This month marks exactly 40 years since I started my first church orchestra!
It was at my home church, Castle Hills Baptist in San Antonio, Texas, where I spent two summers during my college years as a music intern before going on to serve as a staff member after graduation. I still can see in my mind's eye that motley crew of players — and little did I know that one of the teenage flautists would someday become my wife!
In the early days, there was very little music published for church orchestras, so I was writing for our orchestra every week. The first piece I arranged for this group was "Praise to the Lord Medley," which is still published by PSALM 150. Since that time, I've had the blessing of directing church orchestras in five other cities. The experience of many years of working with dedicated volunteer musicians has greatly informed my approach to arranging and orchestrating. As my friend Doug Smith (trumpeter, arranger, and longtime professor of music at Southern Seminary) has said, well-crafted music helps players to sound good and feel good about what they're playing. So whenever I write, I'm always thinking "live performance by amateur players," rather than perfectly-mixed music recorded by studio professionals (though I enjoy working in that environment as well). I've also learned to build a little flexibility into the instrumentation of each arrangement, and to try to provide something meaningful for each part to play.
Over all, the greatest blessing has been to see how the Lord has used instrumental music ministry to bless the lives of musicians and of the congregations in the churches where I've served. To Him be all the praise and glory!
What about you? What's your story, and what's it like with your church and your instrumentalists? I would love to hear what you may have to share.