"Our church never sounded so good singing as they did last night. Thank you."
-Kate Guthrie, Pastor
New Creation Presbyterian Church
"Those who sing their praises double them," wrote St. Augustine, "because of the joy and the love that belongs to those who sing." When communities sing together, the bonds of faith, connection, and healing grow. Singing is one of humanity's oldest ways of communicating, and one of the most universal spiritual practices. It simultaneously engages the mind, heart, and body, knitting us together as one even while we maintain our individual identities.
All human beings are born with an innate capacity to sing, but many people struggle to find their voices because of unhelpful messages they receive about singing from family members, churches, choir directors, pop culture, and Western art music. With over a decade of experience leading congregational singing in a variety of spiritual and religious contexts, I love to help people to find their voices and invite them to participate more deeply in liturgy and worship.
Song Leadership Trainings:
Taizé Chant from the Taizé Community in France
Congregational Singing from John Bell of the Iona Community in Scotland
Singing in the African-American Tradition from Ysaye Barnwell of Sweet Honey in the Rock
Spirituals & Songs of the Civil Rights Movement from Kim & Reggie Harris
Traditional Old Time & Appalachian Folk Singing from The Swannanoa Gathering
Contemplative Chant & Songs of Presence from Cynthia Bourgeault's Wisdom School
Paperless Singing & Chant from Ana Hernández, Ruth Cunningham, Emily Scott
and Music That Makes Community
Leading interfaith chant at the 2014 International Buddhist-Christian Conference in NYC
Music for Liturgy & Worship
Liturgy creates "thin" places, in which the boundaries between ourselves, others, and God become more porous. Authentic worship has the power to bind us together in solidarity with one another, inviting us to open ourselves to the movement of the Holy in our midst, both individually and collectively. The deep spirituality at the heart of the Christian liturgical tradition transforms us at the level of mind, heart, and body. Music in worship helps to facilitate this transformation.
Questions about instrumentation, rhythm, lyrical content, and presentational style are highly contextual and need to be carefully discerned within each particular community. What is "appropriate" or reverent for an older, predominantly white suburban Episcopal congregation in the American South may be different from what is appropriate for a Presbyterian church of Dominican immigrants in Brooklyn, or a predominantly Black Roman Catholic congregation in Ohio. There is no "one size fits all" approach to music for liturgy. However, worship should always strive to respect and incorporate the diverse cultural associations of the local community, the traditions of the larger denomination, and the potential for healing, transformation, and spiritual formation that can occur through participatory singing and musical engagement.
Contemporary Worship Music
Old-Time & Bluegrass Gospel
Traditional Hymns (guitar)
Cantor (Responsorial Psalms)
Funeral Music & Memorial Services
Meditative Music for Prayerful Reflection (guitar or piano)
Hymn & Chant Recordings
I have composed contemplative chants, psalm settings, mass settings, and other liturgical music, as well as original songs and hymns inspired by Biblical texts. I'm currently working on an album of traditional hymns and original music inspired by the women in Scripture.
Hymns & Devotional Songs:
Click here for Kristen's albums & new recordings
Experiences & Experiments
I earned a minor in music from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and hold a Masters of Divinity (M.Div.) from Union Theological Seminary in New York City where I concentrated in Worship & the Arts. I've also benefitted from a diversity of song leadership trainings, and have over a decade of experience planning liturgies and leading worship for churches, retreats, festivals, and religious conferences. Drawing from all these resources, I approach music and liturgy from a number of different levels: theologically, psychologically/spiritually, historically, artistically, and culturally. I love to design meaningful and multivalent rituals that speak to particular communities, denominations, church seasons, scriptural themes, and spiritual intentions. Click on the video below to learn more about Union's unique ecumenical approach to liturgy and worship:
In addition to planning liturgies, I've been honored to lead congregational singing and facilitate prayer and worship in Episcopal, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, UCC/Congregational, Quaker, Baptist, Evangelical, UU, and interfaith contexts. I've also been a part of several creative and unique worship experiences and experiments, including:
In 2011, I worked alongside the organizers of the first Wild Goose Festival to coordinate a team of 8 production staff and 23 support volunteers, to oversee sound and staging for this NC-based festival exploring the intersections of art, spirituality, and social justice. I have performed at Wild Goose Festival many times since then, and remain an active part of the Wild Goose community.
Nightwatch @ Cathedral of St. John the Divine
From 2010-2013, I served as a song leader and liturgical assistant for this weekly overnight youth lock-in at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City.
Good Friday Blues @ St. Marks in the Bowery
From 2012-2014, I assisted Music Director Jeannine Otis & Rev. Winnie Varghese with planning and performing in this annual liturgy, which combines the traditional BCP Episcopal Good Friday service with a powerful musical and theatrical performance of the Passion narrative according to John's Gospel. This performance/liturgy features Grammy-award winning singers and instrumentalists from around New York City.
Taizé Advent Retreat @ St. Francis Springs
From 2016-2018, I prepared and led the annual Advent Taizé Retreat at St. Francis Springs Catholic Retreat Center, combining paperless congregational song leadership with musical direction of a small chamber ensemble featuring piano, guitar, bass, clarinet, oboe, flute, cello, and harp.
"Beer & Hymns" is a pub sing-along tradition that got started at the Greenbelt Festival in Cheltenham, England, which we brought back to the States for the Wild Goose Festival's second season in 2012. The American version quickly caught on, and nowadays you can find similar sing-alongs all over the country. From 2016-2020, I hosted a pub sing at Four Saints Brewery in downtown Asheboro, NC, building bridges in a community that had recently transitioned from being a dry county.
Booking & Fees
To book music for a Sunday or evening worship service, just fill out the contact form below! Please provide your church's name, denomination, location, average size of your congregation, and the time and length of your service. The standard fee for planning, preparing, and leading/performing worship music is $150 per service, with a sliding scale for smaller churches that have a limited budget or for services where the music is already chosen by a music director or clergy. Please note that travel fees may apply. Fees for weddings, retreats, special events, and other performances vary depending on a variety of factors.
Workshops & Trainings
I also offer classes, workshops, and trainings in music, liturgy, and singing as a spiritual practice - for churches, retreats, and other spiritual practice groups. My workshops in communal singing focus on unleashing the voices of those who are shy about singing or who don't think of themselves as "singers." Each of my teaching offerings can be adjusted or adapted to meet the specific needs of your congregation or group. Click here for course descriptions
Singing as a Spiritual Practice
The Spiritual Discipline of Chant
Improvisation as a Way of Life
Paperless Singing Leadership Trainings
Liturgy & Music Consulting
Drawing on my training in conflict negotiation, music, and liturgy, as well as extensive research on the history of music and worship the early church, I offer consulting services for clergy and churches who are struggling with questions relating to liturgical and/or musical style.
What is Paperless Singing?
Paperless singing is a deeply communal form of singing that emphasizes listening and awareness, and can serve as a bridge between the so-called "traditional" and "contemporary" styles of modern worship music. For most of Christian history, congregational hymns and chants were sung without any printed sheet music or words. Music was composed and learned orally, through mimetic patterns of call and response. "Paperless singing" offers congregations a "new" way of singing together that draws on this ancient tradition. Songs and chants are taught and led using a simple, invitational method that utilizes an extensive vocabulary of body language, helping to ground congregations in a shared sense of presence, with God and one another.
There are paperless songs and chants for a variety of contexts and gatherings, for every church season, and for all sung parts of the Eucharist, including the Kyrie, Gloria, Alleluia, Acclamation, Sanctus, etc. The music can be easily integrated into any liturgical or music style. It can be led in any space, with large or small congregations, and with or without sound amplification or instrumental accompaniment. Certain songs and chants can be supported with a simple tambourine, frame drum, or shruti box (to provide a drone), but in most cases the singing is a cappella. Even small congregations of very shy singers are surprised by how easily they are able to find their way into the music.
For more information, download this information sheet or watch the video above from Music That Makes Community, a nonprofit organization promoting the practice of paperless singing through training, workshops, and other events.