This article was originally published in the Fall 2017 issue of AIM: Liturgy Resources.

     Are you in planning gear yet? I know several pastoral musicians who strive to plan for the entire year, Labor Day to Labor Day, during the summer. Others plan in smaller segments throughout the year. However you approach the process, and whatever planning guides you might use, everyone uses some kind of judgment to select assembly pieces that people will sing. Often, the foundation for those decisions is more intuitive than explicit, and some anxiety about how to “get people to sing” also rises while filling out those forms for each Sunday. And, as a music ministry and its leadership moves from year to year, we wonder whether things are getting better in the area of participation or if we should just accept the status quo.

I have found Jennifer Kerr Breedlove’s work in this area to be very practical, accessible, and eye-opening. She has been observant, reflective, and deliberate in her twenty-five years as a music director, and shares her recommendations in her book Sowing Seeds, Bearing Fruit: A Five-Year Process for Growing a Singing Congregation (wlp 017317). So, if some of the anxiety and questions about musical participation ring true for you, I recommend you spend a little time with Jennifer and see what her process has to offer you and your community.

Here are a few of the ideas and passages that strike me. She finds the common image of music ministry as “building projects” too linear and static. Instead, she uses the metaphor of a garden. “If we think of our ministry less like builders and more like gardeners,” she writes, “our entire focus shifts. Our approach must be more flexible, more patient, more time-conscious, and most of all, it must acknowledge that our work in this garden is never done.”

In the first year, she offers a thorough method for observation and data gathering that will lead to informed decisions later. She writes about the assembly’s voice: “During the first month or so of your observation, devote your attention almost entirely to the voice of the assembly. Listen to what it sounds like when it speaks together, when it  responds together, when it sings together . . . Take notes.”

In the second year, as you “prepare the soil,” she offers this wisdom: “It is my belief that when people do not sing at liturgy, most of the time the reason has less to do with a particular song or style of music than with one or more of three more fundamental reasons: 1. They do not think they are able to sing. 2. They are not aware that there is a reason to sing. 3. They do not like to sing.” This leads to the  observation that “We cannot bully people into singing, or guilt them into it; instead we will create a hospitable space where anyone who wishes to sing can do so and is given ample opportunity to do so.”

In this year, there is a method for capturing moments of success and building on those moments, and for building up a broad team to continue the process. I hope that you are finding these brief snippets intriguing, and that this excellent resource will find a home on your reading table and will help enliven your ministry of music.

Sowing Seeds,  Bearing Fruit

A Five-Year Process for Growing a Singing Congregation.
Jennifer Kerr Breedlove

From a widely published composer and arranger of liturgical music and an expert in music theory and sight-singing, comes this useful volume. Jennifer offers her guidance for building a successful singing congregation from the roots up. Innovative ideas and common sense guide parish musicians through a process of gathering information about the parish music program, ways to evaluate and interpret the information, and concrete strategies to pursue. As a garden grows with knowledgeable and careful tending, so does a parish music program and its singing congregation in particular.

Mary Beth Kunde-Anderson serves as Editor Emerita of our WLP Division. Now committed to liturgical and music ministries at Ascension Church in Oak Park, Illinois, Mary Beth previously worked as a parish music director at two parishes, as well as for the Archdiocese of Miami Ministry of Worship and Spiritual Life, the Archdiocese of Chicago Office for Divine Worship, and World Library Publications.