A Look Behind the Leader: Kevin Soodsma

Written by Terry DeBoer on . Posted in People

SoodsmaKevinChurch music directors approach Christian holidays with a differing sense of anticipation than the average church member. “Let’s just say Holy Week is going to be a very busy week for me,” said Kevin Soodsma, director of music and worship arts at Beckwith Hills Christian Reformed Church on Grand Rapids’ northeast side.

“For our Sunday morning Easter service, we’ll be pulling out all the stops,” he promised of this year’s March 31 celebration.


Soodsma has been directing music at the Beckwith church for more than six years. An accomplished organist, he also directs various church ensembles and schedules their rehearsals and participation in worship.

There’s a worship choir of about a dozen voices and an elementary aged junior choir of ten or so. A worship team, which helps lead songs from the platform, has anywhere from four to eight members.

“None of them are huge in size – we’re not a huge congregation,” he noted of the church which worships about 160 in its lone morning service and a lesser amount in the evening.

The choirs perform once a month or so, and occasionally there’s a brass ensemble. The worship team appears more often, but Soodsma notes that it often features a different line-up.

“It’s all volunteer and it’s actually quite flexible,” he said of the team which can include violin, guitar and percussion.

“Every time it’s a different combination (of people), so it’s not a set team.”
SONG BY SONG

The church follows the liturgical calendar, and Soodsma selects music that fits well with the sermon messages.

In terms of musical style, the director said he seeks out songs which the broader church would also appreciate.

“I just look for the right song to sing – I’m not too hung up on whether it’s a hymn or a praise song. For lack of a better term, I guess you can call our style blended,” he offered.

He said he has noted church members appreciate the music of songwriter Keith Getty (“In Christ Alone”) and will often gravitate toward the composer’s “modern hymn” approach.

“Hymnody is our staple – ‘It Is Well (With My Soul),’ classics such as that and we even do a few of the old ‘Christian Reformed’ favorites,” he noted.

Soodsma was on the denominational advisory committee that helped prepare the forthcoming hymnal “Lift Up Our Hearts,” (scheduled to be available in June) which offers a combination of classic and contemporary songs.

He said Beckwith has used some global music in fitting places during worship. Global music selections will be part of the new hymnal (for more information visit www.liftupyourheartshymnal.org).
Beckwith church does not use a large screen to project lyrics or other images/video during worship.

EARLY INFLUENCES

“Music in church was always a big thing for me – even back in elementary school,” recalled the native of tiny Prairie View, Kan.

A young Soodsma was strongly influenced by a music teacher; and began private piano lessons which he kept up through high school.

Yes, he was in the school choir…as an accompanist, something he also did for various solo and ensemble performances.

“I started on organ in high school, but really pursued it when I went to Dordt College (in northwest Iowa),” he said.

He minored in organ performance while majoring in church music. Clearly he was on a career track to serve churches.

Soodsma’s first church job was a Lutheran congregation in Indiana. He then moved to Grand Rapids where he served Westview Christian Reformed on Leonard St. NW before joining the staff at Beckwith.
Soodsma reports to pastor Rick Pinckney, who appreciates not only the musician’s talent but also his flexibility.
“I recently officiated a funeral service where Kevin went from playing ‘V. Toccatta (from Symphonie Op. 42)’ on the organ to ‘Untitled Hymn (Come to Jesus)’ on the piano to finishing the service back on the organ playing the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’” he said.

He also can do some jazz-influenced gospel piano.

Interestingly, the director’s most challenging and most satisfying parts of his job are connected – scheduling and working with so many different volunteers and members of his music “teams.”

“I have willing members but I have a very difficult time scheduling,” said Soodsma of managing all the rehearsals and meetings in his ¾ time position.

“But the most fulfilling thing is that I work with a variety of people – each group is somewhat different all the time. The result is sometimes you musically improvise according to the people you have.
“I work with a very blessed congregation.”

Meanwhile, Beckwith’s sermon series during Lent has been looking at the verses of Psalm 23. And the busy Soodsma notes that they’re saving the psalm’s concluding phrases for Easter Sunday, proclaiming the promise to “dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

“We’ll be celebrating eternal life doing songs of the resurrection,” said Soodsma of a collection of Easter anthems, both new and old.

The Facts:

Who: Kevin Soodsma 43, married
What: Director of Music and Worship Arts
Where: Beckwith Hills Christian Reformed Church, 2100 Chelsea Dr. NE Grand Rapids; www.beckwithhillscrc.org 458-0150

How: Directs various church ensembles including worship team, junior and worship choirs, and brass ensemble; also is church organist
Philosophy on his role in preparing music in worship: “The congregation is the ‘first choir.’ And if they’re not singing, I’m not doing my job. I’m an ‘enabler’ of their singing.”

Editors note: If you have a suggestion of an area church music leader for a profile in this column, please send the information to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Author Information
Terry DeBoer
About:
Writer: West Michigan Christian News August 2011 – Present (1 year 6 months) Monthly publication and web site with news, features, and information of interest to the West Michigan Christian community Feature writer: Muskegon Chronicle April 1996 – Present (16 years 10 months) Writer: Kalamazoo Gazette July 1991 – Present (21 years 7 months) beat includes convering contemporary Christian and Gospel music feature writer Grand Rapids Press May 1988 – Present (24 years 9 months)

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