Conversation and information about music and liturgy from a confessional Lutheran perspective.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Birthday Ambush

Hello, Fine Tuning readers! This post comes to you not from Phillip or Stephen, but from Phillip's wife Cheryl. I am boldly co-opting my husband's blog in order to wish him a very happy birthday! I invite you to offer him your best birthday wishes as well, either here or at my blog, where if you do visit you will be rewarded with a pictorial look at Phillip through the ages.

To my dear husband: SURPRISE! And happy birthday! (I love you.)

Saturday, May 30, 2009

More About Youth

I have had the pleasure of engaging children in music making many times over my years as a church musician (and I still do as a music teacher). When there is time and ability to teach them, they can learn just about anything and sing it with a good deal of success. Kids do not identify music as "difficult" unless you or their parents tell them it is. Despite the many success stories about the high level singing of children, parents still have a hankering to hear their kids sing their favorite praise and worship choruses or songs that are known as "typical" kids songs. I won't start to name titles, but there's a lot of nauseating music out there written "just for children."

A pastor friend lamented the fact that, after successful efforts to engage his youth in learning the hymn, "All Mankind Fell in Adam's Fall," a parent came out with this line: "They're only children. Can't they just sing 'Jesus Loves Me?'" I have observed that often the thing that comes between children getting good exposure to the catechetical hymnody of our Lutheran heritage are their parents and Sunday school teachers. It does not matter that the kids were having no trouble with "All Mankind Fell...". It does not matter that the pastor has proven the kids to have been be successful singing substantive music on several occasions previously. The parents cannot seem to wrap their mind around the salutary effects of this.

Folks, this is just wrong. Kids have NO TROUBLE learning music that adults may find daunting. The scholarly evidence is abundant and well documented, as is the anecdotal evidence. The resultant success of teaching young children substantive hymns is everywhere if one bothers to look. I can tell you stories as can many pastors and church musicians. Many have written eloquently on the subject. You find this phenomenon occurs across denominational barriers. You find it as a foregone conclusion in secular music education as well. Yet, despite the overwhelming testimony and even when successes occur in the parish, parents and teachers often resist this activity. There are many reasons for this and they are not pretty. One may be that the Sunday school teacher or the parent is not familiar with the music the pastor wants the kids to learn, so they are intimidated to teach it. Another may be that they do not like the song, so their personal preference stands in the way of the kids’ catechesis. Or, they are far more interested in seeing little Barbie or Billy up there in front of the congregation, so entertainment becomes the objective. Or they just want to "celebrate," or "recognize" the children in the service. There is much more to say, but, maybe another time.

Parents and Sunday school teachers need to quit imposing their pet tastes on the children entrusted to them. Let pastors and church musicians catechize these young people using, among other things, the music and texts of our rich Lutheran hymn heritage as it was always intended. Our young people these days are going to have many distractions that would threaten to get in the way of their catechesis. Parents, teachers, don't you be one of them!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Liturgy Solutions Setback

As many of you already know, Liturgy Solutions has suffered a setback that was totally unpredictable. There has been a message on our home page in an attempt to bring our clients up to speed about what our future plans are. Our database on the server that was our host was lost by the host company. There have been no back up files made available to us. We are now on a new host company, our site having been transferred there by our web master. We are poised to load up all our product files on the new database. We were happy to discover that the product files themselves were not lost, but rather the database that organized them. This will save us some time as we get our site up and running again. Without explaining every detail, it would have been worse if we had to rebuild the site from files in our respective computers. The fact that they could be transferred to a new server assists us, perhaps only a little, but we'll take what we can get.

Now it is up to Phillip and me to get things going again. We may get this done quickly, but with our respective schedules it may take us a little time. Either way, we hope all our clients will be patient with us and be assured of our commitment to providing you with all the fine music we have brought you these past few years and much new in the years to come! Thank you all for your support of Liturgy Solutions!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Speaking of Youth

By the way, that last Sunday I blogged about (with much music provided for the congregation by our youth ensemble) resulted in an interesting report from a parent.

It seems her 8th-grade boy came into church and noticed the three microphones, the guitar, the monitor, and the small amp for the bass guitar, and got his mother's attention. Now before I tell you what he said, let me share with you that this young man is one whom our ecclesiastical advisers at the synod and district offices would tell us to LISTEN TO: he's public school, Hispanic, dresses in a hip but not outlandish way, is not super-involved in the youth group, and carries himself in a cool, detached way.

But his response was not what the Baby Boomers who run Ablaze! (the LCMS church growth initiative) expect. He looked at the guitars, the kids, and the mics, turned to his mother and said: "We're not going to become like Uncle Ben's church, are we?!"

Frankly, I'm not surprised. The research on youth & worship music confirms this: young people understand the difference between what is appropriate for different occasions, and don't expect every part of their life to have the same soundtrack. Just like the rest of us wear different clothing and eat different foods at different occasions, so do young people understand that the Divine Service is not a place for entertainment, but a place for reverence.

Once we had the service, mom reported that her son was no longer concerned. Church was still church. Our piety didn't change. As I wrote in my last post, Bethany doesn't become a different congregation just becasue our youth sing or because a guitar gets plugged in.

And yet the LCMS as an institution doesn't understand this. They think that somehow we have to change our piety if we're going to 'reach people for Christ'. Why don't they understnad that there is nothing in our piety that works against evangelism or missions or nurturing the faith in the next generation?

Frankly, I think the real obstacle here are pastors, parents, and teachers who don't embrace who we are. Anyone who works with kids knows that if you are positive and sincere in your joy about something, the students will buy into it.

No, the problem isn't the kids. The problem is church leaders. They either are deceived into thinking that somehow Lutheranism is incompatible with youth - or maybe some of them just don't believe in it themselves.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Many parishes periodically have something called a "youth service." In my last parish, in the 90s, one of my staff responsibilities was to work with the DCE (Director of Christian Education) to prepare a "youth service" once a quarter. This meant that praise songs and other 'contemporary' music was expected to be sung, that youth would read the lessons and take other, 'creative' roles in the liturgy, and, above all, that the sermon would be replaced by a dramatic presentation from the youth. Over time, I was able to make the "youth service" more like our normal Divine Services, and we did do them less often before I left, but, in the end, the congregation's idea that there needed to be a "youth service" remained - as well as the idea that the youth needed to do "youth things" at such services.

On Easter 3 this year, some might say we had a "youth service" at Bethany, because of all the teenagers who were involved. But it wasn't anything like the youth services promoted by Synod, Inc. Instead, it just happened to be a service where the musicians of the day were a youth ensemble, and a couple of the ushers on the assigned usher team were high school students as well (not to mention our acolytes). There was no need for a cutesy morality play or entertaining skit, nor was there some sort of ersatz confession & "forgiveness" led by the kids before worship. The pastors played their roles like they always do, and they just happened to be assisted in the Lord's ministry by a whole bunch of young people doing the things that lay volunteers do in the service.

And the musicians in this group were not "the youth group", but were simply a group of youth who already participate in the music program at Bethany, and are drawn together every other month or so to make music by themselves - just as I draw other groups of musicians out of the regular groups to form special ensembles. Of the 8 kids who sing in the group, 6 sing in one of our choirs; of the 5 instrumentalists, 3 play with another liturgical ensemble and 3 ring in the handbell choir. And so we had 9 youth sing and play in various combinations, accompanied at different times by various instruments: clarinet, flute, bass, guitar, piano, synth, and organ.*

But our congregation's piety and customs did not change due to their involvement. So it wasn't a "youth service", just lots of youth serving. And this is how it should be. We don't need to change the church in order to involve young people, we just need to make room for them and make use of their talents just like we do with the talents of our adults. This approach may be less "fun and exciting" as doing something "special with the kids" might seem. But the youth enjoy this more, because this approach treats them as the mature adults they aspire to be.

The more we give both children and youth things they can grow into, rather than grow out of, the more connected they will remain to the Church. And the experiences they have as students will shape their piety for the rest of their lives. Why not make them liturgically Lutheran?

*My custom with these groups is to keep about 1/2 to 2/3rds of the music played by the organist of the day. This particular Sunday the youth ensemble played the Canticle of Praise, sang the psalm antiphon and led the chanting of the Psalm of the Day, sang the Verse of the Day, presented an anthem as the offerings were received, played one of the communion hymns, and led the singing of another Canticle at the end of the Lord's Supper. For those interested, here's the breakdown:

Canticle of Praise: "Now the Feast and Celebration", Marty Haugen; congregation sang refrain, three singers sang the verses and sang a descant on the refrian. Accompaniment was guitar, bass, flute, clarinet, synth, and piano.

Psalm: Psalm 4 from Liturgy Solutions. SATB a capella antiphon used as a refrain. Kids sang the antiphon first, but then the congregation sang it between certain verses.

Verse: Verse for Easter 3 C from Litury solutions. Accompanied by organ. Congregation has the alleluias (VICTORY), and the Verse for the Sundays of Eastertide (Romans 6:9); choir then sang the proper Verse for Easter 3.

Voluntary: I arranged Stuart Townsend's "How Deep the Father's Love for Us" for 3 voices, flute, clarinet, bass, synth, and guitar.

Communion Hymn: The congregation sang "Stay with Us" accompanied by the ensemble playing out of the LSB Guitar edition, with clarinet & flute playing melody at first, and then descants I composed for the occasion.

Closing Canticle: Instead of "Thank the Lord" at the end of the Lord's Supper, the youth ensemble led the congregation in singing David Haas' "We Have Been Told".

So how do you involve the youth of your parish in leading the Lord's song? Feel free to share your comments