The Role of the Choir

A Word on the Historical Use of Choral Music

The use of dedicated performers-that is to say, groups that are not part of the congregation proper, but rather, select groups of musicians, was once regarded differently than it is today.

Historically, we've always avoided elevating the performing group to something above the assembled congregation, but rather viewed it as a component of--or a representation of--it.

Consider the following excellent passage from Kretzmann, Christian Art: In the Place and in the Form of Lutheran Worship (1921):

As far as music of the choir is concerned, it must always be in
accordance with the purpose of the day. Its proper place is after the
Epistle-lesson, instead of the Hallelujah otherwise chanted by the
congregation. But choir-singing may also be used during the distri-
bution of Holy Communion. And it must never be forgotten that
the choir should be active as choir only, solo singing, unless it be as
a movement of a larger composition, being out of place in a Lutheran
service, just as much as any other individual and independent activity
outside of the means of grace. Everything that reminds of the con-
cert hall must be avoided in a Lutheran service. This includes the
placing of the choir in the altar space or on any. prominent elevation
before the congregation. It is quite proper, however, to place the
choir on the balcony of the transept. It must never be forgotten that
the Lutheran church choir is a part of the congregation, and repre-
sents the congregation in the singing of any hymns of praise. To
give to the choir the position of the lower clergy savors of a polity
which is not in harmony with Lutheran democracy.

It's easy to extend this thinking to the role of the "praised band," who typically sits at the front of the assembly and performs. In just a short century, we've drifted from a beautiful and meaningful bit of symbolism (choir-as-congregation) to something less--a one-way, concert-hall experience.