Book: The Church Musician

. Paul Westermeyer. New York: Harper & Row, 1988,128 pp., $14.95.

Don't let the title stop ministers and worship committees from reading this book. Westermeyer addresses two groups: first, pastors and music committees who are looking for an organist or choir director and struggling with what kind of church musician they need; and, second, church musicians, especially those with little training, who hunger for a clearer perspective on their role in worship. If there is one book next year that worship leaders study together, this would be an excellent choice.

In his foreword to this book, Martin E. Marty suggests a different title: The Christian Cantor. The Latin word cantor means "to sing"; precentor and voorzinger are derivatives. The first two chapters, "Music Grinder" and "Cantor," contrast the "church-job" mentality with the concept of a "worship leader," who is called to lead the people in song. It's a different direction— helping the congregation to sing, whether from the organ, or with the choir, or even by singing a solo-in contrast to most church musician titles—organist, choir director, soloist—which are oriented to performance.

Chapters 3 and 4 get to the heart of the matter—celebrating the song itself. The church gathers to sing to the Lord its praise and prayer and to proclaim the great story of salvation by recounting the mighty acts of. God. Planning a celebration of redemptive history, including songs that trace biblical events "from creation…to last things," requires not only more hymn knowledge than most pastors possess but also more biblical and theological background than most church musicians ever consider. To help both ministers and musicians fill in the gaps, Westermeyer includes an annotated book list that ranges from Harper's Bible Dictionary and Niebuhr's Christ and Culture to books more specifically on music and liturgy.

Westermeyer's Lutheran heritage of celebrating music as a gift of God in worship shines through. He serves as cantor at Ascension Lutheran Church in Riverside, Illinois, a part-time position (he is full-time chairman of the music department at Elmhurst College and also editor of The Hymn). But he speaks broadly and ecumenically, keeping in mind situations as diverse as a house church and a "super" church.

Each chapter is practical and pastoral in tone. Included are suggestions on establishing a seasonal and weekly rhythm for the cantor (chapter 5), dealing with tensions (7), and developing good clergy-musician relationships (8). After reading this book, church musicians may decide to reread it again next year, and the next. And pastors who absorb the concept of a cantor will begin to work with church musicians in a new way.

Emily R. Brink ( is Senior Research Fellow for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and former editor of Reformed Worship.


Reformed Worship 11 © March 1989, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.