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

Monday, December 26, 2011


2011 was a busy year for many of us - which unfortunately meant a light year for Liturgy Solutions, Inc. I realize that some promised projects are still yet to be posted, such as woodwind arrangements by Terry Herald, and my own setting of the Divine Service. We also have several new settings of verses, psalms, hymn stanzas, and graduals in the queue. So don't give up on us: we WILL be putting up new content in 2012.

This does not mean that 2011 did not see any activity. We did put several new pieces up, including some pieces that expanded the range of our offerings - such as a classic anthem by Paul F. Liljestrand (composer of the tune CONRAD, LSB #339) on "When Peace Like a River", several hymns by Steve Starke with fresh tunes by Stephen R. Johnson, and also a rather popular Venite that uses CANTAD AL SEÑOR for the refrain, with through-composed verses. 2011 also welcomed award-winner composer Terry Herald to our team, and the launch of our Facebook page. Be sure to "like" us on Facebook so that you can see updates from us whenever new content is loaded.

This coming year, I will have less on my plate and thus more time to devote to editing and posting new content on the site. This past year had many demands on my time - opportunities for service that led me to Montréal, Ontario, Springfield, Minnesota, St. Louis, Nebraska, Florida, Alabama, Colorado, Texas.....and Congo. Some of these places multiple times! While certainly the consulting services we offer that contributed to this hectic schedule will continue next year, there are other things I'm letting go for now that will allow me to refocus on Liturgy Solutions and also a recording project of some of my piano work planned for this summer.

So if you have a particular need that we might meet for you, don't hesitate to contact me. We have many pots that are cooking here at Liturgy Solutions, and often a little encouragement from our clients is all that it takes to move something to the "front burner". Whether you are looking for a setting for a liturgical text, need to commission a composer for a special occasion, or would like to retain one of our experienced liturgical musicians for consulting or for a workshop, Liturgy Solutions is here to connect you with many of today's top Lutheran composers.

So here's to 2012 - may it be a banner year for the Lord's song in your congregation!

In Christ,

Phillip Magness

Friday, July 22, 2011


Leaving now from St. Peter to go back home - energized and renewed in my vocation as a "storyteller" in the church. This is the calling of all who lead the Lord's song, to lead and to teach the family song, the song which tells the family story. (Ps. 89:1 - "I will story of Your love, O God, and proclaim Your faithfulness forever.")

The sermon at Morning Prayer today was focused on the eternal worship we get a glimpse of in Revelation 7:9-17. We certainly had a foretaste of that feast to come in our worship together this week, and the pastor joked that we might feel like we don't want to leave here today because we just don't want it to end! Of course, we are ready to come off the mountaintop and return to our homes now, but the point is made: in heaven we really will be home, and so then we will never have to "go home" from worship.

Speaking of going home, I've got an 8-hour drive ahead of me and would like to be home before it is tomorrow, so I will have to continue this later. For now, let me highlight a couple of things that made this a heavenly experience, and also give thanks to a new friend I had the pleasure of making this week. First, some highlights - or why you really want to be at the next WELS National Worship Conference:

*Singing Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus" with 900 other singers and an orchestra. The ultimate, "sing-it-yourself Messiah" experience!
*Singing Paul Tate's Venite at Morning Prayer this morning. I'll have to introduce this one to Bethany!
*Experiencing the catholicity of the church's song with such a vibrant assembly as we sang chorales, a contemporary song by the Gettys, contemporary psalmody, new hymn tunes for old texts, and new texts for old tunes. Led by a rich variety of organ, piano, brass, winds, strings, and percussion, this conference was indeed a model for what parishes should strive for in involving the whole talent of the congregation and embracing both the depth of our rich heritage and the breadth of our communion.
*Concluding, as all WELS National Conferences do, with "Jerusalem the Golden", sung to THAXTED. (Many in LCMS know this as "And There's Another Country") Led by the orchestra in a subtle, sensitive, and moving arrangement that really let the congregation sing, this cantor was one of many who had to pause for tears as the assembly carried us along with this powerful picture of heaven.

A blessed antepast, indeed. And one person among many who contributed to this wonderful conference was Dr. Kayme Henkel, piano professor at the International School of Bethesda, MD (outside of Washington, DC) and a graduate of University of Wisconsin-Madison. She played piano most excellently for this morning's service and did a fantastic job. I want to extend my thanks publicly to her particularly for her performance of the work the WELS commissioned from me for this conference, my piano solo on "Lamb of God." It is a musically challenging composition, and she played it with convincing sincerity and passion. Thanks, Kayme!

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Today at the WELS National Worship Conference we are off to New Ulm, MN, where we will have classes and worship at Martin Luther College. An institution of the WELS, they will showcase the fabulous new chapel they have built there. We will enjoy the day there, and then return to St. Peter this evening. (The conference is hosted at Gustavus Adolphus College because there is not room to accommodate 1000 people in the dorms at Martin Luther College)

Yesterday, the keynote address, "Passing the Torch" highlighted the role of the church musician as the one who hands down a tradition. This reminds me of my work in Africa, where Lutherans there eagerly desire to learn the hymns of our faith, and so treat me as some sort of esteemed elder who teaches them the family story. Whether born into a family or adopted into a family, someone who is truly part of a family wants to know the family traditions. Musicians serve the Lord's ministry by teaching and celebrating the family song, that they may also tell "the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, His power, and the wonders He has done." (Ps. 78)

Rev. Aaron Christie, who is a musician as well as a pastor, encouraged us with five principles to help us "pass it on":

* Strive for a life-long pursuit of excellence.
* Proclaim the Gospel always in our music and our art.
* Be students of art and culture, and carefully apply your learning to the art of church music.
* Develop along with your art. Make the best of the various styles your own.
* Teach your craft to young musicians, and inspire them to be the next generation of leaders.

Seeing all the young people here at the conference, I think the WELS is definitely passing the torch. May all Christian churches learn from their example.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Best-Kept Secret in Church Music

Once again I am totally impressed by the quality, organization, and spirit of the WELS national worship conference. I have been to many such gatherings of other organizations, many of them fine in their own right. But every time I spend a week with the WELS, I am reminded of Proverbs 31:29 ("Many have done excellently, but you have surpassed them all!"). That such excellence proceeds from a church body of but 400,000 souls is truly noteworthy. Clearly, these saints love the Lord's song, and, as we prayed in chapel this AM, desire "to worship in excellent, noble, and lovely ways."

There is so much that merits these accolades that I will not be able to squeeze them all in here between morning chapel and the upcoming keynote address to be delivered by Rev. Aaron Christie. But one highlight that must be mentioned is the outstanding opening concert last night given by the Festival Choir and Orchestra. Volunteer groups gathered from WELS congregations around the country, these ensembles performed magnificently under the inspiring direction of Dr. Kermit Moldernhauer and Katherine Tiefel. Especially memorable moments included a beautiful setting of "When You Pass Through the Waters" (Is. 43:1-3) by Paul D. Weber (published by Morning Star Music), Evelyen R. Larter's arrangement of "Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel (Augsburg Fortress), Mendelssohn's "There Shall a Star", the Crucifixus from Bach's B Minor Mass, and Manz' "Even So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come." Liturgy Solutions composers Kevin Hildebrand and Jeffrey Blersch also had works performed: Kevin's setting of Jaroslav Vajda's incredibly moving text, "In Hopelessness and Near Despair," and Jeff's concertato on "Crown Him with Many Crowns" (CPH). Both of these works were excellently performed, as was John Rutter's Psalm 146. Above all, this reviewer was particularly moved by Brad Holmes "Star in the East". This should not surprise my friends who know my love for Sacred Harp music! :)

More to come. It is now time for the keynote address, "Passing the Torch." The hymn festival last night was loosely themed on "passing the joy of our Lutheran heritage to the next generation." It'll be good to discuss this, and we need strategies and motivation for training up all those who are new in the faith in the Lord's song - whether young or old. But it'll be great after discussing this to get back to enacting it, both here at this conference and back home in our congregations. And with 1000+ participants here at this conference, there will be a lot of places after this conference where the Lord's song will be sung with greater nobility, excellence, beauty, and joy!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


It is a great day here in St. Peter, Minnesota, as musicians and pastors are gathering for the triennial WELS National Music Conference. Phillip Magness and Stephen Johnson are both here to make presentations, and also have set up a display booth in the vendor's area. We are so happy to be here, as the Commission on Worship for the WELS always does such a fantastic job.

If you are here, come by, say hello, and sign up for a free Liturgy Solutions download of your choice!

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Some things never change - like Cantors' struggles to nurture the Lord's song in this strange land. Here's a short article from a 1904 Lutheran Observer:

"Music In the Sunday School" by H. W. Siegrist (of Lebanon, PA)

It should be a well-known fact that our Church is rich in its musical history. From the time of Luther down to the present day, composers have not been wanting, and it should be equally well known that the productions of the best composers of all other denominations are ever at our disposal. It is, however, a well-known but lamentable fact, that a large proportion of our churches have failed to avail themselves of their magnificent opportunities. For instance, in how many of our infant schools are the little ones taught anything but the most senseless and unmusical ditties, which pervert their taste for the fine hymns of the Church - hymns written especially for children, and with the distinct purpose of fostering in their minds and hearts a desire and love for Christ, through the beautiful in poetry and music. This method the children find carried on when they reach the intermediate and more advanced grades, until their idea of Sunday-school music is utterly perverted and abnormal. Many of these same Sunday-schools exercise the most unusual, and sometimes unaccountable, vigilance in selected books for their libraries, yet when it comes to the selection of hymns and hymnals, a decidedly mediocre selection will be agreed upon. The care taken in regard to the former is commendable, but why should it not be taken, also, in regard to the latter?

From many churches comes up the cry, "We have such poor congregational singing, and we cannot account for it!" It can, unquestionably, be traced back to the infant and intermediate departments of the Sunday-School, where, if proper care had been taken to teach the children to sing the hymns of the Church they would have learned to know and love them, and they would now sing heartily in the services of the Church as a matter of course. This is not a theory, but the result of an experience of more than twenty years in choir and Sunday-school work in the Lutheran Church.

This need finds expression, too, in the music of the services published by the different Boards of Church for their special Sunday-school exercises. We are furnished services several times a year, the music of which, generally, is of the most ordinary character, and in schools where proper discretion is used, they are as often rejected. If the General Synod will not furnish a hymnal of standard quality for its Sunday-schools, and the Church Boards, services of the same grade, no mere matter of sentiment should stand in the way of securing hymns and services from other sources. We owe it to our children, to our Church and to our God - who, in all reverence I cannot believe is well pleased with some uncertain words of praise sung to "rag time" tunes...

My plea is for the very best possible hymns for the children. Nothing can be too good for them. It is our duty to inculcate a love for the beautiful in church music along with the Christian training in the development of the minds and characters of our youth.

Dr. Waldo Seldon Pratt, Professor of Music and Hymnology at Hartford Theological Seminary, in his "Musical Ministries in the Church" says: "Educational effort should be brought to bear where it will do the most good. It surely should not be confined simply to the older people. Children and young people have quick appreciation and few prejudices. Other things being equal, the Sunday-school is generally the most promising place to work out progressive hymnodic ideas, especially on the musical side. The full sense of some hymns will be caught only vaguely, no doubt, but many of the richest tunes are more readily learned by young people than adults. In the long run, the general grade of a church's hymn-singing will be found to be fixed by the Sunday-school. Hence here there should be special care taken. Here at least we cannot afford to have less than the best available book or less than the best available musical leadership. Here the Pastor and the Superintendent and the Teachers have a distinct opportunity to build for the future, hymnodically as in other ways."

Friday, June 3, 2011

Singing is the Main Thing

My daughters attend a small parochial school. On the first Friday of every month they have a Mass. Today, one of my younger daughter's class "hosted" the Mass. This means the the kiddies do some readings and help with the prayers, and then hold a little reception in their classroom for the parents who attend. You all are probably familiar with this practice.

The hymnody was typical Catholic fare. "Here I Am Lord," "One Bread, One Body," "Lord of the Dance." This post is not going to critique these pieces. The purpose of my post here is to note the very strong singing in the Mass -- by ALL those in attendance -- students and parents alike. Very strong singing. But here's the catch. The singing was done a cappella! No instrumental accompaniment (unless you count the kid playing melody only on a keyboard).

Now, I found this rather notable. Roman Catholic congregations are not exactly renowned for their singing in the first place, but these folks really did sing, and without instruments to boot. I looked around and noticed the participation of the adults with whom I was sitting. Parents of students and many rather elderly people who just decided to attend this Mass. There was a small group of students in the back of the church that were taught the songs and sang as a sort of "choir" as well.

In previous years, there was a teacher who played the guitar for these Masses. He is no longer at this school. So, here are my observations:

1. After the guitar playing teacher left, I was told by the singer who prepares the choir that the singing was at first a little tentative, but soon improved.

2. This shows that congregations can indeed adapt to a cappella singing, but it requires some getting used to and some stronger, more prepared singers guiding them.

3. This shows that instrumental accompaniment, where very pleasant and often glorious, is by no means a necessity and we should not elevate the use of any instrument in the service (e.g. the organ)as utterly indispensable.

4. Do we really need electronic resources (without a real live person playing) to "help" the congregational singing? Or can we rely on our own live flesh and blood parishioners to guide the singing for the congregation by simply singing themselves?

5. Some congregations may have to sing without any instruments, if they do not have anyone to play them. Or they may have to use a flute/trumpet/violin to play the melody, much like the student who plunked it out on the piano this morning. But, if our congregations can do it the way this little Catholic school did, with the lovely voices of the whole congregation singing so nicely, I'd consider it a great success.

The Lutheran Church has always been known as the singing church. We should not shirk in our attempts to continue to be just that even when the instruments we tend to treasure are not available to us. Just sing. That is the main thing!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Fine Tuning

Fine Tuning

And now - for something completely different - I'll blog about blogging about this?

A Round Unvarnish'd Tale: "Lamb of God" Like You Haven't Heard It Before

A Round Unvarnish'd Tale: "Lamb of God" Like You Haven't Heard It Before

And here is a video of my arrangement of "Lamb of God", with commentary by my wife, Cheryl.

I thought I'd try out the new "Blog This" feature with Google Chrome - so consider this a "test blog". If this works well, you might see more articles from me in the days ahead! ;)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Lamb Of God (Twila Paris)

This weekend I'm putting the finishing touches on a 4-minute piano meditation on Twila Paris' "Lamb of God". I was commissioned to write this by the Wisconsin Synod for their triennial national worship conference this summer. I won't be able to publish this on LS due to copyright restrictions, but NPH or another print house may choose to publish this should the piece be favorably received.

The inclusion of this tune in confessional Lutheran hymnals has generated some controversy because of its roots in the CCM genre. I have not shared those concerns, because I believe that each tune and text should be judged on its own merits, but I do understand them. After all, the mind works by association. (For this reason, I make exception to my "stand on its own merits" policy and don't use AUSTRIA for "Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken" because of the tune's association with "Deutchland, Deutschland Uber Alles", the Nazi anthem. Maybe it'll be OK for my grandkids to use the that tune, but I chose that tune once and had a Jewish convert and also a woman who grew up in the 40's Germany ask me not to choose it again.) If the song were still "the latest thing" in Christian Pop and had not proven its staying power, I would be more likely to agree with the objection that its use confesses unity with American Evangelicalism. However, the song has been seasoned by time, and the popular culture has moved on, and so we sing this American hymn at Bethany.

But though I have supported LSB 550 because the text is salutary and the tune is beautiful and accessible, I had always wondered if the tune was sturdy enough to support convincing compositional elaboration. The "sturdiness" of our historic chorale tunes is one of the reasons they are still so commendable for the church: they support all sorts of musical treatments. So after I accepted this commission, I mused extensively on the tune itself, seeking to separate it from all "poppy" accompaniment associations. I also didn't want to submit a predictable, formulaic piece that may be superficially pleasing but not really say anything.

I'm happy to report that I was able to do some pretty cool things with the tune, thanks to inspiration from the text but also due to some of the qualities of the tune. I used some polytonal techniques to paint "no sin to hide" and some impressionism to highlight "brought me to his side" and "O wash me in His precious blood". I created a mutation of the tune's intervals to accompany "I was so lost", and derived a harmonic progression from the polytonal assertions I made in the first stanza to accompany the Passion stanza, with pianistic flourishes to evoke the mocking and crucifixion. I was able to land all this with recapitulations of several ideas in the third stanza and found resolution in the end for "and to be called a lamb of God." It will take some pianism to pull it off, but is not a technically demanding piece.

I'm so pleased with this piece that I think I'll play it as the Voluntary at the Tenebrae on Good Friday this year at Bethany. I had another piece selected last August, but there is room for adjustment when something unexpected and convincing comes along. And I think the sobriety of my arrangement combined with the familiarity of the tune and text should result in more worshippers actually engaging with the text than usually happens with instrumental music in the church.

At least that's what I hope will happen. We'll see!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Hubris of Contemporary Worship

A couple of weeks ago my junior high choir sang a Kyrie by 16th-century composer Leonhard Lechner for the Divine Service. They sang it AS the Kyrie, so the assembly stood for prayer as the choir sang this. It was sung as originally composed, in beautiful 3-part a cappella counterpoint, and so we experienced the music as it was intended and conceived by the composer. Judging from comments I received afterwards - including from a young mother who exclaimed how much her baby enjoyed the piece - I dare say it worked as well for us in 2011 Chicagoland as it did in 1560s Germany. My young choir enjoys singing it as well.

And yet many in the church today believe that both congregations and singers, especially young ones, can only connect with the most recent of musical constructs. If something historic is done, then it at least needs to be done in a "contemporary" way. Now I am all in favor of new interpretations of existing melodies. It is a time-honored church tradition after all, and one of the strongest arguments for using traditional hymn melodies is their objective strength, i.e. they are sturdy enough to "hold up" various styles and musical treatments.

But it struck me after the service that all this emphasis on "new", "fresh", and "contemporary" assumes that somehow singers and congregations today are different than those of previous generations. Somehow what has served the Gospel well for dozens of years and even dozens of generations can no longer "work" today. No reason is really ever given for this, it is just assumed that "that was then, this is now." But do we really have different chromosomes, brain cells, and hearts today? Has our technology or our culture really changed us that much? Or are we in 21st-century America just full of ourselves. I think it is the latter. The church suffers because of it. The proclamation of the Gospel suffers because of it.

I say this as a composer, an improvisor, and as a church musician who embraces the musical developments of our age: let us constantly learn from the great musicians who have gone before us, and have the humility to let their voices speak. They usually have much better things to say than we do.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Another Solution

This video from Incarnate Word Lutheran Church - a mission congregation outside of Detroit - doesn't have much to watch, but is definitely worth a listen. Here the congregation's song was led this past Sunday by guitar, oboe, flute, and violin. This mission congregation meets at a local school, and so has no organ. They use piano, guitar, and various instruments each week. So here is another example of how many "solutions" there are to accompanying the Lord's song without organ. No karaoke required!

We will be publishing several accompaniments written for piano & winds by the arranger, Terry Herald. He asked me to note that the microphone was placed a little too close to the oboe and so the recording balance was a bit off. Oboe comes across stornger that it really was; congregation weaker. He'll get the mic a little closer to the congregation next time. He also wanted me to mention that the particular musicians couldn't see his cues for breaths between stanzas, due to where he was seated and the subtlety of trying to direct from the guitar. Still, this video shows how readily even a small congregation (20-30) can be led by all sorts of different instruments, so long as the musicianship is about the SONG and not about the instrument.

This arrangement and the ones we will be publishing (we can't put this one up due to copyright restrictions) are very flexible. They can be done with piano or organ for the harmonic part (and/or guitar in some cases), and the melodic parts can be realized by various combinations of instruments. A clarinet could easily have substituted for oboe, for example. And one of the instrumental parts could have been omitted as well. Also, a bass instrument can be added for additional support.

We look forward to sharing Terry's music with you over the months to come, as we seek to offer more "solutions" for leading the Lord's song according to the talents of your local musicians.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Last Sunday my junior high day school choir sang a Brazillian Cantate Domino for the Divine Service. It was not folk music per se, but a contemporary composition in a samba style, called "Cantate Brasilia", by Roger Emerson. One of the choristers plays percussion in the school band, and so had been given a conga part, but for greater authenticity I wanted to add the clave & shaker parts suggested by the composer. Of course, several choristers wanted to play the claves - but there was not way they could sing their part while playin a samba clave ("+ , e,1 a, + "). So a couple of nights beforehand I asked my daughter if she would play claves on Sunday, and she said, 'cool'.

After dinner on Friday, I took her into our music room and modeled the clave part for her. No music required. She listened once to the rhythm, as I played it first by itself and then while counting the pulse. She asked for the sticks and then played it perfectly. Upon repetition she made a slight error, which I corrected her by remindeing her that the groove starts on the "and of one". Done. We then went to the piano so I could play the whole piece and show her the breaks, and then we added a couple of accents to the breaks. It took about five minutes. The next night, we did the piece one more time together, adding my older son, Trevor, on shakers and then were ready to go on Sunday.

Now, the reason for the above title is not because I think my daughter is musically extraordinary - I teach her piano lessons and know her weaknesses, after all! Nor is it because of her servant heart, as wonderful as that is. (Lots of young people are eager to help, we adults just don't ask them enough.) No, the title is because of the reactions I heard from folks after the service, about how talented my kids are and then their reaction to discovering that we put the percussion for the song together in less than five minutes.

It is true that my kids are talented & musical, but there really is nothing extraordinary about their talent - however wonderful I think they are. Most people think that such musicianship is some big "gift" and suppose that it somehow "runs in our family", either through genetics or through hearing lots of music or through both. But what most people don't understand is that musical aptitudes and hearing music in early childhood are only foundations that may be built upon. The real reason Caitlin or anyone can do the wonderful thing of picking up a groovy clave part in short order and then play it well is because they are musically educated.

This education can't just happen by sending a child to choir once a week. It requires regular music instruction in music throughout elementary school, ideally accompanied by private instruction on an instrument. And it needs to be real, that is, classical, instruction. If they are to learn, the focus for grammar school children must be that they learn to count the pulse, hear the music, and play the notes. Sadly, much for what passes for "musical instruction" these days is just "edutainment", focused more on "community building" and "self-expression" than actual achievement. That may be more fun for the teachers (the focused repetition children need is much more boring for them than for the students), but it doesn't nurture comprehensive musicianship.

And that's what Caitlin has: comprehensive musicianship. Sure, she is a work in progress (I teach her piano lessons, remember?!). But even though she most likely will not major in music like her older brother she will always be able to make music for herself and for her community because she has learned the art of music.

That's my point here: the art of music is learned. Caitlin does not have unique chromosones or extraordinary grey matter between her ears, and still she is a WONDERFUL musician. Any Caitlin can do wonderful things with music, if their natural talents are patiently nurtured in the art of music. May we lead people to understand this, that more parents may see the potential in their children to achieve great things music.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


This past Sunday we sang "Seek Ye First" as an Offertory. At one of the services, our Schola Cantorum (3rd-6th grade parish choir) was the choir for the liturgy, and so in addition to the other things they sang I had them add the traditional descant to "Seek Ye First" on the last stanza of the hymn.

After the service, a father of one of the choristers came up to me and excitedly told me how much he loved that descant. Turned out he had sung it himself as a boy. Even though this hymn was written in the 1960's, there is now a tradition behind it that connects the generations.

There are other times in our parish life where kids sing something the parents have sung. Every three years on Christmas Eve we do the Quempas Carol with the children, for example. Some of this music is newer, like the famous Willcox descant for "O Come, All Ye Faithful"; other pieces are centuries old, like Bach's "Zion Hears the Watchmen Singing". Our life together in Christ is manifested and celebrated as adults enjoy hearing the next generation sing favorites from their youth.

How much of this do we miss out on when we pick new music? Do we stop and ask ourselves what would we sing if we weren't doing this new piece? Is the new piece really better from the hearer's standpoint? Or is it just something fresh for the director? What is really best for the singers and the hearers? I think we should ask these questions.

And churches that don't share the living tradition of the church's song with their children have some more critical questions to ask themselves. What are their kids missing out on? And what are the adults missing as well? And are any of the new things they are doing something that the next generation will want to sing or hear?

Saturday, February 19, 2011


Different parishes at different times need different "solutions" to the musical challenges and opportunities provided by the liturgy. We try to offer a wide variety of options on the site, knowing that there is no one-size-fits-all "solution" for any given text. That said, even a parish with a high level of artistic activity needs easy options. And so we do try to lean more toward providing "music for common use" rather than "high art" on the site.

One of the things that we are doing more often is simply putting up something that works well with the hymnal accompaniment. The handbell accompaniments for DS III we put up last year are an example of that, as are the brass parts for the DS IV Gloria I put up recently. Sometimes we aren't looking for a concertato setting of a hymn, or some new text-painting harmonization. With one rehearsal and many irons in the fire, it is often helpful just to have a trumpet part that "goes with the book".

The latest of such offerings went up today: a simple descant for LSB #819, "Sing Praise to God the Highest Good". A very parish-friendly descant, it only goes to a high F. And yet it still cuts through thanks to the tessatura of the melody. Most importantly, the organist can "play from the book", making this an easy adornment to add to the service. Similarly, we'll be putting up several instrumental descants & countermelodies by Terry Herald this spring that also "work with the book".

We're putting these things up because they work for us. We hope they work for you!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Solutions In Your Hymnal

Today we offer a guest column, which readers of Rev. Larry Peters' excellent blog, Pastoral Meanderings, have already seen. Larry has given his permission to run his article here, which we are glad to do because it so well supports one of the chief aims of this blog: to help musicians and pastors discover and explore the treasury of resources available to us for preparing authentic Lutheran worship. Almost all of the music published on our website is written to support the use of hymns & lectionaries of the Lutheran Service Book. (Which therefore means the music works well with other Lutheran hymnals, as our many WELS friends have discvoered.) Pastor Peters here offers an excellent outline of how to make the best use of this book. Whatever hymnal you use, this article will renew your appreciation for your hymnal, and help you explain its purpose and benefits to others.

Rev. Larry Peters

Often the problem with "traditional" worship is not that what is done is bad but that it fails to exploit the full measure of the resources provided by the hymnary, lectionary, and liturgy of the Church. Those who yearn for creativity are, in some respects, right in their condemnation of of "traditional" worship as being boring or routine. But the fault lies not with the hymnal or liturgy. The fault usually lies with the people planning and conducting the Divine Service. In our busy lives it is easy to fall back upon the book and use it because it is there. In this respect many congregations using the hymnal are not technically "liturgical." I write this not to condemn but to encourage a more full use of the inherent resources of the hymnal, liturgy, and pericopes.

I forget where I read it that if you are using these resources fully, only something between 12-15% of the time on Sunday morning carries over from week to week. Block out the sermon, the readings, the collect, the hymns, and the liturgical options within the Divine Service and you see how the figure is achieved. When we use all of these resources to their fullest measure, then it is true. When we fail to use these resources fully, this figure may still be true but you would hardly recognize it while sitting in the pew.

Lets begin with the lectionary. Lutheran Service Builder allows you to print out all the pericopes on one sheet (Introit, Collect, Psalm, Lessons, Gradual, Verse). It is great to have these texts together and to spend time looking at them more fully before sermon and liturgical choices are made. You can do the same thing without Lutheran Service Builder but it takes just a bit more work. The point is that by immersing yourself in these texts you are better equipped not only to preach them but to use them in the Divine Service.

From the lectionary I always go to the hymnal. LSB has a marvelous hymn selection guide and you can use Lutheran Service Builder to locate hymns through its digital concordance to the hymnal but nothing replaces you own familiarity with the texts. I believe that praying the texts of hymns is important devotionally for you and is the greatest tool and gift when planning for the Divine Service. If you know the pericopes and you know where your sermon is going, then the next step for connecting the dots is to know the hymnal well enough that hymn choices are already flowing through your mind as you make it through the pericopes and sermon preparation.

I might say something here about tracking your use of hymns. It is easy for the congregation to be reduced to using only 25% of the hymns in the book. You want to use a combination of many familiar with one or maybe two new or less familiar tunes. Given the desire to satisfy people and working within the limitations, it is not uncommon for parishes to know only a small percentage of the hymns in the book -- I knew one parish where only about 12 tunes from LW were used! This is a problem that needs to be addressed. If you do not know these tunes, set up a plan and program to learn them -- week by week. Use soloists to sing them as preservice music, as the offering is gathered, or during the distribution. The choir can do the same thing. Warm up the folks before the liturgy begins and use these less familiar hymns to stretch their voices. The only way a new hymn becomes a favorite is through frequent use. Once you introduce a new hymn, use it again through the coming month so that its text and tune are embedded into the memory of the people.

Finally, the liturgy is addressed. What season are we in? What options are inherent to the season (omission of the Gloria in Excelsis and Alleluia during Lent, for example)? What additional choices are there to be made (offertory, how to use the Psalmody, post-communion canticle, etc.)? As you flesh out the choices for the Divine Service you also begin to see how the hymn possibilities may fit (entrance hymn, hymn of the day, distribution hymn, sending hymn, etc.).

The goal is to have it all fit together as a seamless garment in which nothing seems out of place or out of character. In this way the fullest resources of the hymnal, lectionary, and church year flow together toward a common goal and purpose in the Divine Service. I do this several times a year for 1/3-1/2 of the Sundays of the year so that I am always ahead. It works for me. Saturday night is the one thing that hardly ever works. If you cannot plan months in advance (for the sake of your parish musician), at least plan one month ahead.

The hymnal is a tool. If it is unfamiliar to you as the Pastor or parish musician, it will most certainly be unfamiliar to your people and an uncomfortable resource. If you know it and use it as one who knows it inside and out, then it will encourage the people in the pew to use the full resources of the book in their family and individual devotional lives as well as Sunday morning. Just do it...

Monday, January 10, 2011


Many often ask about hearing audio samples of Liturgy Solutions' music. We'd like to provide more than computer-generated files, but just don't have the overhead to generate studio recordings of house choirs like the print publishing houses are able to do. So I'm going to try to highlight some services that include some pieces in the catalog. This past week saw two such occasions at Bethany. So, if you are interested in what some of our work sounds like in an actual service, a Gradual by Stephen R. Johnson for the Epiphany of Our Lord starts at 7:40 into this clip. This past Sunday, for the Baptism of Our Lord, we sang a psalm-anthem by Jonathan Kohrs. Pastor liked it so much he referenced it in his sermon! It starts 15:15 into this podcast.

These recordings are a little less polished than my choir normally sounds - but we had a one-hour rehearsal to prepare five pieces to cover these two feasts! Still, they did well - but if you want to hear them in their full glory, check out our Bach Cantata Vespers this past Advent, or our Christmas Eve Divine Service.

You can also hear several stanzas of hymns in our Liturgy Solutions catalog sung by the quartet at our Lessons & Carols service Chrsitmas Eve.

Got any audio clips of LS music? I'd love to hear them!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

He Was Singing Again!

For years I've noticed a young man in our parish attend worship with his mom. Ten years ago, I noticed how joyfully he would sing the hymns along with his mom. Then, as he approached his junior/senior year, he started mumbling. In college, he stopped singing altogether. It was heartbreaking.

This New Year's Eve he was back. Singing. Joyfully. I can only imagine the reasons but I suspect it had to do with the attractive young lady he brought to church with him that evening.

Perhaps he just trying to make a good impression, but people don't sing like that unless they are happy - or professionals (which he is not). I know one skates on thin ice when one tries to read motivations into behaviors, so I won't try to diagnose his heart, but let's just say that it is an example of rejoicing.

I hope that in the future this young man will rejoice not only for the First Article gift of a companion who may be a potential wife, but give thanks and sing for the Gospel.

Whatever his motivation was, I'm glad he found his voice and joined in the Lord's song again. I know the Word dwelled in him richly as he did so. May that song stay in his heart and on his voice all the days of his life.