Music in Churches by Rebecca Lo

I have been playing the piano and the viola at churches since I was 12. It may seem simple to many musicians who have received good training from their schools and teachers, but it actually requires many different skills including organization, leadership, and creativity. 

Every service is around two hours long. Aside from the pastor’s message, almost the whole service is filled with music.

Starting with the prelude: I usually play a calm and more serious piece. This is used to gather people’s attention, announcing that the service is beginning. The prelude piece is the most solo-like out of the whole service. I usually play the piano, or sometimes, the viola with a pianist. Bach and other more “serious” pieces are often good choices for the prelude.

Worship music follows next: it is usually played by a mixed group of different instruments and people. I usually play the viola if there is a pianist. The role of the pianist is important: it is significant to know how to provide the correct chords and be able to transfer from song to song acting as a bridge tying all the songs together. Creativity is also important. Improvisation skill is necessary for the worship music. I grew up in a traditional church, so we sang traditional hymns in addition to the worship music. The pianist needs to be able to lead the whole audience; this is when the leadership comes in to play. The pianist needs to not only play with enough volume but also needs to be able to play steadily.

The Holy Communion is served once every month. The pianist’s job is to keep the background music going while the Holy Communion is being served. The kind of music being played can be light, but it needs to flexible, mostly because you don’t know how long it will take for the whole audience to finish receiving their bread and wine.

The music during offering is very similar to the Holy Communion: it can be delightful, but flexible because you don’t know how long it will take for the basket to go around the church.

Special Music is usually a short performance when people praise to the Lord with their music. I have played Bach on the viola or short Christian pieces during this time. Churches with choirs often perform during this time too.

Benediction pieces are usually pretty standard (varying by church), followed by the amen song that is played every service.

Last, but not least, is the postlude. The music for this can be as delightful, cheering, and relaxed as possible, because this is the background music being played when the audience is leaving the church.

Above is based on the experience I have gotten from playing in churches for many years. I would say over all that technique and how well you play isn’t the most important thing. Being able to know how the timing works and how to cooperate with the audience and people on stage leading the whole service are the most crucial skills to have.

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