Music is clearly an important part of both of your lives. Tell us briefly what drew you to music, and specifically to the violin and to voice.
Charlotte: I’m so thankful that my parents made music a routine part of my growing up. The study of an instrument as a source of enjoyment and as a discipline was non-negotiable! I started piano lessons at an early age, later played the flute, and then sang in my high school choirs. Practicing, rehearsals, and performances were constants in my life and at some point I realized this is what I had the most fun doing!
As a child, I was painfully shy and very quiet so it seemed unlikely that I would end up studying voice, which of all the instruments makes the performer feel the most exposed and vulnerable, but I just felt drawn to it and found that I loved singing. Being a part of a choir and then taking voice lessons in college definitely helped me to grow personally and musically.
Ryan: As a child my parents would play classical music CDs in the car, mainly string quartets. I was so mesmerized by the tone of the violin on those recordings, and so I asked my parents if I could learn. They’re so supportive—we had a rental violin very soon after I expressed interest! After taking lessons in school and later taking private lessons, I recognized the expressive and communicative powers of music. It truly is a kind of language.
Ryan, you shared something remarkable in a prior conversation with us at Metro. You noted you were blown away by what is preached at Metro. That is to say, the truth that “You are saved; therefore, you obey” was the “upside-down version” of what you had grown up hearing. How has this Gospel truth, this experience of grace, shaped your approach to your music ministry?
Ryan: Two main ways. First, this truth is incredibly humbling. In a given week, it doesn’t matter how well I plan an aspect of the music, or how well I contribute to playing for the worship set, or whether a prelude/offertory is especially successful—there is absolutely nothing I can do to earn His favor, it is given by grace alone. In this sense, I’m far less wrapped up in my own ego or my own performance. It is not about me or any other individual at church, it is about what Christ has done. And after being humbled in this way, all of my attention can be fixed on the worship aspect of the music ministry.
Secondly, this Gospel truth, this incomparable display of grace is absolutely inspiring, it inspires how I approach every aspect of planning, performing, etc. Knowing this inspires me to give everything I have on every single note when playing for worship, not for my ego but for His glory. Also with regard to planning, I read the Scripture that will be preached on a given Sunday and try to choose music that best highlights specific themes represented in the passage. The music is meant to help advance the message and share this amazing truth with our congregation.
Charlotte, one of the ways you’ve served Metro is as our choir director, melding together individuals with varying singing experience. As you’ve led our choir for several seasons now, how have you grown in your own experience of the Gospel and how have you, in turn, sought to demonstrate the Gospel as you direct our choir?
Charlotte: I have been so privileged to start a choir here at Metro! I am always thankful for the time and effort that the choir puts forth and for the community that is developed during our rehearsals. For me as the director, I love finding ways to make the music interesting and engaging, but at the same time, I struggle with worry and feelings of inadequacy on my part. It is in those times that I’ve been reminded that God is not only the one who will provide for the practical needs we have but that He is the one who is ultimately leading us and changing our hearts. It is very easy for me to feel that the musical and spiritual growth of the choir rests on my abilities, but the Gospel shows us that it is not our efforts but Christ’s work that truly makes that possible. It is important to me that this is the mindset that both the choir and I have when approaching rehearsals.
I began to take some time at the beginning of each rehearsal to share on the topic of music or worship, mostly because it was something that excited me and I had a captive audience, but that time of devotionals and prayer has been crucial to reorienting our hearts to worship God and seeing how beautiful music points to the Creator and can be a compelling way to convey the Gospel. It sets the tone for the rest of the rehearsal so that even when we are working on phrasing, vowels, or breath support, we can see these as ways to tell the story in the music.
You both have collaborated together musically in a number of contexts at Metro, including choir and offertory music. Can you describe what that collaboration process has been like, especially what you may have learned from each other?
Charlotte: With a busy teaching schedule and having been out of school myself for a while, it’s rare that I get a chance to work with other musicians so I love having the opportunity to do so here at Metro. I’ve really enjoyed working with Ryan to have both traditional hymns and selections from classical repertoire to share with the congregation. Particularly for special services such as Christmas and Easter, I’m thankful that Ryan has been so willing to help accompany the choir and bring in other instrumentalists to play for us. It’s also been fun for me to experience the difference between singing with the piano and with string instruments, which are naturally more similar to the voice.
Ryan: First of all—and anyone who has heard Charlotte sing at Metro can attest to this —Charlotte’s voice is AMAZING, what a gift. A string player like myself learns simply by listening to Charlotte, learns about musical phrasing, nuances, and many other musical intangibles. But aside from this, the collaboration process has been great. Charlotte is great to work with both artistically and logistically.
As important as musical excellence is to our worship at Metro, Tim Shin, our director of worship, had this to say in his interview about the worship team and music: “Lives [of worship team members] are being transformed, sins are being challenged, and faith is being restored. Music is just something we get to do on the side together–loving Jesus, as a community working together towards the vision, by the values, is what is helping keep us from getting burnt-out, building our resilience and character. I hope that is what continues to carry us forward.” Can you both briefly describe what your journey has been like as members of the worship team, especially a team that places an emphasis on vision, values, and character?
Charlotte: When I started on the worship team, I definitely felt out of my element, which sounds strange since I’ve been playing music my whole life, but coming from a classically trained background, it was a whole new format. Of course in many ways, it’s no different from any other musical ensemble—learning to listen to others, blend and balance, etc., but I definitely needed some hand holding to learn this new style of music. I’m grateful to the other members of the worship team for reminding me that it’s not primarily about the technique, but the shared goal of singing through the gospel story in community.
Ryan: My experience when first starting with the worship team was similar to Charlotte’s. As a classically trained musician used to playing with mostly orchestral instruments, it was a challenge to adjust to the style and blend with the guitars, drums, etc. Learning to read and follow chord sheets was especially tough for me. But going off of what Tim described, I believe those technicalities are only skin-deep. Musical excellence is a good thing, but the vision and values are really what drives our Worship team, and I’m reminded of that every time our team comes together.
What is one question regarding music ministry that you would like to ask each other?
Charlotte: Ryan, how would you like to see the music ministry grow in the future, especially as a form of outreach to the East Falls community?
Ryan: Within the next quarter, we will be having many more guests offering musical contributions during our services on Sundays—especially to prelude and offertory music. Looking ahead to the start of next year and beyond, the establishment of a free concert series will be a priority for the music ministry. These concerts would likely consist of a variety of musical performances with small classical groups, jazz combos, vocalists, etc. I think that music is much like the church environment in the sense that it brings people together who might not otherwise associate with one another. Offering free concerts would be a great way to bring people together in our church and reach out to the East Falls community.
Ryan: Charlotte, what are some thoughts regarding the growth of the choir in the future and potentially expanding beyond Christmas and Easter services?
Charlotte: As our congregation continues to grow, I hope that the size of the choir does as well, which would give us many more options for choral repertoire, much of which requires a larger ensemble. Eventually, I would love for our choir to learn a set of standard sacred works (Doxology, chorales, benedictions, etc.) to be used outside of the Christmas or Easter services. In the meantime, since the choir meets only seasonally, I would love to see if there’s interest in forming smaller ensembles to sing for either a prelude or offertory selection. I am excited to see how the choir will grow in the years to come, but no matter what, I am just so encouraged by the fact that people want to sing and are willing to learn and worship together!