August 5, 2020

Music Ministry during COVID-19 (Part 2)

Music is the vehicle for the liturgy. It is the canvas upon which words may have both sensual meaning and intellectual meaning. In this two-part blog, Dr. Adán Fernández shares ten practical ideas for music ministry during COVID-19.

Read Part 1 of this two-part post here.

Here are ten new ways to accomplish our goals as church musicians during COVID-19. Some of these methods may be familiar and some may not.

Virtual Choirs

Virtual choirs and other ensembles are tedious work for the editor. First, a track has to be made of the music so that the ensemble can sing along to the track. There should be a metronome playing throughout the recording along with a measure or two prior to beginning so that people can get their pitch and begin correctly. It should be emphasized that a competent keyboardist and knowledge of digital audio workstations is required. After everyone provides their video of themselves singing to the track, video editing and sound editing can begin. Many videos can be found on YouTube to help with this process so to avoid the risk of being redundant, I recommend watching a few tutorials on video and sound editing.

These are not easy but so worth it. The video is something that families and parishioners will be proud of and will be able to share amongst their friends.

Music Education

Many students are out of school during the summer. Children’s choirs are disbanded or reconfigured online. This is a good time to hold music theory sessions for high school students in order to prep them for AP exams. It is also a good opportunity to connect with your local schools in order to promote your ministry and have an audience who may be useful to the ministry of your church once a vaccine for the virus has been created and people begin to return to church.

Sung Prayer Groups

Church groups are missing their community and are susceptible to stagnation in their faith. For Catholics, singing the Divine Mercy Chaplet is a wonderful way to build community and promote singing. It does not require any knowledge of music theory and the repetition is quite meditative. Hymn singing followed by a Bible study are also meaningful in how we express our faith, regardless of denomination. The leader had better know their hymns cold or have a keyboard ready to accompany!

Write Articles

Hymnody and sacred music must not exist as mere words or pretty music. Too many of our parishes think of hymnody and sacred music in much the same way they do about music on the radio or in a commercial. Contrary to popular belief, music is not simply the enhancing of the liturgy; it is the liturgy. The propers to the mass are important texts to be sung by the choir alongside hymnody. How one listens to the music should not be simply dependent on the meaning behind the words but the meaning behind the music as well. Sacred music and hymnody is not seeking only for emotional catharsis but for understanding. The Benedictine monk and Archbishop of Canterbury, St. Anselm (d. 1109) once said fides quaerens intellectum or “faith seeking understanding.” Our treasury of hymns and sacred music must always be exposed for the freshness they convey so that they speak to us today. That was the purpose of the Second Vatican Council and we ought to learn how to critically reflect on our faiths through the treasury of hymnody of our churches.


There are many books on worship and music. It is daunting! It is no wonder why music directors keep huge collections of books over decades of ministry. We must read out a sense of respect for ourselves and those we work with. The documents of the Catholic church that talk more about sacred music give a role to music within worship. Reading about the hymnology of the church will make us better stewards of the teachings of the church and expressions of adoration for Christ himself. We must consider the task of self-improvement through reading; our limited knowledge is a sign of a limited ministry.

Multifaceted Leaders

Our choirs are small communities that must be cared for. When we signed up to be the music director, we also signed up to be the counselor, psychologist, therapist, teacher, theologian, public speaker, and artist in residence. People are emotional beings and if they do not feel cared for, they will get up and leave. Our role as servant-leaders must consider our ensemble members as extended families. There are quarrels to be sure, as with any family, but it is how we communicate with each other that matters. Servant-leaders ask what people need and respond with care and vision for the overall ministry. Our style of servant-leadership can be many things: organized, cheerleader, authoritarian, etc. During COVIDCovid, we ought to pay more attention to the cheerleader.


Our ministries require money. This should not be overlooked! The projects we present require financial assistance and we must be diligent as stewards of church music in seeking it out. Online raffles or auctions, costs for online tutoring, custom T-shirt sales, letters to donors, and more are helpful in building our budgets for the year. It is helpful to think long-term for this; preferably, a 5-year model would be helpful in identifying future costs. This is especially important also for when things return to some type of normalcy as we will welcome a more streamlined approach to getting things going again quickly.

Online Concerts

At this point, news about COVID-19 seemingly changes every day. It is very difficult to plan events for the year let alone concerts. But this is where we have to rise to the challenge. With all of the options for live streams, it is also important to create community in the comment sections. The interaction between performers and audience in the live stream is key to making this feel like a concert that one is experiencing in real-time versus another YouTube video. It is also important to use angles that focus on the faces of the performers as it tends to feel more intimate for the audience. Switcher Studio is a great app for this kind of thing but it will require multiple iPads and iPhones. People can donate in real-time during the performance!

Professional Organizations

This is a rare time for musicians as we are all, for the most part, experiencing this together. Thankfully we have organizations like the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA), National Association of Pastoral Musicians (NPM), early music societies, National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS), National Association for Music Education (NAfME) and more who are working together to come up with answers and suggestions for how and when we can engage in different musical activities. Virtual conventions are underway and religious services and lectures are being broadcast for free online. We can be anywhere in the world and speak to singers from the UK or listen to lectures from Indonesia. Our singular experience gets narrower as we get older as we settle into our comforts. This is a time to expand our worldviews.


Lastly, videos. Introduce your choir members to the world using video interviews. Interviews and virtual choirs are a great way to keep members feeling appreciated while also giving them a purpose in their ministry. A reminder to keep videos professional looking! It should not look like an iPhone video posted to Instagram. Other videos can be of soloists, meditations, prayers, etc. They can be as creative as your editing chops allow! Thankfully, tutorials are being posted online all the time to help us use iMovie or Final Cut Pro. 

The point of this article is to encourage music ministries. We must be vigilant and purposeful in how we grow as music directors, leaders, ministers, and performers; this will dictate how our ministries will also grow! Our music ministry communities are a reflection of how we, as leaders, grow spiritually and intellectually.


Digging Deeper


Dr. Adán Fernández is the university organist at California Lutheran University and director of music and organist at Holy Family Catholic Church in Glendale, California.