he would respond.


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 Re: Wind Instruments in Church
Author: Richard Ashmore 
Date:   2007-09-02 23:51

I'm a member of a PCUSA church. Our choir has about twenty-five members, and is accompanied by a small ensemble, two clarinets, one each violin, flute, bassoon, trombone, and trumpet.

The publisher of our hymnal, Word Music, has a orchestrated the music and parts are available for everyone. The arrangements are not too difficult. My guess is that most high school players could do them comfortably. In any event, we play along with the organist and choir and are well received.

Separately, there is a Praise Ensemble that leads a monthly praise music service. The group has a piano, trumpet, two guitars, bass, and three vocalists. The folks that come to that service are quite enthusiastic, but small in numbers.


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