Archdiocese of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania
Orthodox Church in America
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Eight Good Reasons to Sing Downstairs
Twenty years or so ago a large choir singing elaborate liturgical music from a choir loft was a common characteristic of many parishes. Today that is much less the case. To us that seems like a good trend. Our consistent feeling when visiting parishes with choirs in lofts is a sense of overall disconnect. In many instances, its time to sing downstairs.

Here are eight reasons:
 

1. Fills Up the Church 

When a church has 35 worshipers downstairs it often feels empty. If seven singers are in a loft, moving the choir downstairs can increase the visual congregation size by 20%. The church looks (a little bit)  fuller.

Nobody wants to eat in an empty restaurant or come to a sparsely filled church.

And, in some parishes the singers are, on average, a bit younger than the rest. Don't hide young(er) people!

 

2. Congregants Feel Integral to Worship -- and Sing 

In our opinion, eventually stationing the choir downstairs encourages parishioners to actually participate in the liturgy. Too often we notice worshipers that seem to feel disconnected when music (good or less good) is wafting from a faraway loft. Participation can be enhanced with choir placement in the front enabling the director to turn toward the people, smile and encourage them to sing.  

 

At one parish where the choir sings from a loft, the choir comes downstairs for communion. Before the chalice is brought out simple music is passed out, everyone sings and the church comes fully alive. Sadly,after communion the choir returns upstairs -- and the people seem to become observers again.

 

3. Choir Realizes Its Most Important Role

Singers and directors in a loft are separated from the atmosphere downstairs and the tendency to 'do our thing' can be great. Being downstairs seems to better remind all musicians that their role is to lead the assembly in prayer and responses - not to offer a concert or even perfect singing. Choirs and directors can see what situations and music types tend to engender greatest responses and they're encouraged to do that more often. And, feeling responses from the assembly helps singers to sing better and more joyfully.  

 

Visual presence of the singers encourages congregants -- and congregants encourage the singers.

 

4. More Forgiving of Imperfect Singing  

Lets face it, many choirs, in lofts or not, are not musically excellent. Placement in a loft tends to offer the sense that since the choir is elsewhere they're being featured. In our view moving an average choir downstairs makes a congregation more forgiving in some ways. (Less "Geez what's going on up there today!")  

 

Most choirs make mistakes. Sometimes it takes a  bit to get singers on the right page. While sloppiness is not desirable, errors are human. Seeing a little bit of the humanity of what goes on in a choir can help people conclude: "This music doesn't sing itself. Thank you for your effort."

While no cause and effect can be shown -- most growing parishes seem to place the singers on the church's main floor. 

 

5. Correlates with Vibrant Growing Parishes

Twelve growing parishes were represented when we put together the Parish Health Inventory some years ago. Of those only one had a choir in a loft and in that case they wanted to move choir downstairs but didn't have the floor space since the small church was too full. Connect the dots.

 

To be fair it would be wrong to imply that moving choirs downstairs causes growth. it doesn't -- though we think it helps improve worship -- which is our number one job. We've been in dismal, declining churches with downstairs singing. In most however the worship atmosphere would have been even more dismal with singers in a loft.

  

6. Choir Behaves

Some (not all) choir lofts we've been in are not particularly pious settings. Chatter during sermons and announcements. Almost a 'we're the choir we don't need to listen' mentality. This is reduced significantly when the loft is vacated.

 

7. Recruiting Singers 

Recruiting singers --particularly Moms and children is usually easier from a downstairs venue. 

The first time a newbie or outsider ascends to a choir loft can be difficult. "Do I need a passport to enter this space?"   

  

We submit that it's easier to recruit singers who need only stand in a different place than climb steps to a conceptually far away loft. Case in point -- young mothers with small children still have visual and easy access to the kids. When downstairs choirs are shorthanded reinforcements arrive more readily. Children are much more likely to join in.   

 

8. Example of Change That Touches Everyone 

Most parishes need renewal -- and renewal involves making intelligent changes. When parishes come together to consider their future they often explore new behaviors, new ministries and activities. Unfortunately these usually touch only a few people and for a short time ("plant flowers"; "fix the steps", "start a class") and the impact as a precursor to actual renewal is minimal.  

 

To establish a mindset of a hopeful journey to a brighter future, change needs to regularly impact many parishioners. Nothing is a better start on this journey than intelligent, non-gimmick transformations of the feel of the Sunday Liturgy. Of course making changes just for the sake of change is counterproductive because it feels random and without merit. (And usually it is.)   

 

That Doesn't Apply to Us! 

But as someone once said regarding change: "Faced with the choice between changing one's mind (or choir location) and proving that there is no need to do so almost everyone gets busy on the proof."