"The choir Is dead, long live the choir" : contemporary worship music and the transformation of the church choir.


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Church choirs in North America have undergone substantial transformations in the early twenty-first century due to the steady increase of informal worship practices and the continuing decrease of formal worship elements within North American congregations. These changes have resulted in conflicting narratives concerning the state of the church choir with some believing that the rise of informal worship is bringing about the death of the ensemble and others witnessing the church choir taking on new life within informal worship spaces. This dissertation investigates North American church choirs in evangelical communities whose repertoire is predominantly contemporary worship music (CWM), a rock-pop based genre of congregational song that is arguably one of the most informal worship elements utilized by North America congregations. The thesis which arises from this research finds that the establishment of church choirs in contemporary worship within evangelical churches and networks is fraught with a central tension between establishing a sustainable choral practice, on the one hand, and keeping up with the rapidly changing genre of CWM, on the other – a dynamic which this dissertation contends is the “fault line” that is bringing about the conflicting narratives concerning the North American church choir. Using ethnographic participant observation methods from the perspectives of an insider and an outsider coupled with techniques emanating from stylistic analysis associated with the fields of musicology, music history, ethnomusicology, and music theory, this dissertation provides four case studies of CWM church choirs in contrasting environments and posits that the CWM genre has produced two distinct types of North American church choirs, namely the praise and worship choir and the worship-leading choir. Through the lens of the fours case studies and through the grounding CWM’s two choral types to various stylistic periods within the CWM genre, this dissertation addresses the hotly debated question: Is contemporary worship “killing” the church choir? By providing the first explicit consideration of church choirs in CWM, this dissertation contributes to church music scholarship and submits the church choirs as another viable vantage point from which contemporary worship music may be analyzed.



Contemporary worship music. Church choir. Contemporary worship choirs. Historical choir. Gateway church. Gateway worship culture. Intermittent worship. College ministry worship. Breakaway worship. Breakaway choir. Choral arrangements.