Jeff Howe on an Exciting and Inclusive Music Ministry
“The only experience you need is that you enjoy music.” – Jeff Howe
Our new music director, Jeffrey Howe, introduced himself with a letter first, and then he brought his rich tenor voice to worship. Since then, we’ve also heard him jamming on the guitar in the Living Water band. All the other times since his start date in August, he has delighted in the breadth and depth of musical talent at San Ramon Valley UMC. After spending much of his career with quiet listeners, Jeff is rejoicing in the sound of SRVUMC’s congregation singing along to familiar music from the pews.
As much talent as we already celebrate, however, Jeff encourages shower singers and people still feeling new to their instruments to try the adult music ministry. There are no auditions, and it isn’t necessary to read sheet music to find a place in the choir or band. He points out that musicians often pick up their parts by ear, too.
Although he’d eventually like to find a bass player for Living Water, Jeff doesn’t seem to be looking for any particular talent to round out the band or accompany the choir. Currently, Dewey Reikofski plays his keytar to cover both the bass guitar and synthesizer elements of a given arrangement. Instead, Jeff invites all comers, from cello to xylophone and anything else. However, he emphasizes that it’s more about attracting people into the music ministry and then figuring out what the resources are.
“There are so many songs that can be easily adapted to having nontraditional instruments,” he says. He goes on to say that if someone wants to bring their sound, then he can write a part for them. “We can incorporate any tone color into a song.”
Living Water rehearses from 6 to 7 p.m. on Thursdays, with the Chancel Choir rehearsing from 7:30 to 9 p.m. that same evening. When Living Water rehearses, they follow their hellos by listening to the studio recording of the piece they will focus on while reading sheet music. However, neither tool is the gold standard for how the song should sound. For example, Jesus Culture’s “Make Us One” didn’t have a drum part, so they worked one out. During choir practice, vocal warm-ups precede practicing two or three songs for about twenty minutes each. Before the Sunday worship service, musicians arrive about an hour early for sound checks and warm-ups.
If you haven’t been attached to the music ministry, you might be surprised to know that sharing joys and concerns and a closing prayer are key elements to any rehearsal. Jeff emphasizes that, ultimately, these are music ministries, so building community is a vital component of participation.
“It’s really important for us to remember why we do this, and it’s to come together as a community of faith to sing our faith and to help the congregation connect with their faith, too,” he says.
When it comes to congregational singing, Jeff plans to worship with plenty of familiar favorites from the United Methodist Hymnal, but be ready to find some new favorites in there, too. Contemporary gospel is another happy musical playground. His example, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”, could cross over from the traditional hymn we already know to a piece adapted for Living Water. He’d even like to hear some chant or invite in some world music sounds.
“Mainly I’m focused on making sure people know the door is open,” Jeff encourages. “I once heard a pastor say that some news is so good it has to be sung, and I couldn’t agree more.”
Learn more about our Music Ministry here.