For parents: How offertories help prepare your child for church

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In church, there has to be a balance between doing things well and giving new musicians a chance to develop their skills. Both are important and unlike baseball, church does not the luxury of minor leagues to develop those musicians.

So what happens is that younger musicians often get a taste of playing in church through playing offertories. In many cases, that is almost all the church music experience they will get before going to college.

That is just the way it has to be in a lot of situations, and as parents, we have to maximize those opportunities. I want to give you a quick thought that might help a bit.

Be cautious of thinking that if your child is learning published arrangements, they are getting what they need to be ready to be a functional church musician later in life. Here’s why: learning published arrangements is helpful but has the same deficiencies and few advantages over just learning to play classical music.

I have talked before about the deficiencies. We discussed how classical music teaches reading and technique but fails to teach improvisation and playing by ear. The same is true for published arrangements. Every note is spoon-fed to your child and all they have to do is replicate. That is not a bad thing necessarily but it is not real life. In real life church music, the situations where musicians (especially pianists) are given every note to play are rare.

So here is the problem: you may have a child that excels in playing flashy offertories in church but nevertheless has no developed ability to do the more common and important things in church like accompanying.

There are a few things you can do to help the situation. First, encourage your children to arrange their own offertories. They might not be as flashy as their friends’ offertories but in the long run will be much more beneficial to them. Playing the flashiest offertory is hardly a contest that belongs in church anyway.

Second, if at all possible, find ways to get your children involved in church music besides offertories. Get them playing for children’s choirs, nursing homes, Wednesday night groups and other less pressured events. If possible, get them doing an occasional accompaniment in real church. Or if your church has a second keyboard that is not being used during congregational singing, ask if your child can play it with the volume turned very low.

It is as simple as that I think. There should lots of ways to get real life church music experience without reducing the quality of the church’s Sunday morning worship service. Remember that playing offertories is just one small piece of the puzzle.