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

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Reformation Sunday!

Hey, hey - Sunday is Reformation Day! Time for some "reader response." :)

What will your folks get to sing? Most certainly, "A Mighty Fortress". And most probably "Salvation Unto Us Has Come". And I think a majority will sing "Lord, Keep Us Steadfast In Your Word." I suspect many will also sing "Thy Strong Word", which has become quite popular this past generation.

Anything else?
What is your choir doing?
What setting of the Divine Service will you observe? Anything special?
And will you stand for AMF? All stanzas?
And will you sing all ten stanzas of "Salvation Unto Us Has Come"?
And how will you sing them?
And where in the service will you sing the hymns you've prepared?

The fall festivals can be so much fun. Let's compare notes!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Lutheran Catholicity

In my teaching in Congo, the musicians there learned several chorales, from EIN FESTE BURG to O DASS ICH TAUSEND (used for "By Grace I'm Saved" and 3-4 other hymns in LCL). We also learned a couple of African hymns - hymns that have become popular in the US that are Lutheran hymns from Tanzania. I'll post a video of the Congolese joyfully singing "Ecoute L'Appel de Dieu" (Listen, God Is Calling) on my next post. It is more of what one would "expect" from an African church choir.

But first, consider this: What Wondrous Love Is This, or "O Merveilleux Amour". Not originally a Lutheran hymn, but one we have adopted from the Sacred Harp tradition. I knew the words would touch the hearts of the singers in Congo, even as the modality and even the shapes of the phrases would be new for them. I heard several of my new friends sing this hymn later, after practice.

As I explained to them, we in North America sing some hymns from Africa, from Latin America, and from Asia, as well as from many different parts of Europe. Similarly, even as I encouraged them to always sing their beautiful African hymns and to continuing writing their own music for the psalms and spiritual songs of the liturgy, I told them that their singing of music from other parts of the world was a way in which they could be unified with their fellow Lutheran Christians throughout the world.

With that explanation, I introduced to them "What Wondrous Love Is This?", a beautiful love song to God extolling Him for all He has done for us in Christ Jesus. Being a Sacred Harp melody, it is from the American South, where I have my roots. So I told them this was a song from my homeland, and that just as we in Illinois will be one with them as we sing "Listen, God Is Calling" or "Jesus est le même" (my favorite Congolais chanson), so they can think of their brothers and sisters in the US whenever they sing "O Merveilleux Amour".

I think I'll just call this idea "Lutheran Catholicity". It is important that our "kernlieder" or chorales be sung throughout the world - most importantly because of their theology and then because of the sturdiness of the Lutheran Chorale tune in supporting the text. But also so that our churches throughout the world share a common set of core hymns and embrace not only our heritage but each other in song.

It's clearly something they want to do in Brazzaville:

Saturday, October 9, 2010


We've discussed much the merits of the organ - particularly a pipe organ - for the leadership of communal singing. There is nothing like wind moving through pipes for leading a large number of human voices. And the text-painting capabilities of "The King of Instruments" are unquestionable.

But the organ is but a tool. A tool to serve the Lord's song, which consists of the words & the melody. Hymnody is not art music; it is folk song. And sometimes the organ gets in the way - especially when it is in the wrong hands (which, sad to say it often is). Some even advance the idea that they "need" to have an organ in order to sing hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs - even though Christians did fine without them until just a couple of centuries ago, and even as most Christians seem to do just fine without them, including many Lutherans.

Ah, but our great LUTHERAN hymns surely need the organ, some might say? Again, it is certainly wonderful to sing our chorales with organs. At least good organs in the right hands. But they are at their best when they accompany the singing. Which means the singing should stand on its own. Unfortunately, in many places our singing has become dependent on the organ. Rather than walking side-by-side, like two friends going to the store, the organist drags the congregation around. But the congregation should not be subserviently walking two paces behind. Indeed, the congregation should be free to get to the store on her own. (The only thing the Bride of Christ needs is the Bridegroom, which is the Word of God, not the sound of pipes). If our hymnody is to remain a living tradition, it must maintain the character of folksong. Folksong enjoys accompaniment, but can always stand on its own, a cappella.

In Congo, I was pleased to share our living tradition of Lutheran folk song with our brothers and sisters in Christ, who readily embraced our hymnody and who eagerly desire to learn more of it. Their instruments are not organs, but drums and the occasional recorder or imported Western electric keyboard or bass guitar. Because their music is primarily lyrical, they readily learned and adopted our hymnody when it was taught to them as folk music, not art music.

So take a look, have a listen, and let us know what you think of this version of "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" from our brothers and sisters in Brazzaville, Congo:

Friday, October 1, 2010


Dear Friends,

I returned yesterday from Brazzaville, Congo, and eagerly look forward to sharing news of my journey and the Lord's ministry in French West Africa with you.

The upcoming posts will have a less liturgical emphasis, but will be appropriate nonetheless because the point of our work together is the proclamation of the Gospel. True, our focus is on how this may best be done through our singing of psalms, hymns, and liturgical songs, but such was the central part and prime reason for my recent trip, as I went to Africa to introduce the French-language edition of the LSB, Liturgies et Cantiques Luthériens, to our brethren in French West Africa.

For now, let me just just offer a few initial thoughts:

1 - Our hymnody is truly catholic, i.e. "universal". Its essence as folk song means our melodies can be planted and take root in any cultural soil. One of the most well-received hymns I taught was the French version of "Triune God, be Thou Our Stay". And the singing of "Savior of the Nations, Come" was especially vibrant.

2 - Chanting is also catholic. One of my favorite moments of the Divine Service last Sunday was the responsive Introit between Pastor Mavoungu and the congregation of 300. The formula tone used was also interesting in that it was more Ionian than most of our tones (expected) and more complex (unexpected).

3 - What we've been saying about the primacy of singing is so true. The best singing of the congregation was when they sang a cappella or with just traditional drums. When microphoned singers sang and an electric keyboard & bass joined in, there was less communal singing. Part of this was the (limited) skill of the instrumental musicians, but there was a fundamental shift in the spirit and voice of the assembly everytime they had "ownership" of the song.

Most inspirational was how thankful our brothers & sisters in Congo are for their blessings. They have been given so little, and yet rejoice so much.

May we who have been given so much (materially) in America be like-minded in thanksgiving, and may we be generous in our support of our fellow confessional Lutherans around the world. As President Harrison says, "Now is the time to rock the world for confessional Lutheranism."

This is our work to do together - not something to just leave up to synod. If the Lord moves you to want to help our brothers and sisters in French West Africa as I share my journey with you, please do not hesitate to contact me.

There is so much to be done.

Last thought for now:

4 - I think the coolest thing I witnessed was a 5th-grade girl reciting the small catechism in French. Perfectly. Her reward the next day was to receive her own Bible. Her joy was so thorough, so genuine.

Awake, our hearts, with gladness!