Q&A with Carol Cymbala Director of the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir
Q: 2013 marks the 40th anniversary of the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir. How many albums does “Love Lead the Way” make for the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir? How do you go about choosing songs for each one? A: The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir has recorded 27 albums. The process is pretty simple. I come together with my team before we start to record an album, and we discuss the songs that have been a real blessing for the congregation. Those are the songs we consider for the album. Some are written in-house and some are written by other artists.
Q: Of the songs on the new album, name three of your favorites and tell us why they are special. A: “Let Your Kingdom Come” is special because of what the song says; “Your will be done…Use us to change this generation.” It is a song that the Christian church should be singing, asking God to use us to do His will and to reach out to the world and let them know there is a Jesus who redeems, saves, changes lives, and sets people free! “We Lift Your Name” is also dear to us because to be able to life up the name of Jesus is so wonderful. Jesus is the name above all names, and to sing about that name is one of the most exciting things we can do. “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” is unique because the opportunity to sing that message: “His truth is marching on,” to a billion people watching during the 2013 Presidential Inauguration, was an awesome opportunity for us.
Q: Why do you believe choirs are still important to church worship? A: First, I must say that I am a little biased because all the work I’ve ever done has been with a choir. I do feel strongly that the idea of many voices lifted up to the Lord, unified and in harmony, is a powerful thing. Just recently, we hosted a music conference at our church where over 1000 voices came together, and it was so powerful and overwhelming hearing those voices lifted in praise to God. We also read of choirs in the Bible going forth and singing before the battles were waged.
Q: What can choir directors do to motivate their members? A: Choir directors have to remind the choir members the reason why they are singing. Using our church as an example, I can say that the Choir is in the church to glorify the Lord and lead people into the presence of God, but my husband, Pastor Jim Cymbala, also uses them to minister in the church by praying for people. It’s just not singing alone. It’s also being able to minister personally to those hurting or in need of Jesus. It’s a dual purpose. That responsibility and privilege to be used in such a way by God provides motivation for our choir members.
Q: Are there any upcoming special events for the choir? Any stand-out moments from the past few years? A: Our Christmas presentation is coming up in December here at the Brooklyn Tabernacle (www.BrooklynTabernacle.org for more info). It’s better than Broadway! The most special moment for us has to be when we sang at the 2013 Presidential Inauguration. We had done an arrangement of the aforementioned “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and we sang to one billion people the words: “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord…In the beauty of the lilies, Christ was born across the sea…” To be able to sing that message to that many people was an amazing highlight of our ministry.
Q: What advice would you give to music ministers to make their choir program vibrant and integral to church services? A: The purpose of a choir is to lead the congregation into the presence of God. Prayer is vital. Preparing the choir spiritually is so important. We emphasize prayer at every rehearsal, remembering that our goal is leading people into the presence of God. It’s a constant remembering of our purpose in this ministry. We are singing to lift up the name of Jesus, and when we thing all about He’s done for us, how excited we should be to lift up His name!
Ten Facts about the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir You May Not Know
They do not use and have never used sheet music to teach songs to the Choir. It is all by ear.
Director Carol Cymbala doesn’t read music, yet has been blessed to win six Grammy Awards and multiple Dove Awards.
The Choir’s first album was recorded in seven hours from start to finish in 1981. No overdubs, stacking or effects.
When the Choir did their first concert at Carnegie Hall, Carol played the piano for the entire concert. She was the first musician for the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir.
Carol is married to the pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle, Jim Cymbala.
The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir started with nine people, all of whom were untrained vocally.
The Choir has recorded over 200 songs.
The Brooklyn Tabernacle Singers, which is the primary traveling group for the Choir, is made up of many of the Choir’s soloists and strongest vocalists.
The Choir has sung in almost every major venue and theater in New York City including Carnegie Hall, Radio City Music Hall, Madison Square Garden and many more.