Musica Sacra: Nurture the Music

By Rachel E. McCrorey
Hi, I'm Rachel. Perhaps you know me, perhaps you don't. Either way, I just so happen to be the young lady who "took to music as a duck takes to water" from Rev. Gaven Mize's article, "College Hymn Fail." That's what he told me, anyway.

Music has always been a part of my life. Both of my parents are musicians. They filled our home with the sounds of the flute, piano, guitar, violin, and even the banjo. My siblings took up piano and guitar. Even my grandmother was a church organist for much of her life. Suffice it to say, music as a passion was inevitable for me. I started taking piano lessons when I was eight years old and later joined a local choir. It wasn't long before I was playing the occasional special music for church, practicing rigorously for recitals and concerts, or just accompanying my family when they played music at home.

Back then, music was all good fun (and, of course, it still is). As I've gotten older, though, my relationship with music has changed from a mere hobby into something more. It has become something that I feel called to do. This shift was very much influenced by my involvement with Higher Things. I first learned about Higher Things from the aforementioned Rev.  Mize while I was a member of his parish and a student in his confirmation class. He told me about the HT conferences, and so, with his and others' encouragement, I attended "From Above" in 2013.

I could go on about all the conference experiences that I've had at Higher Things, from participating in tetramorph challenges, to attending the breakaway sessions, to playing games and singing Compline during free time.These were all wonderful experiences that I will never forget. Still, there is one aspect of the conferences that has always stuck with m:. the music. I still remember the first time that I heard the powerful congregational singing at the opening Divine Service of the conference. My group and I were running a little late for the service, so we arrived during the opening hymn. As we ran up the stairs in the conference building, I could hear a sound growing louder. Voices. Many, many voices, and-- wait, was that a pipe organ? That was new. Finally, we pushed through the doors, and the muffled noise became clear. It was the church, joining together in song. I had never heard so many people singing a hymn before. I had never heard a pipe organ before, filling the space with a chorus of principals and reeds. It was a pivotal moment in my musical career--no, my life. This was when I knew that I wanted to be a church musician. Right then, I told myself that I wanted to be a part of that singing. Maybe I even wanted to play the organ like that someday. Either way, I just knew that I wanted to be making music in the church always.

Soon after this experience, I took up organ lessons. A few months later, my home congregation caught wind of it all and recruited me to play the organ. Ever since, I've been serving my church by leading the service music every week. Additionally, I have been fortunate enough to attend events such as the organist workshop at Concordia Theological Seminary to learn how to become a better church musician. During the workshops, we spend a lot of time learning about theology and different organ playing techniques, but some of my fondest memories involve our discussions on how to bless the Church with what we do. I constantly ask myself how I can lead the music in such a way that I glorify God and serve the Church.

My own story of attending the Higher Things conferences and then becoming a church organist is living proof of how impactful sacred music truly can be. It is my hope that all people would be encouraged by the music of the Church, just as I have been.

If you and I were sitting face-to-face right now, there would be one thing that I would say to you about church music: get involved with it. Somehow, in some way--just do it. No matter who you are or where you come from, the Church is always in need of musicians. "Oh, I can't carry a tune for the life of me." "I could never get up and play my instrument in church!" "All we sing in church are those boring dirges, anyway, so why should I bother?" Let me stop you there. None of those matter. We are all still learning every day, and it's quite normal to doubt ourselves.

Actually, I doubt myself all the time. I am constantly wondering whether someone as small as I am could ever serve in God's Church. There are plenty of other people who do what I do much better than I can, so why would the Church ever need me? We doubt for many reasons. Perhaps it could be for a lack of familiarity with a particular setting, an unhealthy dose of perfectionism, or, quite simply, a bad day. I'm sure we have all been influenced by some of these reasons. More often than not, though, I doubt myself because I recognize how important music in the Church truly is. God has always used music for His purposes. Music is used to praise God, proclaim all that He has done for us, instruct others in the faith, and so much more. 
Music is not simply background noise or a way to pass the time during church. It is a gift, developed and passed on through the ages to bring beauty into the Church. If you can sing (and, yes, you can), then sing. If you can play an instrument, then play. God uses these talents and gifts in His Church for His purposes. When you sing in church, you're not only singing with your fellow congregation members, but you're also singing with the Church universal on earth and the "angels and archangels and all the company of heaven." It's bigger than you, me, or any doubts that we have. So, go and sing, play, rejoice! All glory be to God alone!

Rachel E. McCrorey is the organist at Divine Savior Lutheran Church in Shepherdsville, Kentucky. She is also a recent college grad who obtained a music industry degree. In her spare time, she enjoys writing, baking, hiking in the woods, and watching British TV period dramas.

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