Choir director rarely misses a beat


July 27, 1993|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,Staff Writer

In 46 years as choir director at the Sharp Street Memorial United Methodist Church, Morris Queen has only missed one Sunday service. That was because his wife would not let him leave his hospital bed.

The reason for the 71-year-old native Baltimorean's dedication: He simply loves music and doesn't "bother with vacations."

He applied the same philosophy during the 25 years he taught music in the city public schools, first at Lemmel Middle School and later at Walbrook High School.

Although leading the choir of the West Baltimore church consumes much of his time, he enjoys listening to classical music and jazz -- as is evident by the albums, tapes and compact discs that line the shelves of his study at home.

QUESTION: How important is music during a church service?

ANSWER: It's very important. It's part of the worship service, as well as the spoken word. It brings out emotions. You can go to any black church -- Baptist, Apostolic, Pentecostal, Methodist -- and see people singing and clapping and swaying. But when too much emotionalism gets in, you might as well be at a dance in some churches.

We've gone to the place now where choir is a show. I don't allow my choir to show. You stand up there and you sing the word of God. I don't need you clapping.

This does not mean that the music may not emit the kind of feeling where you clap. But when you come to church, you're supposed to come in an attitude of worship and leave in an attitude of worship. Church music . . . is to report the word of God.

Q: How has church music changed over the years?

A: Look at any choir and you find 80 percent -- or maybe even 90 percent -- of the members are women. Men don't care to participate. It was just the opposite when I was growing up.

Q: What percentage of the church service should be music?

A: About 40 percent because you want the congregation to participate. My choir does about 35 to 40 percent -- about six pieces of music. We do different tempos. You don't want all slow or all fast. You want a good mixture of both.

Q: Why is it that many church choirs these days use numerous musical instruments to accompany the singing, and do you like that practice?

A: It's done for the sake of hyping emotions.

But I like it only to a point. Some anthems or some pieces of music require a trumpet or a flute to play obbligato. But when you bring in drums, and [the drummer] is up there and he doesn't care about the music, I don't know.

I don't have anything against musical instruments if they're used properly.

I do gospel music, but I don't have my singers hollering and screaming. I know the difference between singing and whooping and hollering.

Q: Do you like the types of religious music that borders on pop or Top 40 music?

A: I like it until they start screaming. Sometimes it's too long and it's too much repetition. You hear them say, 'Shout. Shout. Shout.'

Why 'shout'? The lyrics are not there.

Young men who do rap today have more logical meaning to what they're saying than a lot of the church music I hear.

At least the guys who are doing the rap have some kind of thought behind what they're saying. I don't agree with all the rap, but some of it makes you sit and listen.

Q: Does the music sung in black churches differ from the music sung in white churches?

A:" It's all according to the area. The best white choirs I have ever heard come from the West. The best black choirs I've heard are in the South. I don't know why.

Q: How is the music at Sharp Street Memorial United Methodist Church?

A: Fairly good. But we don't have enough men.

Q: What do you think about nationally known musical artists who have crossed over from religious to pop or Top 40, or vice versa?

A: I have nothing against it. I have no problems as long as you're doing music and you're doing it well. That's my total belief. If you're going to do music, do it well.

Q: What's your favorite type of music?

A: It's a tossup. Classical is my favorite of all music, because I was trained for classical music. My favorite type of church music is the hymns from the hymn book, because it has more meaning for the worship of God than any form that I know.

Q: Forty-six years is a long time at any one position. Why have you lasted so long as choir director at Sharp Street Memorial United Methodist Church?

A: Number one, I believe in God. What I have, God gave to me. And I love -- just love -- music. It's the same as when I taught school: I just love music.

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