Wise Words from Joel Ulrich, R&S Chair for Music in Worship as his term of office expires

Our colleague, Joel Ulrich, writes his final letter (for the time being) from his role as R&S Chair for Music in Worship as his term of office expires. Thank you, Joel, for your service and dedication to ACDA!


Dear Music in Worship Colleagues,

Two articles from the June/July Choral Journal discuss aspects that relate directly to our work with church choirs. Ron Sayer (A Challenge to Our Institutes of Music Education) challenges music education programs to “expand their curriculums to include classes in adult and aging adult vocal pedagogy and adult choral skills in order to provide our future choral directors the tools necessary to expertly mentor singers at all stages of life, thereby assuring that singing is truly a lifelong experience.”  This is truly the work of church choir directors if we do our work “truly”. Earlier in his article, speaking of the millions of singers who participate in “some form of lifelong singing”, he asks:

Why do they sing? They sing for personal fulfillment and intellectual stimulation. They sing to develop and enrich their instruments. They sing because it provides them a form of cognitive and physical stimulation. They sing because it provides them an opportunity for relaxation and enjoyment. They sing as a form of therapy that results in a sense of satisfaction and spiritual fulfillment. They sing because they simply love to sing.

And of course, we could add many other reasons why people sing in church choirs—fellowship/community; soli Deo gloria; because “the Lord has put a new song in our mouths…”, etc. All our singers could add to the list of “reasons”, but most of our singers sing simply because “they cannot not sing”. As St. Augustine/Luther remind us, “He who sings prays twice” and those who sing in church choirs can all tell their stories of how their own relationship with the Lord has been enriched by the song/singing.

I’m mostly grateful for Ron’s reminder that we must “include teaching opportunities for pedagogy [including solfege! ^_^] and voice care” in our weekly rehearsals. Adult/older adult voices are different from adolescent/young adult voices.

Knowledge of the instrument and the affect of senescence is essential if the director is to expertly assume the role of pedagogue and lead singers in the formation of habits that will serve to enhance, protect, and prolong the singing voice well into the autumn of life.

In this same journal, Sarah Parks (Enriching Choral Opportunities for Aging Voices) reminds us of the blessing that “keeps on giving”—singing for life, and church choirs provide opportunities for intergenerational connections that our culture at large simply doesn’t provide.  As I’ve come to learn these last years as I’ve had opportunity to help with my grandkids, older people need younger people (they keep us thinking/acting young!) and younger people need older people (we keep them from being led too far astray by the “fantasy world” of our culture!). Throughout the history of the world, generations weren’t as separated as they are today in our world, and the blessing of church choirs is that singing together decreases the intergenerational disconnect.  Also, singing voices need each other and they learn from each other, provided that we as church choir directors are always thinking “big picture/lifelong” in our weekly rehearsals and that means working beyond just learning the notes for Sunday.

Read these articles—you’ll be blessed by them and reminded of our lifelong work in the only true lifelong sport: Music! And as we do our weekly work truly, we won’t see the “final results” till the Lord reveals it to us one day: “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

It’s been a pleasure serving with you these past 8 years, 4 yrs. High School R & S/ 4 yrs. Music in Worship R & S. As I conclude my WA ACDA board term, I look forward to our continuing work together and hope to see you all at SI this summer.  Send names of those you’d like to suggest for R & S chair to Tim Fitzpatrick.

Blessings on all your work, and see you this summer!

The Lord has put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God….”  Ps. 40:3

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