Christmas Eve with no paid singers?

Are you a choir director in a church with an all volunteer choir? Is Christmas approaching and you are fearing that your choir of all volunteers and lack of tenors will not be able to produce the sound you know that church needs on Christmas Eve? Well, you may be the problem.

Recently, I was directing the volunteer choir at the Diocese of Chicago’s annual convention and one of the volunteers said,”we could never do this at my church, our choir isn’t big enough.” She also said how much she enjoyed being in this big choir and singing this great music. So, in an act of spontaneous improvisation, I ask them to raise their hand if their choir in their home parish had less than ten people in it. About 90% of the 60+ member choir raised their hands.

Friends, this is the reality of our church. Yes, there are churches with excellent music programs, with paid singers and multiple directors and accompanist—but the reality is clear, most Episcopal Churches have one director/accompanist and a volunteer choir of 10 people or less. And you know what, I am at one of those churches and we have an excellent music program! But, I am very creative! I am blessed with a great volunteer choir of about 7 folks. 3 sopranos, 2 altos, and 2 basses. You read it correctly, no tenors. When possible, I add the tenor part.

So, Christmas is coming and I have so much pressure on me to produce a musical offering that is worthy of Christmas. But, trust me, after 15 years of directing music in the Episcopal Church, I am not afraid of anything. We will not be paying any singers to join the choir for Christmas Eve and I have picked music that makes my choir sparkle. Lau’s “As I went to Bethlehem” makes my choir sound like a choir of 20, and a lot of help from St. James Music Press is giving us the tools to sound amazing! RIP, Mark Schweizer.

To be fair, I did hire two brass players from the Lakeside Pride Symphonic Band. They both will offer a solo during the prelude and I am using St. James Music Press’ Christmas Brass arrangements which make adding brass to Christmas so easy!

If you are in the Evanston/Chicago area, come see for yourself why a volunteer choir can produce a beautiful Christmas Eve service. Our service starts at 9:30pm on December 24, 2019.

Special note: If you are in a choir or direct a choir with paid singers, great! By no means am I saying that is a bad thing, I just think we need to better support churches that can’t afford to pay singers. And, I know at least one person will say “well, you can’t afford to not afford to pay singers.” Well, when a church is in the red, and needs a new roof, I think choices have to be made. Every church is different, and every need is different.

Westley Hodges
Associate of Music Ministries
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church
Evanston, IL.

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