Cantata Series: Cantata VS. Pageant

Welcome to “Cantata Week” at ChurchMusicToday!  This week the trio of authors will be focusing on some ideas surrounding choir performances at Easter and Christmas like:

  • Cantata VS Pageant
  • The BEST cantata/collection we’ve ever done with a choir
  • The future of the choir cantata
  • Trends of publishers

So sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride as we look into the world of choir cantatas, collections, dramas, pageants, and programs!


A couple of weeks ago, we released the list of new cantatas/collections from the church music publishers (view the list here).  When you say “cantata” to someone, you may get a weird look!  Either they don’t understand the word or you have lettuce in your teeth.

According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, the definition of cantata is:

a composition for one or more voices usually comprising solos, duets, recitatives, and choruses and sung to an instrumental accompaniment

Moreover, pageants are defined as:

an elaborate colorful exhibition or spectacle often with music that consists of a series of tableaux, of a loosely unified drama, or of a procession usually with floats

Typically, church choirs perform two major “works” per year (Easter and Christmas).  Many times, the music leader will select a collection of sorts with music paired with drama of some kind (narration, drama, readers theater, etc).

In the 1980-1990’s pageants of many kinds were the trend.  Churches spent thousands of dollars putting together costumes, elaborate sets, lighting, stage hydraulics, and props to create pageants like:

  • Living Scenes
  • Living Christmas Trees
  • Living Crosses
  • Easter Pageants
  • Christmas Dramas
  • & more

Recently, only a handful of local churches are doing elaborate things at Easter and Christmas…but why:

  • Economy-churches are struggling financially and spending big bucks on drama isn’t the best use of offerings.
  • Usefulness-In 2011, technology is abundant and easy to master/access.  With the involvement of media in worship, you can easily pay $20.00 for a well-produced video or pay for an accompaniment trax DVD that plays along with your choir’s presentation.
  • Time-People are busy.  It seems that it is increasingly difficult to just get folks to choir rehearsal-much less do something extravagant with drama.
  • Preparation-Many ministers are either volunteer or bi-vocational.  Even full-time music ministers usually have two (at least) areas they are leading.  When you are leading more than one ministry, it is difficult to balance much more than the minimum.  How can you prepare for something as amazing, like an easter production when other ministry responsibilities are always calling?

Still, some churches continue to do it…here’s why:

  • Size-If you are at a church where there are 500+ people regularly attending, you have options.  Sunday School teachers who are deacons, who serve in the children’s ministry and choir aren’t having to do EVERYTHING…
  • History-If you are at church where pageants are the “norm” you already have the necessary equipment at your disposal.  More than likely, you have done it before, so the set-up and organization isn’t a major issue.
  • Calling-Chances are, if you are doing pageants, your people are called to do it.  It isn’t for everyone, but you understand your calling.  Your calling gives you direction and purpose.
  • Money-probably isn’t an issue.  If money is an issue, you default back to the calling.
  • Growth-this has grown from something small into something BIG.  You have spent countless years “starting small and growing tall” into a major production.

Which one is best: cantata or pageant?  It depends on your calling and your particular group.  Here are some ideas for your to consider when deciding which one to do:

  • Pray
  • Listen for God’s leadership
  • Consult your Pastor
  • Think about the strengths of your group
  • Think about the weaknesses of your group
  • Don’t do it just because you always have
  • Challenge your group, but don’t overload them
  • Don’t sacrifice quality singing for mediocre drama

With all of that being said, I would like to focus on one collection in particular that could serve as both: Once Upon a Tree by Pepper Choplin.

This collection of music paired with a narrator/monologue of “Luke, the physician” is so dramatic that is could easily stand alone for a choir performance or be elaborately staged into a major production.

I have conducted this work as part of a mass choir and also my church choir.  The Biblical story-telling is superb and the music is excellent.  Dramatic solos and powerful ballads make this an Easter collection to consider for 2012.  Similarly, his collection, “Once Upon a Night” falls into the same category for Christmas.

Many of these songs are available as single anthems from the publisher, but the entire work is well-worth your time to give it a listen.


Keep reading this week (or subscribe by e-mail —top right of this page) to keep up with the other topics during our cantata series.  As you listen to your preview packs of new music, consider doing something different based off of your choir’s strengths this year instead of falling back on the norm.  There is plenty of time to plan, if you start now.


One thought on “Cantata Series: Cantata VS. Pageant

  1. Since 2004 since I became a music director, our church has performed the “pagents” and it has gone over very well…especially with our audiences. But this year I did something different for me, and God truly blessed our church and community. Sacramento, KY is very small but talent is abundant. I chose a very simple cantata “My Redeemer Lives” and gathered some people from our Baptist, Methodist and our 2 Cumberland Presbyterian churche choirs (mine included), 35 people participated and our narrator which I’m sure most of you know…Rev. Glenn Armstrong (Sacramento Bapt. Ch) made the performamce complete. This was very simple, but the talent and spirit that was put into it made it more special than any pagent that I could have ever done. When GOD is in the center of anything….it’s BLESSED!

    Karla, Director of Music
    Sacrameneto CP Church

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